As the race for Brooklyn DA enters the homestretch, Eric Gonzalez appears to be comfortably ahead of the pack. In its recent endorsement, the NY Times seemed to be betting that he will win.
But in making a case for Gonzalez, the Times took at face value a questionable claim by Acting DA Gonzalez—namely, that the office changed its bail policy in mid-April of this year.
Gonzalez, according to the Times, told his prosecutors that “bail makes no sense” in most misdemeanor cases. Elsewhere Gonzalez has championed his “groundbreaking bail reform policy.”
While the changes sound positive, several leading observers tell City Limits that Brooklyn bail practices remain the same now as they were before Gonzalez issued his April directive.
Peter Goldberg, executive director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, reports a slight increase in the number of times the Fund bailed out defendants (in misdemeanors where the DA has asked for $2000 maximum) from April 15-August 15. This year, the Fund handled 230 such cases, whereas in the same period last year, it did so in 216.
“Given our limited capacity, we can’t pay for everyone,” Goldberg explains, “and we know that in the past few months hundreds of other Brooklynites were jailed for their inability to afford small amounts of bail.”
Goldberg wants the DA’s office to make good on its vow to change course, as does Scott Hechinger, policy director at Brooklyn Defender Services. “Despite clear messages by Acting DA Gonzalez to the contrary,” he says, “to date we have not seen drug case-specific—or, in fact, any—changes regarding bail the DA’s office is requesting in court.”
When asked at candidate forums over the summer about bail practices, Gonzalez often mentioned that the Kings County office requests bail with less frequency than its counterparts in New York City. In his April directive, he told Brooklyn ADA’s they “should only consider asking for bail in limited targeted circumstances in order to ensure a defendant’s return to court.”
Alexandra Smith, a public defender in Brooklyn and a member of 5 Boro Defenders, doesn’t see that happening on the ground. She says that “a prior record of quality of life offenses automatically leads to a bail request by the DA,” regardless of the same defendant’s flight risk. “Every day I see low-income people of color who can’t make bail for sleeping on the subway, turnstile-jumping or small amounts of weed.”
Gonzalez is one of six candidates in the Democratic primary for district attorney, which takes place on September 12. The others are Ama Dwimoh, Marc Fliedner, Patricia Gatling, Vincent Gentile and Anne Swern*. They debate at 7 p.m. Tuesday on NY1. (For more on what the DA does and why it matters, watch this.)
Throughout the campaign, Gonzalez and all five of his challengers have been analyzing the ways in which the DA’s office has been a leading contributor to the “criminalization of poverty.” The final leg of the race provides an opportunity for more discussion about what’s being done about it.
*Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article indicated that Assemblywoman JoAnne Simon is a candidate in this race. She is not.