By David Brand
In the days since Queens Criminal Court Justice Gregory Lasak decided to step down from his position effective Sept. 14, the race for district attorney has begun to heat up.
The decision to leave the Supreme Court bench enables Lasak to begin fundraising ahead of a potential candidacy for Queens County District Attorney in 2019. As of press time, Lasak did not respond to requests for comment.
The Queens Daily Eagle first reported on Lasak’s decision after speaking with multiple sources on Friday.
District Attorney Richard A. Brown, 85, has held the office since 1991 and is reportedly considering retirement when his current term ends. But Lasak’s decision has fueled speculation that Brown may resign ahead of Sep. 20, in which case, the district attorney position could appear on the November ballot in a special election.
According to State Public Officers Law Section 42, a vacancy occurring before Sep. 20 of any “year in any office authorized to be filled at a general election, except in the offices of governor or lieutenant-governor, shall be filled at the general election held next thereafter.”
On Friday, however, a spokesperson for the D.A.’s office said that speculation about Brown’s early retirement is not true.
“D.A. Brown is not stepping down,” the spokesperson said.
Lasak, a former prosecutor in the Queens D.A.’s office, was elected Criminal Court justice in 2003 and began his first term in 2004. He was reelected in 2017. He joined the Queens D.A.’s office in 1978 and was named chief of the homicide bureau in 1984 when he was 30, according to a 2003 profile in Newsday. He earned his law degree from New York University in 1978.
Council Member Rory Lancman is also reportedly considering declaring his candidacy for D.A. and has raised nearly $800,000 for an undisclosed campaign. As of press time Lancman, chair of the City Council’s Justice System committee, did not respond to request for comment. But earlier this month, he told the Queens Tribune he expects Brown to finish his term.
“I’m not aware of him retiring early,” Lancman told the Tribune. “I think it’s his intention that he will fill out his term, and I hope that he does. There’s not a scenario where I’m challenging him.”
Borough President Melinda Katz, who is term-limited in 2021, has also reportedly considered declaring her candidacy for D.A. According to the Campaign Finance Board, Melinda Katz raised more than $417,550 from 323 donors between January 13, 2018 and July 12, 2018 for an undisclosed campaign.
Katz’ office did not provide comment by press time. In June, she deflected questions from the Queens Chronicle about Brown retiring and her potential plans for future office.
“Judge Brown is a great DA, and there’s no indication he intends to retire,” she told the Chronicle.
Multiple sources who have spoken to the Eagle have noted that the current front runners for the position are all white in a borough regarded as one of the most diverse urban centers in the U.S. — and the world.
They say they wonder how the race will shake out as more candidates, especially people of color, throw their hats in the ring.