WFP Sides With AG on Special Prosecutor Ask
From the Morning Memo:
The labor-backed Working Families Party, which just closed another tumultuous chapter in its relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is backing Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s request for the power to investigate and prosecute unarmed civilian deaths at the hands of police officers.
WFP leaders have been outspoken in their opposition to the Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to bring charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner this past summer.
Last night, WFP State Director Bill Lipton sent an email to party supporters, urging them to sign an online petition calling on Cuomo to grant the AG’s request for an executive order that would give his office authority over a small number of police abuse cases.
“It’s a sensible and critical first step to help make sure victims of police violence in New York and their families receive the justice they deserve,” Lipton wrote.
“…The failure of grand juries to indict the officers under investigation both in this case and in Ferguson demands that we take action.
We need major changes to our criminal justice system, but we also can’t wait months for the state legislature to reconvene and consider them.”
“That’s why Attorney General Schneiderman has asked for temporary authority from Gov. Cuomo to investigate cases involving the killings of unarmed civilians by police. Doing so would be a critical first step in ensuring fair investigations, and helping to build confidence while we all continue the fight for more far-reaching reforms.”
Schneiderman has said he only wants this power temporarily, and believes it will “compel” the Legislature and Cuomo to act on long term reforms of the criminal justice system.
On the day the AG issued his call, Cuomo’s office said only that his request was being reviewed.
Yesterday, the governor made his first public comments on the matter, and seemed lukewarm on Schneiderman’s idea, saying there are many unanswered questions about how a special prosecutor would operate.
“What power? When? That’s an option, but you have to answer the first questions first,” Cuomo said of the AG’s request.
“When? Shootings?…What about Eric Garner, he wasn’t shot. Well, anytime someone dies. So, beatings don’t count? It has to be thought through thoroughly.”
“If anything, I think the AG’s proposal was narrower. He was saying only in cases of shootings or death,” Cuomo continued. “I could argue that you want to go broader. Why just shootings? It doesn’t cover the Eric Garner case?”
To be clear, the AG’s request does not cover only shootings by police.
Earlier this week, Cuomo’s office confirmed he had either met with or talked to rap and hip hop moguls Jay Z and Russell Simmons to discuss criminal justice reform.
But despite Simmons’ claim to the contrary, Cuomo insisted no decisions have yet been made about appointing a special prosecutor to handle alleged police brutality cases.
Simmons and Cuomo have a long-standing relationship that dates back to the days when they were both lobbying for Rockefeller Drug Law reform. (That would be during Cuomo’s rebuilding phase – after his failed 2002 gubernatorial bid, but before his successful 2006 AG campaign).
Simmons actually came to the state Capitol via helicopter in 2003 for a lengthy closed-door meeting on the subject with then-Republican Gov. George Pataki, then-Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Simmons’ drug law reform efforts drew scrutiny, and also sparked a lawsuit following an inquiry into his organization’s actions by the (now defunct) Lobbying Commission.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time since the elections that the WFP has clashed with Cuomo.
The party was not shy is expressing its disappointment with the governor for – in its opinion – failing to live up to his end of their endorsement deal by helping the Democrats retake the Senate majority. (That’s a charge Cuomo has denied).
The WFP recently teamed up with Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout, in a campaign against the wealthy hedge fund managers/charter school backers who spent millions to help the Senate GOP win control of the chamber and also donated generously to Cuomo.
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