Jan. 9, 2019 By Christian Murray
Richard A. Brown, who has been the Queens District Attorney since June 1991, announced today that he will not be running for reelection and that he will be leaving office at the end of the year.
Brown, 86, who was first appointed as the interim district attorney by Governor Mario Cuomo, was first elected into office in November 1991.
He has been reelected six times, with the last time being in 2015, and is the longest serving district attorney in Queens history. He has never faced a challenger, which critics say was due to the once-powerful Queens Democratic machine.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to have served the people of Queens County—the most ethnically diverse county in the world—for these many years,” Brown said in a statement. “I am deeply appreciative and humbled.”
Brown, a moderate Democrat, would have faced a tough challenge this year had he decided to run. Three Democrats—City Council Member Rory Lancman, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and retired Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak—have announced plans to run. They will face off in September’s Democratic primary.
Brown, however, would have been able to run on record-low crime and on a number of justice reforms.
In 1992, there were 341 murders in Queens, compared to 63 in 2018. In the past 25 years, overall crime in Queens is down 82.5 percent, according to his office.
Brown said that the Queens District attorney’s office has also led the way in improving the criminal justice system.
People with mental illnesses or drug addictions who commit low-level crimes, for example, can avoid jail time by enrolling in treatment programs.
His office pioneered several specialty courts over the years. These include one of the state’s first Drug courts, as well as a Mental Health Court and Veterans Court. His office also came up with the Queens Court Academy, where a high school operates on premises to spare young offenders from being incarcerated while giving them an opportunity to complete school.
“We have been a leading advocate for improvements in criminal justice legislation, including measures to ensure the recording of interrogations, enhanced identification procedures and for sealing of old convictions,” he said.
But there is one reform that Brown will not sign on to– the closure of Rikers Island.
Today, Brown, in an opinion piece ran that ran in the NY Daily News, said that it makes more sense to rebuild Rikers Island than to develop neighborhood jails in areas such as Kew Gardens.
He said the cost to build or expand neighborhood jails would approach $33 billion—which includes interest charges over 30 years– and would face legitimate local opposition.
He said the plan also requires getting the Rikers’ prison population down from about 8,000 to approximately 5,500, a task not easy since there are almost no prostitutes, turnstile jumpers of marijuana smokers there today. Brown said he was unsure how the city would handle an uptick in crime, since there would be a lack of prison space.
Brown, however, in announcing his decision not to seek reelection focused on his legacy of accomplishment and excellence.
“As I finish my tenure as Queens District Attorney, I will continue to seek innovations to help all of our 2.4 million residents and ensure that I leave my office dedicated to the standard of excellence which has been our hallmark.”