NYC’s Vance Runs Unopposed After Weathering Strauss-Kahn

Cyrus Vance Jr. is poised to run unopposed for re-election as Manhattan district attorney after a first term that saw the streamlining of criminal cases, protests against Wall Street and the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

With a filing deadline at midnight tonight, the 59-year-old Democrat has no challenger for the Sept. 10 primary or Nov. 5 general election, barring a last-minute run like the one by former governor and attorney general Eliot Spitzer for the post of comptroller.

Vance won the job in 2009, following Robert Morgenthau’s retirement after 35 years in office. With Morgenthau’s endorsement, Vance beat an ex-judge and former assistant district attorney in the primary. No Republican faced him in the general election.

“The political reality of these races is: An incumbent sitting prosecutor is tough -- a relatively young, popular prosecutor is almost impossible,” said Michael Cherkasky, who served as chief of the investigations division under Morgenthau, New York state’s longest-sitting district attorney.

Cherkasky said in an interview that he quit as Vance’s finance-committee chairman last year when he decided the candidate didn’t need his help getting re-elected.

“I think he’s done a good job and he has a good record,” Morgenthau, 93, said in a telephone interview.

Jimmy Carter

Vance represents the people of New York state in criminal cases brought in Manhattan. New York City’s other four boroughs each have their own DA.

The son of Cyrus Vance, former secretary of state to President Jimmy Carter, he has gathered about 46,000 signatures to get on the ballot, more than 10 times the required amount, said campaign spokesman Stu Loeser. With no opponent in the primary, Vance’s name would appear on the ballot only in November’s general election, Loeser said.

Vance drew some criticism during his first term for dropping sexual-assault charges against Strauss-Kahn, the former International Monetary Fund chief who was accused of attacking a hotel maid, and for his treatment of Occupy Wall Street protesters.

His office dismissed the Strauss-Kahn case in 2011 after concluding the housekeeper at the midtown Sofitel lied about events. Strauss-Kahn denied the charges.

‘Handled Properly’

“The DA’s race is never going to turn on a single case,” said Gerald Shargel, a criminal-defense lawyer at Winston & Strawn LLP in New York. “With the distance of time and the cooling of opinions, people realize the DSK case was handled properly.”

Letitia James, a member of the New York City Council, organized rallies protesting Vance’s handling of the case and said it could chill legitimate claims from rape victims. James, of the Working Families party, said she now supports him.

“Although we haven’t always agreed, District Attorney Vance has been a strong DA for New York, and has a proven record of effectiveness, specifically in dismantling organized crime throughout our city,” James said in a statement.

During the 2011 Occupy Wall Street rallies in lower Manhattan, including outside the district attorney’s headquarters at 1 Hogan Place, the office handled more than 2,000 arrests, while choosing not to prosecute a police officer who appeared to pepper spray two protesters.

Martin Stolar, an attorney associated with the National Lawyers Guild who represented many of the protesters, criticized the way Vance handled some arrests.

Bridge Cases

“There were a number of cases in Occupy Wall Street that should have been dropped and weren’t,” including charges against about 700 people for marching on the Brooklyn Bridge, Stolar said. Vance didn’t appear to be independent because he believed everything the police said, Stolar added.

Vance’s office offered to dismiss charges against most of the protesters if they weren’t arrested again in six months, known as adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, and all cases were reviewed individually, ensuring fairness, said Vance spokeswoman Erin Duggan. Of more than 2,600 cases reviewed, 67 have gone to trial, according to Vance’s office.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel R. Alonso, who has served under Vance since 2010, said the office has changed the way the criminal court handles the almost 100,000 misdemeanor cases that flow through it each year.

Cases Postponed

When Vance took office, many cases were postponed repeatedly because judges were unavailable, while others were dismissed because the case wasn’t ready for trial by the statutory deadline, Alonso said.

Vance streamlined the process, notably in drunken-driving cases, according to Alonso. More than 400 cases of driving while intoxicated were dismissed in 2009 under speedy-trial rules, Alonso said. That number has fallen by 90 percent, he said.

“Every DWI case is a potential vehicular homicide, so those cases are important,” Alonso said.

Vance also pushed for the “all crimes DNA” bill that Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law last year. Under the law, almost every person convicted of a misdemeanor or felony must provide a DNA sample that goes into national databases, helping law enforcement solve cold cases and future crimes, Alonso said.

Data Unit

The office also formed a data-focused unit to examine the financial aspects of illicit activity from street crime to cybercrime. In addition, Vance helped to form a white collar crime task force that will seek legislative changes to make enforcement more effective, and set up a cybercrime lab to help computer forensic staff better catch identity theft and other technology-linked crime.

During Vance’s tenure, city, state and federal authorities reached four agreements with banks over money laundering and violations of trade sanctions. The agreements with HSBC Holdings Plc, Standard Chartered Plc, ING Groep NV and Barclays Plc have resulted in more than $1 billion in settlement funds going to the city and state.

“With DSK and all the criticisms, you have a feeling he’s not just doing things because they’re politically correct. He’s doing them because they’re the right thing to do,” said Cherkasky, who was appointed by the U.S. Justice Department to monitor HSBC’s compliance with the settlement. “He’s an honest broker in these incredibly partisan times.”

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