Acting Kings County District Attorney Eric Gonzalez celebrated an historic primary win alongside Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-Harlem, the Bronx) last night in a crowded room at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office’s annual Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration at Brooklyn Law School.
Gonzalez last week marked a historic win as the first Latino Brooklyn D.A. to be elected in the state of New York. The native Brooklynite, now the acting DA, won in a landslide, with 53% of the vote and will not face a Republican challenger in November’s general election.
Espaillat, who was being honored by the DA’s office at the annual event, became the first Dominican-born Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives after winning the open seat last November. The win marked the first time a formerly undocumented immigrant has ever served in Congress.
“It’s very important to us in the DA’s office to recognize all the different cultures that make up Brooklyn. Latinos are about 500,000 strong in Brooklyn, and we come from all different parts–Latin America, the Caribbean–so we’re here today celebrating all of our cultures and making sure everyone has a voice,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, who was met with a rousing standing ovation as he addressed the crowd, went on to highlight some of the work that the DA’s office has done and will continue to do under his leadership toward immigrant and Latino communities.
“The people of Brooklyn have spoken in this election and what they have said and asked of us is that we continue to keep and make Brooklyn a safer place in ways that are more fair and more just and that’s what the DA’s office is going to continue to do. We are going to continue to lead this city and this country in being a progressive District Attorney’s office. One that knows how to keep people safe without throwing people in prison and without relying on jail as the first response to crime. It’s not about punishing people, it’s about helping people,” added Gonzalez.
In April of this year, Gonzalez implemented a new policy aimed at minimizing immigration consequences of criminal convictions specifically for misdemeanor and other low-level offenses. The policy stemmed from the recognition that non-citizen defendants faced potentially harsh immigration penalties as a result of criminal convictions, even for minor offenses.
Gonzalez is a native of East New York with Puerto Rican roots. He was the first Latino counsel in the DA’s office under the late-Ken Thompson, who was the first the first African-American DA. The Brooklyn DA’s office is one of the largest prosecutorial offices in the country.
Hispanic Heritage Month officially kicked off September 15 and will last until October 15. The month-long celebration kicks off mid-September because the 15th marks the independence days of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico, Chile, and Belize follow shortly after, on the 16th, 18th and 21st.
“As much has been said about being the first [Latino DA], it’s about being the best,”said Espaillat. “The DA got elected because voters, who are much smarter than we think they are, recognized that he was the best. And then elected him and ascended him as the first, but it was really because he kept the trajectory of criminal justice reform from Thompson and voters saw that he was the best law enforcement leader for this borough.”