Op-Ed: Pandemic Recovery For All New Yorkers: How the Next District Attorney Can Ensure A Post-Pandemic Economic Comeback

Assemblyman Dan Quart (photo provided by Dan Quart's office)
Assemblyman Dan Quart (photo provided by Dan Quart's office)

Manhattan’s next District Attorney will face enormous challenges when they take office: rising gun violence, an increase in sexual assaults, a disturbing spike in hate crimes against Asian New Yorkers and an urgent need to build a fairer and more just criminal legal system. Successfully addressing these issues, while critical on their own, will also pave the way for New York’s social and economic comeback.

The next District Attorney has an important role to play in this pandemic recovery. Keeping our streets safe will allow theater, the arts and restaurants to return. Maintaining close relationships with small business owners and community leaders means that the office will have a comprehensive view of what’s happening on the ground and give shop owners the confidence to open back up fully. Finally addressing the root causes of violence, mental health, and homelessness will increase quality of life and lift all New Yorkers up, ensuring a stable and long-lasting recovery.

I’m grateful every day to call New York home. When the pandemic hit, I felt an enormous sense of loss for our city.  Like so many New Yorkers, I lost loved ones to the virus, missed celebrations and milestones. We felt the anxiety that thousands of families with parents in nursing homes felt, my own father being in one.

The pain and loss of the past year has reminded me of the role that we must all play in building a stronger New York as we come out of this. An economic recovery does not exist without public safety. It’s a non-negotiable.

The same narrow approach to public safety that prosecutors have used, one that is solely focused on prosecutions and arrests won’t work here. We need New Yorkers and tourists alike to feel safe in our city as quickly as possible.

Step one is working aggressively to stem the rise in gun violence, sexual assault and hate crimes Manhattan has seen. Addressing gun violence starts with taking guns off the streets, providing assistance to local precincts to solve gun cases, and working with neighboring jurisdictions to stop guns from getting into the city. To protect sexual assault survivors, the office should prosecute cases when the facts show a crime has been committed, not just when it thinks it can win. And finally, to curb the ugly rise of hate crimes, the District Attorney must investigate and prosecute hate crimes and white supremacists.

Prosecution should be a tool of the office, but not its singular function. In addition to directly addressing these crimes, the office must engage closely with community leaders and business owners, and increase funding for community programs that address the root causes of violence.

Building strong relationships with small business owners and community leaders will be key to restoring public safety. As an elected leader for the past decade and a community lawyer for two decades, I’ve heard directly from these local leaders about their specific concerns and the problems they’re facing. Strong relationships will allow the District Attorney to respond quickly and fully to the safety concerns of our residents.

Finally, a true investment in violence-prevention programs, mental health services, and housing will improve the lives of all New Yorkers. If we want a successful economic recovery, community investment is one way to make sure that it lasts. The District Attorney controls an enormous budget and should prioritize directing resources to local community services that lift up and protect our most vulnerable neighbors. Doing this will deliver not only a strong, but a lasting recovery.

New Yorkers should always be kept safe. But at this moment, achieving public safety will mean so much more: it will pave the way for an economic recovery, allow our favorite parts of New York to thrive again. It will allow Asian employers to return to normal hours and feel comfortable that their employees won’t be subject to a hate crime on their way home.  It will also allow parents to take their kids on a walk without fear of gun violence.

To bring our city back from this pandemic, and build it stronger than it was before, we need all hands on deck. The Manhattan District Attorney has an important role to play here, one that is too often left out of the conversation, especially among the former prosecutors running. But our role is not just to punish and prosecute, it’s to lift all Manhattanites up, ensure safety and a quality life for everyone during our economic recovery. To do that, we need a District Attorney who understands that role and is ready to meet the moment.

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