In seven weeks the Queens District Attorney race will finally be decided and Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) wants to bring his background in criminal justice reform to the forefront of the office.
Lancman is not only the representative of Council District 24, which includes Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Electchester, Fresh Meadows, Jamaica, Jamaica Hills, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village and Hillcrest, but he is also the chair of the Council Committee on the Justice System.
As the chair, he has jurisdiction over the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, which includes all publicly funded criminal defense and civil legal organizations, the five district attorneys offices and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
“For five years in the council I have fought to end overpolicing, mass incarceration, end cash bail, end the criminalization of mental illness and poverty with some decent success, but the district attorney has unilateral authority to decline to prosecute low-level offenses or giving people records for the rest of their lives for no reason,” said Lancman. “If you want to change the criminal justice system there is no more important place to do it from then the District Attorney’s Office.”
Before he became a councilman, Lancman was an assemblyman from 2007 to 2013, and spent 19 years as a Civil Rights lawyer representing clients who were either sexually harassed, injured or fought against wage theft in the workplace.
Growing up in Flushing as the son of a single mom who was a waitress helped to define him and led to Lancman becoming a community leader, an infantry officer, a lawyer and later a politician.
City Councilman Rory Lancman, candidate in the Queens District Attorney Race. Photo Courtesy Lancman’s office.
“We were in a rent-stabilized apartment and when I was in high school we got this enormous rent increase,” said Lancman. “Someone in the development decided to call a meeting and to find out what was going on. We ended up forming a tenants association.”
As a precocious kid with a lot of time on his hands, Lancman took up the vice president position at the tenants association while still a student at Hillcrest High School, which he graduated in 1987.
“One of the first things that we did was pool our resources to hire a lawyer to fight the rent increase,” said Lancman. “It made me aware how precarious my life and my mom’s life were because we were on the margins economically.”
After hiring the lawyer and fighting for his rights and those of his neighbors he got a taste for what the law can do to help the little guy.
“I was an active member of Community Board 8 in high school and I became one of the youngest members to be appointed to the board when I was 21,” said Lancman.
Lancman received his Bachelor of Arts from Queens College in 1991, served in the National Guard’s 42nd Infantry Division from 1988 to 1992 and obtained his Juris Doctor at Columbia Law School in 1995.
He met his college sweetheart at Queens College and they married in 1995, but as they hoped to stay at his family’s apartment until they were able to make their own way in the world they were eventually pushed out of the space he worked so hard to fight for.
“We were harassed out of the apartment,” said Lancman. “From that experience, I decided I wanted to be a public official. In that role, you have the ultimate responsibility and authority to make the decisions that affect the lives of others.”
Lancman eventually moved out of the apartment, which had a huge hole in the bathroom ceiling, because his landlord stopped doing basic maintenance to the point that it became an intolerable place to live.
“I want to totally refocus the criminal justice system away from overpolicing and mass incarceration in communities of color,” said Lancman who wants to move it “towards protecting working people, women, immigrants, homeowners and tenants. We are not doing that right now.”
Lancman is tired of seeing people filling prisons for low-level offenses like marijuana when there are more damaging crimes in the community.
“We do not protect working people,” said Lancman. “When was the last time we saw someone being prosecuted for someone’s wages being stolen from them or not being paid overtime, or for immigrants being exploited and paid off the books less than what they are owed. When was the last time a developer was prosecuted for a workplace safety violation for injuring or killing a worker? Almost nobody gets prosecuted for mortgage fraud or deed fraud, which literally steals people’s homes right from under them, or for harassing someone out of their apartment, like when I was younger.”
Since declaring his candidacy for the Queens District Attorney role, Lancman has been endorsed by 15 elected officials and community leaders, 26 leaders of the Jewish community, and 13 community organizations and unions, including the Queensbridge Tenants Association.
The primary for the DA’s office is June 25th.