This is a story about prosecutors. Specifically Anthony Scarpino, the current Westchester County District Attorney and Linda Fairstein, the former Manhattan prosecutor whose career has been forever tarnished by her mishandling of the Central Park Five case. And it’s about me, and my mother.
I am a candidate for Westchester County District Attorney. It’s a new experience: I’ve never run for office before. I understand the rough and tumble of campaigns but my opponent is going beyond that to the “win at any cost” mentality that pervades too many DA’s offices and can lead to significant mistakes in prosecutions. As I was once told, “how someone campaigns is how they govern.” In this case, my opponent has resorted to a misogynistic and misguided smear campaign that reveals far more about him than it does about me. Let me explain.
In 1991, when I was a college student, I saw a panel of women, including Linda Fairstein, speak about their professional experiences. Fairstein spoke of starting the first sex crimes unit in the 1970s, and why that development was so important for rape and sexual assault victims. Hearing this story struck me deeply and personally: my mother had been the victim of a violent rape years earlier. I grew up hearing not only about her trauma but also about her humiliation as the police and justice system did absolutely nothing to investigate and find the perpetrator. In 1991, Fairstein talked about why the criminal justice system should treat victims with respect and dignity and investigate sex crimes like any other violent crime. For me, a woman standing up like this at that time to give justice to victims of sexual assaults was a heroic move, and thinking about the opportunity to work on such cases was a significant part of my motivation to become a prosecutor.
Fast forward to 2018, when I was interviewed about my career from 16-year federal prosecutor to TV Legal Analyst speaking out about the injustices of the Trump Administration. When I was asked about why I became a prosecutor, I talked, as I always had in telling my personal history, about Fairstein’s presentation in 1991 and what it meant to a young college student who grew up hearing about the trauma of rape and a system that ignored it. I also spoke about Anita Hill and the impact that her testimony about sexual harassment had on me.
Now I have learned that my opponent – the sitting District Attorney – is trying to twist this deeply personal story, out of context, to attempt to somehow label me a racist and bolster his re-election campaign. This is a preposterous attack, especially from someone who refuses to create a real Conviction Integrity Unit and whose track record on diversity within his office is highly questionable. And it absolutely pains me to have to put this in writing where my mother – who is 90 years old – might see it. But I can’t let this go unanswered.
Let me be clear: what happened in the Central Park Five case was a horrific miscarriage of justice. Prosecutors, led by Linda Fairstein, ignored red flags that should have caused them to re-think the entire case. This “tunnel vision” is one of the most dangerous things a prosecutor can do, and this part of Fairstein’s career, plus the many other wrongful convictions we’ve seen, is why I have made real conviction integrity a major part of my vision for the Westchester DA’s Office. My opponent, however, refuses to create such a unit and has ignored requests by respected innocence advocates to review such cases.
A “win at any cost” mentality helped cause the tragedy of the Central Park Five case, and it appears to be fueling my opponent’s effort to mischaracterize a deeply personal story of my family’s tragedy to mislead voters and smear me. The voters, frankly, deserve better. So, while my opponent falsely attacks my character, I will continue to release real policy proposals to improve the DA’s office, from Conviction Integrity, to Reducing Gun Violence, to Human Trafficking, and to Improving Transparency. And I’m happy to let the voters decide, on the facts, which of us they prefer in this important office.
Editor’s Note: Check out our interview with Westchester DA Candidate Mimi Rocah. We have extended an invitation to Westchester District Attorney Anthony Scarpino, to appear on our show People Before Politics Radio in March and are waiting to see if he accepts our invitation to be interviewed as well.