The killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis police custody, and the subsequent protests that it sparked loom large over the primary contest for Albany County District Attorney.
The race pits incumbent David Soares against former Albany County ADA Matt Toporowski, who is challenging Soares from the left. Both are vying for the Democratic party nomination in the June 23 primary.
While Soares launched his political career 16 years ago with the backing of the progressive Working Families Party, the WFP this time around has thrown its support behind Toporowski.
“When I started my campaign, oddly enough, with the WFP, it was because there were terrible criminal justice policies. And we began our relationship trying to overcome those Rockefeller drug laws, and we did,” said Soares of his past relationship with the party. “However, as a prosecutor, as someone who is responsible for public safety, you can’t stand by and let your allies and your friends propose terrible criminal justice legislation that tends to impact the same community that they claim to be fighting for, disproportionately.”
Soares is referring to several controversial criminal justice reforms passed by the state legislature in 2019, including bail reform.
There are competing narratives around this race. One says that Soares, who once toppled the Albany old guard, has now become a part of the establishment he once fought against.
“He opposed the criminal justice reforms of 2019. He sued to block the Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct here, and so at this point, you’re in office 16 years, you coast into these elections, I think you lose focus and you lose the fact that you need to be accountable and you get complacent where you are at,” Toporowski told Spectrum News.
The incumbent’s narrative is that over the last 16 years, he has been tough on violent crime and smart about reform. But some of the criminal justice measures passed recently by the legislature are simply non-starters to him.
“Anyone who will say to you after reading the proposed legislation [to create a Prosecutorial Conduct Commission] that they would be supportive of it, would be supporting a body that is unconstitutional,” Soares said.
It was ruled unconstitutional, and now the legislature must alter it.
Toporowski wants voters to see him as a breath of fresh air at a time when the criminal justice system is under scrutiny.
“If we don’t have a just system that’s fair and works for everybody, that only works for the wealthy and well-connected, there’s no faith in the justice system. There’s no trust and accountability in the community. And what has occurred in Minneapolis, I think, has shown that with the DA’s office there in George Floyd’s case,” Toporowski said.
Soares said his message to those protesting over the killing of George Floyd is “we hear you.” He is also calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to expand Executive Order 147, which would ban local prosecutors from investigating any cases involving local law enforcement.