The Manhattan District Attorney election

The District Attorney for Manhattan is an important position because that region covers the main financial district in the US and thus the DA can prosecute wrongdoing by the financial giants. The position is an elected one and the current occupant Democrat Cyrus Vance, Jr. has long had a reputation for treating wealthy and powerful people leniently, especially those who happened to contribute to his election campaigns like Harvey Weinstein and the Trump family, while going hard after poor and minority communities. In the last couple of years he has changed course slightly and been investigating Donald Trump’s financial interests, convening a grand jury to present evidence and possibly seek indictments. He has announced that is not running for re-election this year and this has led to a scramble to replace him, with eight candidates.

Given the importance of the position and the fact that the person who is elected will be responsible for continuing the Trump investigation, it is important that the person elected be willing to vigorously go after white collar crime. The Democratic primary election is on June 22 and this is the key election since the person who gets the Democratic nomination is a likely shoo-in in the general election in November.

In the trove of tax returns that ProPublica received, they found that one of the leading candidates also has a history of tax avoidance like the others it discovered.

Tali Farhadian Weinstein, who is married to hedge fund manager Boaz Weinstein, is running for Manhattan district attorney in the Democratic primary, in which early voting has already begun. She and her husband reported income as high as $107 million in 2011, and she recently donated $8.2 million to her campaign — more than her seven Democratic rivals have raised in total.

But in 2017, according to a trove of tax data obtained by ProPublica, she and her husband paid no federal income tax. In 2015 and 2013, they also paid no federal income tax. In 2014, she and her husband paid $6,584.

She has presented herself as a centrist in a progressive Democratic field. A former federal prosecutor and general counsel for the Brooklyn DA’s office, she has picked up a string of high-profile endorsements, including from former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the New York Daily News and the New York Post.

Farhadian Weinstein has received hundreds of thousands in donations from wealthy financiers, including contributions from Citadel’s Ken Griffin, PointState Capital’s Zach Schreiber and Pershing Square founder William Ackman. That has prompted criticism that she will be soft on white-collar crime as the DA in the nation’s financial capital. She has said those donations will not influence her.

In two of the years that the Weinsteins paid zero federal income tax, 2017 and 2015, their returns show millions in business losses. In those years, the couple reported a net negative income.

But they avoided virtually all federal income taxes even in two of the years in which they made money. In 2014, their adjusted gross income was almost a million dollars. That year, the couple’s deduction for investment interest expense skyrocketed to just under a million dollars, essentially wiping out their taxable income for the year. The tax code allows investors to take a deduction for interest paid on money they borrow to invest. That effectively allows their risk-taking to be subsidized by other taxpayers.

In 2013, the couple reported $1.5 million in adjusted gross income and still paid no federal income tax. That year, the couple reported a deduction of more than $1 million for “miscellaneous expenses” — a catchall deduction, since eliminated, that can include expenses for tax and investment advice and some legal expenses. (The tax records obtained by ProPublica did not enumerate the specifics of those expenses, and Farhadian Weinstein declined to answer questions about them.)

Unfortunately the left has not been able to coalesce around a single candidate. Bernie Sanders has endorsed civil rights attorney Tahanie Aboushi while Color of Change PAC endorsed Alvin Bragg. Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder, always faithful to serving Wall Street, have of course endorsed Weinstein. According to the polls, Weinstein and Bragg are leading.

Given that Manhattan is a big media market, running an election campaign is expensive and thus rich people who can donate to their own campaigns and have rich friends have a big advantage. The list of wealthy people in the financial sector who have contributed to Weinstein’s campaign is a big warning sign that she should not be elected.


  1. says

    Vance has actually done very little to Trump or the Trump Org. Its as if he’s just making a show -- shake them down for campaign donations and otherwise nobody gets charged.

    Having a slow and ineffective investigation may be better than no investigation at all.

  2. Mano Singham says

    ahcuah @#2,

    The ranked choice voting is only for the mayoral race. The DA race unfortunately is under the old system.

  3. consciousness razor says

    Yesterday, Clinton also endorsed Shontel Brown, who’s opposing Nina Turner in the Ohio-11 primary in August (for a special election in November, since Marcia Fudge is now the HUD Secretary). That might actually help Turner more than it hurts, but of course that’s not the intention.

    Just so everyone is totally clear on this point: this is not an example of the left failing to coalesce around one candidate, because Hillary Clinton will never play such a role in any such story. This is simply about the right trying to ensure the left isn’t a growing faction in Congress.

  4. John Morales says

    The USA is weird.

    Electing politicians, that’s normal. But electing functionaries?

    Ah well. Better there than here.

  5. consciousness razor says

    John Morales:

    Electing politicians, that’s normal. But electing functionaries?

    Your system in Australia is a bit of a mystery to me too. Please correct me on anything if necessary, but I think I’ve got the basics right…..

    Is there supposed to be a benefit to having the unelected monarch of another country (from which you’ve notionally gained independence) appoint someone (the Governor-General) who appoints someone else (the Attorney-General) who appoints these particular “functionaries” (Crown prosecutors)?

    If there is a benefit, I’m just not getting it. i guess you’d have to work through that one step at a time for me.

    Besides, don’t politicians also have a constitutionally-mandated function, as office holders in the government?* Seems rather functional to me. So what’s that kind of distinction supposed to be about anyway?

    Obviously, members of Congress (e.g.) often do theirs very badly. But that is nonetheless their job.

    In any case, they could be fired from it by the citizens themselves. Since the citizenry themselves are the people from whom all governmental powers legitimately derive (not the queen, etc.), to whom those chosen for positions in government should be held accountable, then to me that sounds quite sensible and appropriate. What’s not too sensible is this absurd fiction that a “functionary” of the kind you’re describing — unlike the local dog-catcher or what have you — could genuinely be non-political … or even if that were possible, that this would be a desirable quality.

  6. John Morales says

    consciousness razor:

    If there is a benefit, I’m just not getting it. i guess you’d have to work through that one step at a time for me.

    So defensive!

    I don’t know the ins and outs; I do know I’ve never had to vote for a attorney-general, or a judge, prosecutor, sheriff, school board member, you know, whatever.
    Dogcatcher, maybe.

    All good. You mob do your thing.

  7. prl says

    The Attorney-General of Australia as currently selected can be voted out at any election that includes his or her electorate (the incumbent is Michaelia Cash). But that’s by voting against that person as a member of Parliament, not by voting against their position as Attorney-General.

    While the Australian Attorney-General can be anyone that the Governor-General appoints on the Prime Minister’s advice, the person appointed has always been a member of Parliament.

    It is unusual in Australia for ministers to lose their parliamentary seats, but it does happen. For example, then Prime Minister John Howard lost his seat in the 2007 elections (but his coalition also lost the election, so he wouldn’t have been Prime Minister anyway).

    The Australian Constitution actually allows for anyone to be nominated as a minister (the Attorney-General is a ministerial post, but like the Treasurer, the title isn’t prefaced with “Minister for”), but again no-one outside parliament has ever been made a minister.

    Another curiosity of our constitution is that the position of Prime Minister is not mentioned in it at all.

    The position of Governer-General was long thought to be a pretty-much symbolic position, until the events of 1975. People might have been less surprised by that if they’d thought more about the events of 1932.

    The functionary who is the leading non-elected law officer in Australia is the Solicitor-General, not the Attorney-General.

  8. consciousness razor says


    While the Australian Attorney-General can be anyone that the Governor-General appoints on the Prime Minister’s advice, the person appointed has always been a member of Parliament.

    Thanks. I know next to nothing about this history, so that’s good to know. (But now, John’s comment #6 makes even less sense to me. That’s fine … doesn’t really matter.)

    So, it happens to be the case that they have all been elected, for another type of position (although they don’t need to be). However, which of the elected politicians in the whole lot will become AG is another matter.

    That’s pretty weird. I’m not saying that in comparison with the US, because I know it’s also very weird. (I don’t think anything prevents us all from being at least a little bit weird.) You could just as well criticize our electoral college, Senate, Supreme Court, and so forth. Or consider how our many departments/agencies are broken up rather pointlessly into little pieces among the different states and territories, instead of each being organized as a national entity with a single coherent set of policies…. “Byzantine” is sort of the right word, but honestly even that doesn’t seem fair. I mean, whatever its faults, the actual Eastern Roman Empire was at least able to hold things together somehow for about a thousand years, while it certainly doesn’t look like that could be the story of the US.

  9. Holms says

    #7 cr
    The monarch does not elect the GG, the Prime Minister does. And the GG does not elect the AG, the PM does that one too. Common misconceptions.

  10. consciousness razor says

    If I advise you to vote for a particular person, and you can choose whether or not to take that advice, how do you think we should describe that? I think it sounds like you’re the one voting, not me, even in cases when you do actually listen to my advice.

  11. prl says

    No-one elects the Australian Governor-General. The monarch appoints the G-G on advice from the Prime Minister. I’ve never heard of that advice being rejected, but if it had been, that fact may not have been made public. State Governors in Australia are appointed in a similar manner.

    And, since the Constitution doesn’t mention the Prime Minister at all, the monarch acting on the PM’s advice is simply convention. Item 2 of the constitution says:

    A Governor‑General appointed by the Queen shall be Her Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth, and shall have and may exercise in the Commonwealth during the Queen’s pleasure, but subject to this Constitution, such powers and functions of the Queen as Her Majesty may be pleased to assign to him.

    For a document that’s only 120 years old, the Australian constitution is quite archaic in many ways, and lacks most of the things that are in the US Bill of Rights, apart from the freedom of religion clause.

    An indirectly elected head of state (elected by a 2/3 majority of a joint sitting of both houses of Parliament) was the subject of the defeated 1999 republican referendum in Australia.

  12. prl says

    consciousness razor #11:
    For this part of Australian constitution, the UK parliament and its conventions are a much closer model than the US. Even down to things like the monarch and Governor-General having to ask permission of the lower house to enter its chamber. The last time a British monarch entered the House of Commons uninvited, things went very badly indeed. As in the UK, the convention is that the Prime Minister is a member of the lower house (Commons/Representatives). Other ministers can be from either house.

    Australian Federal arrangements are much more like the US, since the UK’s odd union arrangements weren’t thought of as a good model at the time (1890s), and probably still wouldn’t be. That goes all the way down to the Senate’s name and manner of its election (voting on a whole-of-state basis). Even the idea of a separate federal territory for the capital was taken from the US.

    The Australian parliamentary system is sometimes referred to a the Washminster system, combining bits of both Washington and Westminster.

    Unlike the US, though, the Australian federal parliament is elected through its own electoral laws. The states have no power over any part of the federal election process. The federal electoral boundaries are set by an independent federal commission, which also conducts the elections.

  13. prl says


    And the GG does not elect the AG, the PM does that one too. Common misconceptions.

    I’m afraid it’s a bit more complicated than that.

    The Governor-General will appoint ministers based on the advice from the Prime Minister (or presumptive prime minister in a newly-elected government), a member of parliament who claims that they can command a working majority (which isn’t necessarily an actual party majority).

    Ministers are chosen in different ways by different parties. Both the Labor party and the Liberal party (senior member of the Liberal/National coalition) directly elect their parliamentary leader, who serves as either Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition. These elections and elections for other ministerial positions are by a combined vote of members of the respective parties in both chambers, but outside the parliamentary chambers themselves. The Labor Party members also directly elect the Deputy PM/Deputy Leader of the opposition. The National Party members elect their parliamentary leader as the Deputy.

    As for the rest of the ministry: Labor members elect the ministry (or shadow ministry, if in opposition), and their leader assigns the elected members to their respective (shadow) ministries. In the Liberal/National coalition, their parliamentary leader selects (shadow) ministers, but is bound to the coalition agreement as to how many will be Liberal and how many will be National.

    Those government MPs selected for the various positions are then recommended to the GG, who, if he accepts their advice, will take their oaths (or affirmations) of office.

  14. Holms says

    Er, I think you’ve overstated the autonomy the GG has in those appointments. The GG’s role in those appointments is to look at the names given to them by the respective parties, and to appoint those named. Similarly, the appointment of the GG is the result of the PM nominating someone and the monarch appointing them; but look past the rosy language and you see that the process is a formality.

  15. prl says

    That is how the convention normally works, but it’s not what the constitution says:

    64. Ministers of State

    The Governor-General may appoint officers to administer such departments of State of the Commonwealth as the Governor-General in Council may establish.

    Such officers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor-General. They shall be members of the Federal Executive Council, and shall be the Queen’s Ministers of State for the Commonwealth.

    Nothing says anything about him even having to accept advice from the Prime Minister, which is hardly surprising, since the Prime Minister isn’t a recognized title in the constitution.

    No-one thought that the reserve powers, like the ones given to the G-G to arbitrarily appoint or dismiss ministers (at his or her “pleasure”), or the one to dismiss parliament, would ever be used, but all were used in 1975 when Gough Whitlam was dismissed as PM, Malcolm Fraser was put in his place, even though he did not command a majority in the lower house, and parliament was dismissed, all on the G-G’s say-so.

    I was, however, incorrect about Ministers not necessarily having to be members of parliament. From the same section:

    Ministers to sit in Parliament

    After the first general election no Minister of State shall hold office for a longer period than three months unless he is or becomes a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

    Only ministers in the first parliament (which sat 1901-1903) did not need to be members of that parliament.

    That also applies to ministerial posts without the “Minister for” title, like the Attorney-General and the Treasurer, so the Attorney-General of Australia must be a member of parliament (the incumbent is a member of the Senate).

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