By Clifford Michael, THE CITY.
A year after State Sen. Andrew Gounardes beat GOP stalwart Marty Golden, Brooklyn Republicans are weighing challenges against the freshman Democrat — with a rallying cry of undoing bail reform.
Gounardes, 36, beat the longtime state senator by 1,200 votes as part of a Democratic wave that took out all but one of Brooklyn’s Republican elected officials in 2018 and lost the GOP control of the state Senate.
Liam McCabe, a Republican district leader who ran in a 2017 primary for Bay Ridge’s City Council seat, recently set up a state political account to gear up to challenge Gounardes.
His planned campaign playbook: blast his opponent for helping Democratic leaders in the Legislature eliminate cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies in New York.
“They’re basically saying, ‘We’re going to write the law and society is going to figure out how to deal with it,’” said McCabe, 41, who works at the Taxi & Limousine Commission’s enforcement division. “We’re in chaos. I don’t think they’re reading the bills, they’re just taking orders from the far left.”
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea blamed bail reform again Tuesday for spikes in crime reports since the law took effect Jan. 1 — as Mayor Bill de Blasio presses Albany lawmakers to revisit the measure. Meanwhile, repeated arrests of a bank robbery suspect and a woman accused of anti-Semitic assaults have made headlines.
“I am raring to go,” said McCabe. “I can’t wait to step into the ring.”
He’s not the only swing-district candidate making opposition to progressive criminal justice reforms a key issue.
Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn), who’s challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Max Rose for his House seat, is also campaigning on an anti-bail message. So are the two Republicans running for her spot in the Assembly.
‘We Were Criminalizing Poverty’
The elimination of cash bail passed along party lines last year as part of the state budget package negotiated by Democratic Senate and Assembly leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. That deal also included reforms to pretrial discovery laws that require evidence be handed over within weeks, enabling those charged to better prepare a defense.
In a phone interview, Gounardes called criticism of the new law premature. He also noted the Legislature compromised on demands to end bail entirely.
“The record shows that, as a whole, these reforms are good,” said Gounardes. “We lived in a culture where we were criminalizing poverty and that people who commited crimes and could afford to commit afford to pay bail were being let out, while people who committed crimes and could not afford bail were kept in jail. That’s just not tenable.”
Still, Goundardes sees room for improvement. He’s co-sponsoring a bill that would allow judges to require mental health or substance abuse evaluations as a condition of release.
Gounardes says he remains confident the new law can be made to work in line with public safety: “There are lots of little ways to solve this problem in different angles.”
Busy First Year
An attorney who formerly served as counsel to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Gounardes has authored 19 bills that’ve been signed into law. The measures include expanding the city’s speed camera program and giving unlimited sick leave to city workers who responded to 9/11.
The freshman lawmaker also secured $5.6 million to renovate Marine Park, the largest public space in his district, which also includes Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst and Gravesend.
“We’ve done a lot of great things and I think it’s resonated with people back home,” said Gounardes.
McCabe is betting voters will prefer a return to the days of Golden, a retired police officer with a law-and-order focus. The candidate held news conferences in November and January accusing Gounardes and other Democrats of creating a culture disrespectful to police officers.
Gounardes rejected this accusation.
“Everyone recognizes that police officers have an extraordinarily difficult job and that job gets harder and harder,” said Gounardes, who noted that his best friend and several family members are cops. “I have a very strong affinity for the men and women in law enforcement”
‘Such an Ugly Game’
In what he called a “preview” of his campaign to come, McCabe recently posted a video shot outside of Gounardes’ Fifth Ave. district office and criticized him for not changing the signage, which still says “Justin Brannan” — the local Council member who has moved to a different storefront.
Local Democrats say that negative attacks from Republicans, in a rare-for-New York City two-party district, are nothing new.
“Republicans in this district have always tried scare tactics,” said Chris McCreight, president of the Bay Ridge Democrats. “Whether it be about immigrants or people of different ethnicities, it’s kind of their bread and butter.”
But John Quaglione, a longtime Golden aide who lost to Brannan in a 2017 race, said he’s faced unfair attacks from Democrats.
Quaglione, who initially was expected to challenge Gounardes, told THE CITY that he’s leaning toward not running because of the recent political climate.
“My race was in 2017 and they were already putting me on posters with Donald Trump,” Quaglione said.
“When you disagree on politics that’s one thing, but it’s become so personal and it’s such an ugly game.”