NYC voters set to decide Vance's replacement amid Trump probe

A crowded field of candidates is jockeying to replace Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and take over what is likely the most ambitious case ever to come out of a local prosecutor's office: the criminal probe into former President TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE and his businesses.

The Democratic primary election that will likely decide who replaces Vance is set for Tuesday amid a grand jury investigation that is reportedly closing in on one of the top officials at the Trump Organization.

Vance announced earlier this year that he does not plan to run for reelection after more than 10 years in office.

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The race is crowded, with eight candidates hoping to become just the third person to occupy the office over the past 46 years.

Vance’s investigation into Trump has loomed over the campaign, following a protracted legal battle between the two over the prosecutor’s subpoena for the former president’s tax returns and other financial records.

The case reached the Supreme Court twice, and last year a 7-2 majority of the justices ruled that Trump enjoyed no special immunity as a sitting president from Vance’s investigation. 

According to The New York Times, Vance’s office is now in the final stages of its criminal investigation into Allen WeisselbergAllen Howard WeisselbergEx-Trump adviser Barrack charged with secretly lobbying for UAE The Memo: Trump is diminished but hasn't faded The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden backs Cuban protesters, assails 'authoritarian regime' MORE, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, who could be charged this summer. Prosecutors are said to be seeking Weisselberg’s cooperation in their investigation into the former president, the Times reported.

Any potential criminal charges against a former president would be unprecedented in U.S. history and would undoubtedly be the most high-profile case that the Manhattan district attorney’s office has ever handled.

Rebecca Roiphe, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office who’s a professor at New York Law School, said that the winning candidate will have to withstand the political controversy that is sure to accompany any potential case stemming from the investigation.

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“Whoever inherits this case, if there is a case against Weisselberg, or Trump, or anyone close to Trump, he will seek to delegitimize the process,” Roiphe said. “And he will do that by claiming that this person is politically motivated. So not only do they need to have the skills and the experience, they also need to have the character and the fortitude to withstand that pressure and with credibility. 

“So, you know, I think that voters ought to be asking themselves and I think they are asking themselves which of these candidates will also be able to project professionalism? Because that's key to being able to carry this investigation through credibly,” she added. 

But like any other district attorney election, the race to replace Vance has largely been dominated by local issues and, as is the case in other major cities in recent years, has centered on whether to make reforms to an office that critics believe is overly punitive toward low-income communities and people of color.

The issue has bubbled up at times, but Janos Marton, a criminal justice reform activist who dropped out of the race in December, said the candidates have been careful about how they address it.

“There's some propriety around saying how you're going to investigate Donald Trump before you're elected and have access to the information,” said Marton, the national director at the advocacy group Dream Corps Justice. “That's clearly something that Trump himself would weaponize. So I think there's been more rhetoric around who is best situated to carry on this investigation or best equipped to take on a powerful person like Donald Trump versus sort of getting into the guts of the Trump case.”

The crowded field features several candidates who are hoping to join the growing ranks of progressive prosecutors elected to office in recent years, many of whom ran on platforms that included not bringing charges on low-level offenses, reforming bail systems and lowering sentencing recommendations.

The two top contenders in the race appear to be Tali Farhadian Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who also served as a DOJ counsel to former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderBiden under pressure to pick new breed of federal prosecutors Obama says Senate will vote again on voting rights Obama: Voting rights bill must pass before next election MORE, and Alvin Bragg, the co-director of the Racial Justice Project at New York Law School who also served as a federal prosecutor and a deputy in the New York attorney general’s office.

Farhadian Weinstein has dominated the fundraising campaign, raising $13 million in contributions, including an infusion of $8 million of her own money in recent weeks. She has garnered criticism for accepting money from Wall Street donors who may be subject to scrutiny from the office.

She is also one of the more moderate candidates in the field, mostly eschewing the reform policies pushed by many of her competitors.

Bragg is one of the candidates occupying the more progressive lane. Though he’s worked as a prosecutor for much of his career, he’s campaigned on making reforms that seek to balance protecting civil rights with preserving the district attorney’s office’s power.

The field also includes Tahanie Aboushi, a civil rights attorney running one of the most progressive campaigns in the race. Endorsed by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWomen's March endorses Nina Turner in first-ever electoral endorsement GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan MORE (I-Vt.), Aboushie has called for shrinking the NYPD’s budget and vowed to dismantle many of the office’s prosecution efforts for certain crimes.

Many of the candidates have pushed for a change of direction following the Vance era, with the current prosecutor’s critics saying he has been too hard on low-level offenders and too lenient on the rich and powerful who dominate the city. And some see the Trump investigation as an early test of how the next district attorney might approach the job.

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Before he began investigating Trump, Vance had come under mounting criticism after his office was reported to have declined prosecutions against Harvey Weinstein, Ivanka TrumpIvanka TrumpWashington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 Jill Biden takes starring role at difficult Olympics Trump to Pence on Jan. 6: 'You don't have the courage' MORE and Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerWashington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 Unsealed documents detail Trump and Biden efforts on reporter records 'Just say we won,' Giuliani told Trump aides on election night: book MORE. Vance’s office later successfully prosecuted Weinstein for sexual assault and rape and the Hollywood mogul was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Claire Stottlemyer, a public defense attorney in Manhattan who has helped rate the candidates’ criminal justice proposals for the group Five Boro Defenders, said that the office has been too hesitant to pursue cases against the city’s most powerful people while bringing its resources to bear against the most vulnerable.

“We want to see prosecutions more equally distributed, of course, we see the majority of cases are brought against low-income communities, against black and brown people,” Stottlemyer said. “And the outcomes are so different when they're brought against people from outside those communities. They are treated differently at every step.”

“They're never cautious when they're prosecuting our clients,” she added. “It’s always arrest and prosecute and think later.”