Tight race for Manhattan DA hinges on absentee ballots

Michael R. Sisak
Associated Press

New York – On TV dramas, cases brought by the Manhattan district attorney usually wrap up in about an hour. Figuring out who’s likely to be the borough’s next district attorney in real life will take a bit longer.

Alvin Bragg, a law professor and former top deputy in the New York attorney general’s office, had a narrow lead Wednesday in the Democratic primary over former federal prosecutor Tali Farhadian Weinstein.

Alvin Bragg, a former top deputy to New York's attorney general, is joined by his family as he speaks to supporters in New York, late Tuesday, June 22, 2021.

We're offering a great deal on all-access subscriptions. Check it out here.

Six other Democrats were too far back to win the high-profile prosecutor job glamorized on shows like “Law & Order.”

The Associated Press is not declaring a winner since tens of thousands of absentee ballots are still being counted. Bragg has a lead of 7,200 votes among voters who cast ballots in person.

At an election night party in Harlem, a tearful Bragg acknowledged the many outstanding votes, but also projected confidence he’d won, telling supporters “we did this together” and quipping “we’ve never seen the DA cry.”

If he wins, Bragg would become the first Black man to hold the office.

Reiterating his campaign pledges, Bragg said: “We’re going to demand and deliver on both safety and fairness for all of Manhattan.”

Farhadian Weinstein, however, said she was waiting for all votes to be counted and wouldn’t concede.

“We all knew going into today that this race was not going to be decided tonight and it has not been,” Farhadian Weinstein said in a statement, noting that only a few percentage points separated the candidates. “And so we have to be patient.”

Farhadian Weinstein would be the first woman district attorney in Manhattan if elected.

About 60,000 absentee ballots were sent to Democratic voters in Manhattan. In the 2020 general election, the return rate was 73%.

In primaries in other states this year, the absentee results have sometimes looked very different than the results of ballots cast in person.

In heavily Democratic Manhattan, the party’s primary is all but certain to determine who succeeds the current district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., who is leaving office at the end of the year.

There’s a good chance Vance’s successor will inherit his ongoing criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump and his businesses.

The candidates say they’re not afraid of taking on Trump, but they’ve also been cautious not to appear to be prejudging the case. Vance’s office has spent two years looking at hush-money payments, property valuations, tax strategies, executive compensation, and other dealings.

Aside from the former president, the next district attorney will have to grapple with concerns over rising street crime and ongoing debates about criminal justice and the role of prosecutors.