Wall Street’s Candidate Loses Manhattan District Attorney Primary

After donating $8.2 million to her own campaign, Tali Farhadian Weinstein fell short.

Tali Farhadian Weinstein, who is running for Manhattan district attorney, in New York, April 11, 2021. Weinstein built up a $2.2 million war chest with help from hedge fund managers, far more than her rivals in the Manhattan district attorney race. (Sara Naomi Lewkowicz/The New York Times)
Tali Farhadian Weinstein, seen in New York on April 11, 2021. Photo: Sara Naomi Lewkowicz/The New York Times via Redux

Tali Farhadian Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor backed by Wall Street, has lost the Democratic primary for Manhattan district attorney to former New York state Chief Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg. Now the Democratic nominee, Bragg will almost certainly sweep the general election in November and serve a four-year term beginning in 2022.

As Manhattan’s top prosecutor, Bragg will oversee some of the most consequential criminal cases in the country, including the ongoing investigation into the finances of former President Donald Trump and his organization. On Thursday, the incumbent DA charged the Trump Organization with grand larceny and other offenses related to tax fraud. Bragg will also be the country’s preeminent prosecutor of white-collar crime, given the DA’s jurisdiction over Wall Street, where he will lead investigations into multinational investment schemes, money laundering, and workplace violations.

Weinstein’s loss comes as a win for progressives and some government reform advocates, who argued that the multimillionaire’s close ties to Wall Street presented a conflict of interest. Of the 27 donors who made contributions over $35,000 to Weinstein’s campaign, all but one were Wall Street or business leaders. Weinstein, who worked as a prosecutor in Barack Obama’s Department of Justice and is married to hedge fund executive Boaz Weinstein of Saba Capital Management, also contributed $8.2 million of her own money to her campaign in the final weeks of the race, some of which went toward ads attacking Bragg. 

In total, Weinstein, one of the most moderate candidates in the primary, raised nearly $13 million: more than five times the amount Bragg raised, and more than the amount the seven other candidates raised combined. Her powerful war chest allowed for a digital ad campaign and mailers that helped boost her name recognition. Only two months before the election, two polls showed Weinstein in the lead with twice as many votes as Bragg; she led him 16 percent to 6 percent in a Benson Strategy Group Poll, and 11 percent to 5 percent in an internal poll paid for by the campaign of another candidate, Tahanie Aboushi. (Unlike New York City’s municipal elections, New York state’s district attorney races do not have ranked-choice voting.)


Wall Street’s Candidate Gave Herself $8 Million for Manhattan District Attorney Race

But as the June 22 election drew nearer, the gap in the race narrowed. Buoyed by a New York Times endorsement, Bragg — who ran on a platform to the left of Weinstein’s — gained steam. A poll conducted by Data for Progress two weeks before the race showed Bragg tied with Weinstein, and a poll the following week showed him ahead. 

Bragg, who oversaw cases against film producer Harvey Weinstein and the Trump administration at the state attorney general’s office, focused his campaign on criminal justice reform rather than prosecution. He has vowed to not prosecute most low-level crimes, such as sex work; to offer restorative justice programming for cases involving serious crimes; and to never seek sentences longer than 20 years — though he noted he may find “exceptional circumstances.”

Weinstein, meanwhile, leaned into a narrative peddled by right-wing pundits and law enforcement officials that framed the election as a referendum on public safety. Although rates of many violent crimes have decreased over the past year, factors including the Covid-19 pandemic and increased access to guns have contributed to a rise in gun violence in major cities across the country — making crime a central issue in the DA’s race as well as in municipal elections. But missing from this framing is the fact that before 2020, violent crime in New York City had dropped to its lowest level in decades. The number of murders in New York City last year — between 400 and 500 — is similar to what it was in 2012, when the murder rate was said to have plummeted.

And though Weinstein, who has called herself a “progressive prosecutor,” supported some criminal justice reforms, her platform was more moderate than those of her peers. She pledged to invigorate the office’s wrongful conviction unit, seek only minimum sentences “as a default rule,” and “reduce significantly” the use of convictions for nonviolent offenses. But unlike the race’s left-most candidates, she did not promise to stop prosecuting nonviolent misdemeanors, seek sentences less than 20 years, fully decriminalize sex work, or dramatically change the focus of the DA’s office. While her progressive opponents lauded the state’s 2019 bail reform laws that eliminated cash bail, Weinstein said she believes that judges should be allowed to consider a suspect’s potential threat to public safety before setting bail — a practice currently prohibited under the bail reform legislation.

Bragg’s and Weinstein’s different tones on public safety and criminal justice became a sticking point during the final weeks of the race. In several ads, Weinstein sought to frame Bragg’s stances against incarceration as a threat to women and public safety. In one TV ad, a woman slams Bragg’s opposition to a law that would require police to make an arrest in domestic abuse felony cases, and argues that he “would put women and families at further risk of abuse.” As several of his and Weinstein’s competitors in the race denounced the ads, Bragg, who is Black, described them as part of the “worst tradition of our politics playing on racial overtones.”

Weinstein’s campaign tactics continued to put her on the defensive. During a televised June 17 debate, several of the seven other candidates criticized the former federal prosecutor for her advertisements and for paying almost no federal income taxes in four recent years, as ProPublica reported. Weinstein and her husband maintained that their tax filings are completely legal because their net worth fell after significant losses at Saba Capital Management.

Bragg’s victory marks a major win by progressives, who saw the rare opening for the Manhattan district attorney — a position only three people have been elected to in the last 79 years — as an opportunity to enact progressive reform. Bragg, a Harlem native poised to become the borough’s first Black district attorney, says that reducing mass incarceration will be his top priority. 

“We are one step closer to transforming the District Attorney’s office to deliver safety and justice for all,” Bragg said in a statement. “One that ends racial disparities and mass incarceration. One that delivers justice for sexual assault survivors. One that holds police accountable. One that prosecutes landlords who harass tenants, employers who cheat their workers, and stands up to hate crimes. And one that stops the flow of guns onto our streets.”

Join The Conversation