Last Tuesday Dan Donovan, the Staten Island District Attorney, was elected as the US Congressman for New York State’s 11th Congressional District, which covers Staten Island and part of Brooklyn. The election was necessary because the sitting Congressman, Michael Grimm, a.k.a. ‘Mikie Suits,’ a former US Marine and undercover FBI agent, had been convicted for tax fraud and was awaiting sentencing. Although it is not uncommon that politicians end up in the criminal justice system, especially in the State of New York, where the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives recently had to step down and the leader of the Republicans in the Senate has also been indicted, usually their crimes and misdemeanors are related to the office they hold. Mikie’s case was different, because he had cooked the books in a health food restaurant he owned before he became an elected official. His only claim to fame as Congressman was threatening to throw the reporter of a local TV station off the Capitol’s balcony while the camera was running, something he profusely apologized for as soon as he found out that the young man’s grandfather was the head of a Staten Island mafia family.
I got to know Dan Donovan when he was still the Deputy Borough President on Staten Island. We worked together in a committee that created the Staten Island Leadership Institute, a program I ran for ten years, from 2004-2013. In the institute up and coming leaders in the public, private and not-for-profit sector on Staten Island were given an opportunity to familiarize themselves with all aspects of the Staten Island community. Topics included the economy, traffic, education, the environment, safety and security, health care, demographics and cultural institutions. Sessions were held on the last Friday of every month, with presentations by local experts and site visits. After Dan had been elected District Attorney the session on safety and security always included a visit to his office, where the group of participants would be informed on all areas of criminality on Staten Island by Dan’s Assistant DAs in the Grand Jury room and subsequently meet with Dan in his spectacular workspace. During those meetings Dan was very informal and extremely gracious, and they usually ended in a semi-facetious discussion between him and me about the need to replace the Rockefeller Laws with the Willie Nelson Rules in New York.
By all standards Dan was an excellent DA. His office had state of the art equipment for interviewing the victims of domestic and sexual abuse, including a toy room for children. His top priority was the prosecution of drunk drivers, and he showed his original moral standards when he removed himself from the case of the grandson of Borough President James Molinaro, his former boss, which turned Molinaro into his enemy for life. And then Eric Garner was murdered by a New York City police officer.
There could be no doubt that Daniel Pantaleo caused Garner’s death by taking him in a forbidden and unnecessary chokehold, since the scuffle was recorded on video. Yet Dan Donovan, who presented the case to the Grand Jury, somehow succeeded in getting Pantaleo off the hook, presumably because he had decided to run for Grimm’s seat and knew that an indictment would not help him get elected.
Although Garner will not receive justice Dan Donovan will be severely punished for his dereliction of duty. Instead of sitting in an office with a spectacular view of Manhattan and the occasional round of golf with Michael Bloomberg he will now sit in a basement cubicle in the Capitol and spend time with the likes of Louie Gohmert and Steve King. So in the end, a minimal amount of justice will be served.