Comptrollers don’t typically have much to say one way or another about capital punishment. But city comptroller candidate David Weprin hopes to make it an issue in this year’s primary.
Weprin noted in his questionnaire to the Daily News that Melinda Katz once voted for it as a member of the Assembly. Weprin’s people also noted that David Yassky, when he was on staff for Chuck Schumer, helped draft pro-death penalty legislation.
The salvo from Weprin comes shortly after Yassky won the important endorsement of The New York Times.
Weprin’s campaign spokesman Hank Sheinkopf said, “Landlord Katz, death penalty Yassky, sweatshop Liu. What a collection. How about competent integrity with Weprin.” Sheinkopf was referring to the criticism—echoed by the Times editorial board—that Katz is too close to the real estate industry, and to the Daily News‘ recent challenge to John Liu’s claims to have worked in a sweatshop.
When asked for comment, Katz’s campaign spokesman, Ryan Toohey, emailed to say that Katz has had “grave concerns” about the death penalty, “particularly its disparate impact on people of color.” Toohey notes that Katz went on record in 2002 with her vote in the City Council for a moratorium on capital punishment, and said that Katz “continues to oppose the death penalty in any circumstance.”
In an interview outside City Hall this morning, Yassky said, “I am anti–death penalty, and have been, publicly, from Day 1. I oppose the death penalty. When you’re staff, you work on issues that are before the committee.”
Yassky put the legislation in context, and pointed out other popular, progressive Democrats who voted for the bill.
“The federal death penalty was part of the 1994 crime bill, signed into law by Bill Clinton, and the people who voted for that include Barney Frank, John Conyers, [and] John Lewis. So, this is a bill that had in it massive funding for youth programs, and to keep kids out of gangs, major investment in drug treatment, hundred thousand cops on the street program, assault weapons ban. It had a lot of good things in it. It also had in it federal death penalty provisions, which I disagree with, but I don’t get to vote in Congress.”
He also said, “The majority of Democrats at that time supported the death penalty.”
Later, when asked if he thought this was a relevant issue in the comptroller race, Yassky said, “It’s up to voters to decide what’s relevant or not. It’s certainly not part of the comptroller’s portfolio of issues.”
Yassky was counsel to the committee where the bill was passed. In Congress at the time, Democrats had a tenuous hold on the majority, which they eventually lost. As Yassky describes it, the crime bill, as a whole, was only able to pass after the death penalty provision was added to it.