Additional reporting by Josefa Velasquez
In the final stretch of the race for Manhattan district attorney, candidate Tali Farhadian Weinstein is making a big push to spend her way to the top.
Farhadian Weinstein used her considerable personal wealth to give a cash infusion of $8.2 million to her campaign between May 17 and June 7, just ahead of the June 22 primary, according to state financial records that track campaign cash flows.
Within that time, the former Brooklyn prosecutor — who is married to hedge fund manager Boaz Weinstein — spent $6.3 million on her run, much of it on television ads and mountains of campaign mail.
By comparison, the candidate with the second-most cash in the race — former New York State Chief Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg — spent $560,000 during the same time period and has $872,000 cash on hand, records show.
“It is obscene and it is absurd,” Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime New York political consultant unaffiliated with any of the Manhattan candidates said of Farhadian Weinstein’s spending.
Rarely, if ever, has New York seen this much money infused into a district attorney race, he said. But it’s all legal: the DA position is a state office and New York’s election rules do not limit funds spent on a campaign by a candidate or their spouse.
“In the prosecutors’ office you would hope that the political machine, nor the money machine, should be controlling the outcomes,” Sheinkopf said. “Bob Morgenthau is probably rolling over in his grave,” he added, referring to the late Manhattan prosecutor who held the office for 34 years.
‘Taking No Risks’
Farhadian Weinstein’s money is buying a lot of exposure for the first-time candidate, who only became a Democrat in 2017 and didn’t vote in local elections until a few years ago.
Public records from the Federal Communications Commission indicate she spent more money on local television advertising by far compared to the seven other Democrats vying to replace outgoing DA Cyrus Vance.
Her campaign has spent at least $2 million on ad spots on local television channels this year, including FOX 5, PIX 11, Univision 41, Telemundo 47 and the local network affiliates WNBC, WABC and WCBS.
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, one of her big-name endorsers, has voiced at least two of those commercials, including one that begins with the tale of Farhadian Weinstein’s arrival in America at age 4 from Iran and ends with her speaking to voters about her “life in public service” while walking in a park.
The runner up in TV spending is Lucy Lang, a former Manhattan prosecutor, who made $195,000 in ad buys from the same stations this year, FCC records show.
Sheinkopf said television is a big expense for little reward for a Manhattan-specific race, because to reach voters there, you often have to buy time covering a dozen counties around the city. Her team’s spending on TV indicates “they are taking no risks,” he said.
“They’ll spend whatever is required, no matter where it comes from, to win the race,” he said.
Farhadian Weinstein is not limiting herself to television. She’s also spent more than $1.4 million on campaign mailers in the time period documented by the most recent state campaign disclosures.
Lillian Washington, a lifelong Lower East Sider, said she has a stack of flyers an inch thick from Farhadian Weinstein at home. She’s planning to study up on the rest of the candidates because, right now, Farhadian Weinstein is the only candidate she knows about.
“I’ve never seen this many flyers come in for any race,” Washington said while waiting for the bus on 14th Street on Monday. “This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.”
“New Yorkers for Tali,” Farhadian Weinstein’s campaign committee, is pouring money into Facebook ads, too.
In the past month, her campaign is the fifth-highest spender among those paying for political ads on the social network in New York, according to the company’s ad data. Farhadian Weinstein spent $148,682 in the past 30 days on Facebook ads — more than mayoral candidates Andrew Yang, Kathryn Garcia and the super PAC backing Eric Adams.
She is getting her voice out through a podcast, as well.
Among her campaign’s top 10 expenses in the most recent filing period is a $255,000 fee paid to Pushkin Industries, the production company behind her podcast, called “Hearing with Tali Farhadian Weinstein,” launched last fall. Each episode “welcomes you into her thought process,” according to Pushkin’s site.
The Have Nots
On the campaign trail, several candidates for DA have run on platforms highlighting what they see as unequal treatment by prosecutors between defendants with money and those with little means.
As the Farhadian Weinstein’s funding disclosures became public on June 11, her fellow candidates wasted little time linking her $8.2 million campaign boost to that theme.
In response to the news, Eliza Orlins, a public defender running for the prosecutor job, tweeted about seeing a client jailed “for weeks” because he couldn’t afford $500 bail.
“We have two different criminal systems, one the privileged, one for everyone else,” she wrote.
Tahanie Aboushi, a civil rights attorney running for the office, said Farhadian Weinstein’s spending is “a smack in the face to New Yorkers who are struggling coming through this pandemic.”
“It’s dangerous,” she told THE CITY. “It’s a clear attempt to buy the election.”
At least one Manhattan woman however, wasn’t dissuaded by her piles of cash. The 60-year resident of lower Fifth Avenue, who asked that her name not be used, said she already cast a ballot for Farhadian Weinstein through early voting.
The woman said she was influenced by the candidate endorsements from Holder and Sen. Hillary Clinton, and thought Farhadian Weinstein seemed “so thoroughly knowledgeable.”
“I’m sure it would dissuade a lot of people, her having so much money. But the thing is, it was her intelligence that I liked,” she said while walking to do errands. “And I also wanted a woman.”
‘Safety and Security’
In response to critics charging Farhadian Weinstein with buying the election, her spokesperson Jennifer Blautus pointed to the candidate’s time as a Brooklyn assistant district attorney.
“Tali is the only person in this race who has actually reformed a DA’s office and the only one with a balanced approach for safety and security,” she said.
Blautus added that Farhadian Weinstein is “not the only candidate who has chosen to self-fund” — referring to Lang, the granddaughter of the late philanthropist Eugene Lang, who has contributed $500,000 to her own campaign.
The spokesperson also noted that Farhadian Weinstein’s campaign must contend with “a super PAC advertising against us,” referring to the Color of Change PAC that has committed $1 million to backing Bragg in the race.
On 14th Street, Washington wasn’t overly concerned by Farhadian Weinstein’s millions. Cash in politics only bothers her when it’s “dark money,” the 58-year-old voter said, or funds that come from unknown sources.
“She’s got her own money, so she’s paying her own way,” she said. “Dark money has to get out of politics, period.”