This story was published in partnership with New York Focus, an independent, investigative news site covering New York state and city politics. Sign up for their newsletter here.
Manhattan District Attorney candidate Tali Farhadian Weinstein was not a regular voter until 2016, records show — and did not register as a Democrat until October 2017.
All seven other candidates for the Democratic nomination to replace outgoing DA Cyrus Vance in the June 22 primary have been consistent voters and registered Democrats for years, New York Focus’ review found.
Farhadian Weinstein, 45, one of the more moderate candidates in a generally progressive field, registered in New York as an unaffiliated voter in August 2008, before re-registering as a Democrat in October 2017.
In the intervening years, she voted only in general elections in presidential election years — skipping votes for mayor, governor, Congress and the 2009 election of Vance, records show.
New York’s closed primary system, in which only registered members of a political party are allowed to vote in that party’s primaries, prevented Farhadian Weinstein from casting a ballot in any primary elections during that time.
Asked about her voting record by New York Focus while taking questions at the end of a June 10 campaign event, Farhadian Weinstein promised to return to the question, but her spokesperson discouraged her from doing so.
The spokesperson, Jennifer Blatus, later chastised a New York Focus reporter for asking a question unrelated to the main focus of the event, which centered on gender-based violence. She did not directly address Weinstein’s voting record.
Center of the Pack
Heavily funded by Wall Street executives, Farhadian Weinstein’s campaign has struck a more moderate tone than many rivals’.
For instance, she supports allowing judges to take public safety into consideration in deciding whether and how high to set bail — a power New York’s bail law prohibits and that Vance advocated against.
In recent weeks, Farhadian Weinstein’s campaign was also boosted by $8.2 million worth of donations from her own personal wealth, a sum greater than the total amount raised by any other DA candidate.
The New York Times reported earlier this month that Farhadian Weinstein interviewed with officials in the Trump administration for a federal judgeship in 2017, just before she first registered as a Democrat.
At the time, according to her LinkedIn, Farhadian Weinstein was working for the Justice Department as an assistant U.S. attorney, having joined under Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder. She focused on public integrity, organized crime and gangs.
The following year, months after her registration as a Democrat, she went to work for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez as his general counsel.
Farhadian Weinstein financially supported Democrats during the years she was registered unaffiliated — giving substantial sums to presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.).
But earlier in her career, Farhadian Weinstein maintained close affiliations with high-powered Republicans in the legal world.
She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor during the Court’s 2004 term. O’Connor, who became the first woman on the high court when President Ronald Reagan appointed her 40 years ago, was part of the majority in Bush v. Gore, the case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency in 2000.
In late 2004, Farhadian Weinstein attended the annual convention of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal group that counts as current or former members all six of the Republican-appointed justices currently on the Supreme Court.
And her campaign for DA has received substantial contributions from major donors to Republican candidates and PACs, including Kenneth Griffin, Robert Granieri, and Bara and Alex Tisch.
‘Not Seriously Disabling’
Farhadian Weinstein’s failure to vote in local elections stands out given her interest in public affairs, but it’s not unusual in a low-turnout and often confusing election system, said Gerald Benjamin, a professor emeritus of political science at SUNY New Paltz and a scholar of New York politics.
“Our system demands more of voters than almost any other,” he noted, with election dates, polling places, and offices up for election varying from year to year.
In that light, Benjamin said, he “would judge her record in this area as problematic but not seriously disabling.”
A rival candidate criticized Farhadian Weinstein’s voting record.
“We have had DAs who are disconnected and out of touch with Manhattanites for years,” said Dan Quart, a New York State Assembly member. “If Ms. Farhadian Weinstein couldn’t do the bare minimum and vote in local elections until 2017, how can voters expect her to represent them?”
The head of a Manhattan political club that has endorsed rival Eliza Orlins for DA agreed that Weinstein’s absence from local elections should matter to voters.
“A meaningful indication of a person’s civic commitment and knowledge of and connection to a community is their participation in our electoral process,” said Richard Corman, president of the Downtown Independent Democrats.
“A voting record represents someone’s interest in the community, and so I would certainly think that whether or not they have participated in our elections and have voted in the past is a relevant indicator of someone’s connection, knowledge of, and commitment to a community.”