David Soares, an outspoken advocate for repeal of New York's draconian Rockefeller drug law, won the Albany County Democratic primary race for district attorney Tuesday in a lopsided vote, defeating his ex-boss, anti-reform hard-liner, two-time District Attorney Paul Clyne by a margin of 62% to 38%. Drug reformers hailed the election results as a victory for the cause of repealing the Rockefeller laws.
Soares made repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws a centerpiece of his campaign, and he was still on message when he spoke with the Associated Press Wednesday. "The people of Albany have spoken loud and clear, and all the DAs in New York state need to hear them," said Soares, 38. "The Rockefeller drug laws need to be repealed."
Soares' progressive position on the Rockefeller laws won him the support of the Working Families Party, Citizens Action, Drug Policy Alliance and a plethora of community groups that seek repeal of those laws, which carry 15-year mandatory minimum sentences for persons caught with relatively small amounts of drugs. He also raised more than $130,000 for the primary campaign, with the AP reporting that funds came "largely through anti-drug law sources and downstate contributors."
Clyne, whom DPA's Ethan Nadelmann described as a "belligerent" foe of Rockefeller reform, told the AP the drug law issue and the money it helped generate for Soares were "decisive" in his loss.
While Clyne called the issue a "red herring" because state legislators must change the law, not district attorneys, he was being disingenuous. The State District Attorneys Association has been a vigorous opponent of repeal or even partial reform of the Rockefeller laws, because such changes would lessen their power in the courthouse by returning some measure of sentencing discretion to judges.
For DPA's Nadelmann, the election was a bellwether. "I would say that what happened in Albany last night really has national resonance," Nadelmann told the AP Wednesday. "It is the first election that I can think of in which a candidate has lost because of their outrageous support for the drug war to another candidate who has made that issue the salient issue in that campaign."