October 27, 2020

Former Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Diana Florence plans to challenge her old boss, Cy Vance Jr., in the 2021 election. | Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Embattled Former Vance Deputy Joins Crowded Manhattan DA Race to Unseat Ex-Boss

by Josefa Velasquez, THE CITY

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A former top deputy in Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr.’s office is joining the crowded race to unseat her ex-boss, THE CITY has learned.

Diana Florence, who led the office’s Construction Fraud Task Force until leaving in January amid allegations she withheld evidence, is slated to announce her candidacy Monday in front of the Steinway Tower on W. 57th Street.

That’s where two years earlier the DA’s office charged a construction company doing work on one of the tallest buildings in the city with cheating workers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages, she noted.

“I’m running because I want to fight for people who never thought they’d win,” Florence, 49, told THE CITY.

Florence, a native New Yorker, is slated to become the seventh challenger to 66-year-old Vance, who was first elected to lead the office in 2009 following the retirement of longtime DA Robert Morgenthau.

Other Democrats vying for the seat include Alvin Bragg, a former chief deputy state attorney general; Assemblymember Dan Quart (D-Manhattan); civil rights attorney Tahanie Aboushi; public defender Eliza Orlins; former ACLU lawyer Janos Marton; and Tali Farhadian Weinstein, the former general counsel to the Brooklyn district attorney.

‘Learned From the Best’

Vance — who has been criticized for not bringing up charges following investigations of film producer Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, and for his office’s support for reducing financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sex-offender status to the lowest classification — has not decided whether he’d seek a fourth term in 2021. 

Recent campaign finance records show Vance, once a prolific fundraiser, has pulled in just $2,101 between mid-January and mid-June, a paltry amount compared to the $1.35 million he stockpiled before his 2017 run.

A spokesperson for Vance’s reelection campaign didn’t comment directly on the candidacy of Florence, whom he appointed attorney-in-charge of the construction task force in 2015.

“He’s focused on continuing to make New York City’s justice system fairer for all New Yorkers, but particularly those who have been historically impacted by our criminal justice system,” said the spokesperson, Anna Durrett.

In an interview with THE CITY, Florence didn’t mention her former boss by name, even as she declared that “the DA’s office has lost its way” during his tenure.

“What I would be doing in that role is making sure that we serve all New Yorkers, and that means listening to them and making sure that the cases we bring are reflective of that,” said Florence, who joined the DA’s office in 1995 after graduating law school.

In her campaign video, a still photo shows Florence with the late Morgenthau as she says in a voiceover: “I learned from the best about the honor and responsibility of public service.”

‘I Did Make a Mistake’

Her candidacy follows controversy.

Earlier this year, Florence was accused of withholding evidence about a key cooperating witness in several major bribery cases.

She admits she erred by failing to turn over a 38-minute recording of informant Ifeanyi Madu, a former city Department of Environmental Protection manager, in which he contradicted his subsequent testimony that he’d received bribes from engineering firms seeking a leg up on lucrative city contracts.

“I did make a mistake. When I learned of it, I took responsibility for it. Accountability is one of the most important traits,” Florence said.

In her resignation letter, Florence charged she faced a ‘hostile work environment’ and ‘bullying.’

In the weeks after the evidence revelation, a judge dismissed charges against one defendant, and two men who planned to appeal their conviction were freed without bail as Vance announced he was re-examining cases stemming from the bribery probe.

When Florence quit in January, she charged in her resignation letter that she faced a “hostile work environment,” “bullying” and interference with pending legal cases.

Chuck Ross, a defense lawyer who has sat opposite of Florence in several cases and represented Madu’s wife in the corruption scheme, called the newly minted candidate an “excellent prosecutor.”

“She’ll take tough positions and that’s why I think she’s been so effective,” Ross said.

‘Willing to Seek Equal Justice’

Florence said she plans to launch her campaign with the support of labor leaders and unions in the building sector.

“Diana has been one of the lone voices in this city’s law enforcement community ready and willing to seek equal justice on behalf of innocent workers thrown into unsafe conditions without appropriate safety equipment and training, or cheated out of a fair day’s wages,” said William Hill, president of the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local Union 7, which represents tile, marble and terrazzo workers.

Then-Assistant District Attorney Diana Florence (right) attends 2015 news conference with Manhattan DA Cy Vance Jr. Rose M. McDowell/Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

During her tenure at the Manhattan DA’s office, Florence won manslaughter convictions against contractors in the 2015 death of a 22-year-old Carlos Moncayo, an undocumented worker who was buried alive on a site in the Meatpacking District. The case propelled worker safety issues in the construction industry to the mainstream and inspired legislation.

State legislators, in consultation with Florence, drafted a measure to raise the maximum penalty for contractors found criminally liable of workers’ deaths — Carlos’s Law.

“Public service, to me, is the highest honor and it’s something that even being out the last few months, this is what I’m meant to do,” Florence said. “I know what that office can do when it serves as a place of opportunity and not obstacles for people.”

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