Editorial: D.A. Robert Johnson Pulls A Fast One

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson-20150924_1Earlier this month, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson secured the designation of three political parties for re-election. But in a late Friday afternoon news dump, Mr. Johnson announced that he had asked Bronx County Democratic Chairman Marcos Crespo to support his nomination for Justice of the New York State Supreme Court.

When you read Johnson’s email to his staff (the public has yet to hear directly from its chief law enforcement official), his “spin” is plain. He likes being district attorney but wants to do something else law-related. But if unsuccessful, he’ll happily continue doing the job he loves. Did you get whiplash from jerking your neck after reading those last two sentences?

Many pundits, editorial boards and voters regard Mr. Johnson’s decision as an act of betrayal. He has been called a liar and a fraud. At a Bronx judicial convention later today, Johnson will be lauded by political leaders and called honorable. Perhaps, they will note that Robert Johnson has served 27 years as district attorney in the Bronx. That he was the first African-American District Attorney in the history of New York State. And, in 2005, he became the longest-serving District Attorney in Bronx history.

But they won’t say that Bronx voters will be denied a special election to pick his replacement. They will deny the existence of a political deal.

If nominated for one of four Supreme Court vacancies, Mr. Johnson would have to decline his District Attorney designation by the Democratic, Republican and Conservative parties. That would trigger the mere substitution of a new candidate for D.A. A similar stunt was pulled by the late Tom Manton of Queens when he ran unopposed for re-election to Congress in the primary. Manton declined his nomination and Assemblyman Joe Crowley was substituted without having to contend in a raucous primary fight.

It’s a political card played across the State. It’s legal. It ensures discipline in the ranks. And it’s good to be Boss because the Boss can make things happen for loyal members.

What Mr. Johnson is doing has been openly discussed for a year or two. Now everyone is shocked that he actually acted on what was long rumored. Obviously, Mr. Johnson has a cast-iron stomach as lesser men would feel queasy about having misled voters, editorial boards and some party leaders.

Now, Bronxites are outraged.

You can’t “clean up” politics on Facebook and Twitter. Pull on your big boy pants, lace up your walking shoes and hit the pavement. Only community activist and gadfly Egidio Sementelli ran an opposing judicial slate. He lost. Everyone else stayed on the sidelines.

The Twelfth Judicial District nominating convention will be held on tonight at the Eastwood Manor (3371 Eastchester Road) starting at 7PM. Besides filling four vacancies, delegates are expected to re-nominate two sitting Associate Justices: Hon. Dianne T. Renwick and Hon. Sallie Manzanet-Daniels. Both are women of color and jurists in the Appellate Division, First Department.

Coincidentally, Justice Renwick is married to District Attorney Johnson. Political observers and court watchers cannot recall when spouses, if ever, have won judicial nominations on the same night, at the same judicial convention. History will be made.

While The Bronx Chronicle neither appreciates nor endorses Mr. Johnson’s chosen manner of abandoning his office after leading Democrat and Republican party leaders and voters to believe that he wanted to serve four more years as our district attorney, we see no reason to keep him in a job he no longer desires.

We hope that the judicial delegates will consider designating him for one of the four judicial vacancies tonight. The man no longer desires to be our District Attorney. They should finalize the divorce.

And should Mr. Johnson accept that nomination for the State Supreme Court and formally decline his nomination for District Attorney, we urge the Republican and Conservative Parties to nominate a well-qualified individual who will wage a vigorous and competitive campaign for the office of District Attorney come November.

The voters and residents of Bronx County deserve a new District Attorney. One who is committed to the office, the people, the pursuit of justice and in ridding our borough of the scourge of drugs, guns, gang violence and corruption.

As for Robert Johnson, Bronx voters can register their hurt by declining to mark their ballots for him as a judicial candidate for State Supreme Court.


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