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Manhattan’s Next Top Prosecutor: This Is It

4:04 PM EDT on September 14, 2009

da_candidates_01.jpgL-r: Manhattan DA candidates Richard Aborn, Cy Vance and Leslie Crocker Snyder

Two pedestrians were killed in Brooklyn over the weekend. Saturday evening, 66-year-old Fred Wilson took the family dog and went out for ice cream. He had only walked a short distance from his Gerritsen Avenue home when he was hit by an unidentified driver. He died soon after at Kings County Hospital.

Earlier in the day, 9-year-old Joshua Ganzfried was walking to temple in Williamsburg when, at Bedford Avenue and Wallabout Street, he was struck by Novella Bilkerdyk, a habitual traffic offender with a suspended license. While she stands to receive a slap on the wrist for being behind the wheel, Bilkerdyk, like Fred Wilson's killer -- like hundreds of other city drivers before them -- reportedly faces no punishment for taking a life.

These deaths didn't take place in Manhattan, but there is little if any doubt that if they had the legal ramifications for each driver -- none whatsoever -- would have been the same. As proven time and time and time and time again, Manhattan motorists involved in deadly pedestrian and cyclist collisions -- as long as they're sober and don't flee the scene -- are as a matter of course found not guilty on the spot, their victims condemned to death and, conveniently for the driver, police and prosecutors, eternal silence.

Tomorrow, for the first time since 1974 and only the second time since 1941, Manhattan voters will choose a new district attorney. The candidates hoping to succeed Robert Morgenthau -- Richard Aborn, Leslie Crocker Snyder and Cy Vance -- have all promised to approach traffic crime as a serious public threat, worthy of investigation and prosecution. The deterrent effect of such a turnaround, as drivers learn that serious "accidents" come with commensurate consequences, should be augmented by measures each candidate has promised to enlist the aid of NYPD and toughen penalties for gateway crimes like speeding. With overall road deaths and pedestrian fatalities on the rise (292 and 147 in 2008 citywide, respectively), and the notorious "Rule of Two" still the guiding principle of traffic law enforcement, a reinvigorated DA's office with a progressive traffic justice agenda will be critical to making Manhattan streets safer.

We kicked off our coverage of the DA's race with a March interview with Leslie Crocker Snyder. At the time Snyder admitted that she was no expert on traffic issues, but promised to learn more. Since then, following a debate organized by Transportation Alternatives (which Snyder did not attend), she has followed Aborn and Vance in releasing a transportation safety platform plank. Aborn was the first to take that step, and by most accounts his performance at the June forum, and his subsequent statements, have shown him to have the most nuanced understanding of the unique perniciousness of traffic violence.

Make no mistake, however: As Streetsblog readers have noted, the mere fact that traffic justice has emerged as an issue in this race is a milestone. The battle is far from won, but safe streets advocates at the very least have Manhattan's next district attorney on the record pledging to hold motorists accountable for their actions on city streets.

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