By Niko Balkaran
Former Queens’ judge and York alumnus George Grasso has officially begun his campaign for Queens DA on the steps of the same borough hall on which he protested as an advocate for the building of York College several decades ago. Grasso submitted 9500 signatures to the Board of Elections last Monday, challenging incumbent Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz in the Democratic Primary on June 27.
“I filed over two and a half times the amount of signatures that I needed to file so I could be on the ballot to be the Democratic candidate for district attorney in Queens,” said Grasso. “And we’re going to win on June 27.”
Katz recently filed 23,000 signatures and has endorsements from the Democratic Party. Additionally, Katz has the support of several Queens politicians, including Rep. Gregory Meeks, who recently announced the allocation of $2.1 million of federal funding for two science programs at York College. Grasso spoke to Pandora’s Box and said he knew he was not just running against Katz.
“I sent a letter out to every Democratic club in Queens requesting to speak,” he said. “Just speak. Just be heard. You know how many have invited me? Zero. You know why? Because they’re with the party. They’re with the party apparatus. And it’s not Democratic.”
Katz, for her part, said that she feels her submitting five times the number of required Democratic petition signatures is a sign that her campaign is gaining momentum, according to a QNS article.
“When I took office, I made a promise to the people of Queens that we would make this office the most effective it can be, we would work day and night to keep our communities safe, and we would be able to improve the fairness of our criminal justice system,” said Katz in the same QNS article. “Since then, we’ve taken down gangs and gotten countless guns off our streets. We’ve created new units to address domestic violence and crimes against immigrants. And we’ve created a Conviction Integrity Unit, which has helped nearly 100 people who were wrongfully convicted.”
Grasso, whose term as a Queens’ administrative court judge was not up until Dec. 31, 2024, said that he felt obligated to challenge Katz because of public safety, which is the platform he is running on.
“We have a crime wave in Queens right now,” Grasso said. “Crime in Queens is out of control during the tenure of Melinda Katz.”
Grasso cited CompSat numbers and said that seven major index crimes, such as murder and felony assaults, are up over 40% in South Queens, where York College is located. In North Queens, the same index crimes are up 68% during the same period.
“Melinda Katz doesn’t even acknowledge these numbers,” he said. “If you can’t acknowledge a problem, you can’t fix a problem.”
In February, Grasso garnered the endorsement of former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton. The two first worked together in the 1990s and later established several police programs that targeted quality-of-life crimes, according to a Queens Daily article.
“Judge Grasso is one of the sharpest legal minds I’ve had the opportunity to work with over my law enforcement career,” Bratton wrote in a Twitter post.
In addition to the former commissioner, Grasso has the support of several law enforcement organizations, including the Retired Lieutenants Association, New York 10-13 Association, NYC Retired Transit Police Officers Association, and the Retired Police Association of New York.
“It was during my time as assistant commissioner that I was able to observe Judge Grasso,” said Herb Woods, former NYPD Assistant Commissioner of the Department Advocate’s Office in charge of police discipline. “He worked hand in hand with the police commissioner and police executives as they fought so diligently to create strategies and implement those strategies to reduce crime and make New York City one of the safest places in the world and especially this country.”
Grasso also had the endorsement of Yolanda Jimenez, former New York City commissioner to Combat Domestic Violence.
“Many victims of domestic violence are in peril because of the current laws that we have,” Jimenez said. “We need to make sure that we have a district attorney in Queens who is going to enforce the laws for every community and to make sure that victims of violence are protected.”
Grasso has been a part of the Jamaica community since his days as a York College student, which he said he was fortunate to get into. According to Grasso, he had to take remedial Math and English classes because he “wasn’t as focused as [I] should’ve been in high school.” But he always knew he wanted to be an attorney, with law school as his goal. So he minored in Political Science, where he met Dr. Shirley Ostholm.
During this time, York College was located on Jamaica Avenue, with the main building in a former department store called Montgomery Ward. After Grasso started attending the college, it was in danger of shutting down because there was not enough funding for the campus, especially during a time when “New York was going broke,” according to Ostholm.
Ostholm was an integral part of the movement to save the college and get a new campus, according to Grasso.
She called “for volunteers who were students in the political science program to sign up and participate in political action, ad hoc political action that included everything from marching in the streets to lobbying trips up to Albany to meet with the very leaders such as Alan Hevesi, who was against the college,” Grasso said.
“I got to know George at that time because he came to most of these events, and he was right there front and center talking to many of the legislators and the people that we wanted to convince that we should get the campus,” said Ostholm. “George Grasso was one of the very impressive people to really work with that and spoke with all these legislators and other people and did help us a great deal in the process as so many people and with our joint effort, we did win.”
One of the platforms Grasso is running on is teen violence. His plan includes having the State Legislature review the “Raise the Age” law while also making sure “through amendments, if necessary, to protect teens and the public at large from violence, recidivism and unsafe neighborhoods,” according to his website. Over the years, Grasso implemented a program that helped prevent first-time non-violent offenders from repeating crimes. This program started in Queens and then the Bronx, according to Ostholm.
“Offenders were given internships, guidance counselors and help to stay out of crime. And if they were clean for the year, their record was erased,” said Ostholm.
Grasso cited his time at York as an important factor for where he is today.
“If I did not have the foundation that I got in my four and a half years at York, not just in terms of academics but in terms of the interactions in the way I experience those interactions, I would have never been able to accomplish the things I accomplished in the way I accomplished with the empathy that I had, which I grew into and learned by doing and participating.”
York is also one reason Grasso says he is prepared to take on Katz, who won against Tiffany Cabán in the previous Queens DA race. In addressing critics who would say it is backward to elect a white male back into an office they have held since it was created, Grasso said they should “look into a mirror and reevaluate.”
“What you are really saying is that as a white male, I might have much better ideas than Melinda Katz, which I believe that I do. I may have the superior experience to Melinda Katz in the criminal justice system to implement those ideas, but because of my gender and race, I should be excluded,” Grasso said. “I go right back to where I was in York College when I knew what it was like to be a minority in the seventies, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. You don’t correct the wrongs of the past by recreating the wrongs in the present, just with different races and different genders. So I totally and emphatically reject that thinking.”
While Grasso has a way to go in matching Katz’s number of signatures, he said he is “on a mission to give the people a choice in this election.” Grasso revealed at his rally that he has plans to run on a third-party line and has taken the legal steps to do so.
“We’re going to call it public safety – public safety line,” he said. “We’re going to go for another minimum of 4000 signatures, and I’m going to go for that independent line because it’s important to me.”
The Democratic Primary is on June 27.