Drug Law Reformer Thomas Zugibe Beats Pro-Rockefeller Drug Law Incumbent in Rockland District Attorney Race

Press Release November 7, 2007
Media Contact

Gabriel Sayegh at 646-335-2264 or Tony Newman at 646-335-5384

New York–On Tuesday, Rockefeller Drug Law critic and former Judge Thomas Zugibe defeated incumbent Michael Bongiorno in the Rockland County District Attorney race. The two candidates hold vastly different opinions on the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws. Michael Bongioro, former head of the District Attorney’s Association is a stanch supporter, while Thomas Zugibe is opposed to the laws that he feels are too harsh and have denied judges discretion.

This is the third election in a row that an incumbent DA has been defeated due, in part, to their support of the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws.

In a bitter fight in 2004, political upstart David Soares defeated incumbent Paul Clyne in the race for Albany County District Attorney, sending political shockwaves throughout the state. Soares sailed to victory on platform that included repealing the failed Rockefeller Drug Laws and calling for expanded judicial discretion. In his concession speech, Clyne said he would have won were it not for his longtime opposition to reform of the laws. In recent polls, over 83 percent of New York residents said Rockefeller Drug Laws should be repealed.

In 2005, Rockefeller Drug Law repeal candidate Gwen Wilkinson staged a remarkable upset over incumbent George Dentes in the race for District Attorney in Tompkins County. Dentes was a supporter of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

“Zugibe’s victory shows that Soares and Wilkson were no fluke,” said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports repeal of the failed drug laws. “New Yorkers understand the need to scrap these failed laws, and they’re telling prosecutors to beware– support for the Rockefeller Drug Laws could bring you a short-lived political career.”

Bongiorno, a current member of the executive committee of New York District Attorney’s Association, recently gave testimony to the New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform about his support for the Rockefeller Drug Laws. He said the laws were a “common sense” approach to the drug problem. Recent polls show that New Yorkers overwhelmingly support getting rid of the laws–indicating that Bongiorno was out of touch with common sentiment associated with the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

The Sentencing Commission, enacted by Governor Elliot Spitzer, is tasked with reforming New York’s Byzantine sentencing system. The Commission’s recently preliminary report, however, did not include any substantive recommendations for reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws, despite previous claims that the laws were a top priority. Responding to public pressure, the Commission will be holding public hearings on Tuesday, November 13, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to allow the New Yorkers to weigh in on the need for Rockefeller Drug Law reform. Family members, treatment providers and advocates will be holding a pre-commission press conference at 9 a.m. outside the hearings.

“How long do we have to wait for reform?” asked Cheri O’Donoghue, mother of Ashley O’Donoghue, who is serving 7 — 21 years on a first time, nonviolent drug offense. “If even district attorney’s are being thrown from office for supporting these failed laws, doesn’t that indicate the time for change is now? My family has suffered long enough. We need change now.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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