Late on Friday, November 7, CNN announced that the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, had been tapped by the White House to serve as the new Attorney General of the United States. By noon on Saturday, President Barack Obama had formally nominated Lynch at a Roosevelt Room press conference. To be frank, she is not much of a partisan, and did not have the inside track to the job, prior to the mid-term elections. But by November 5, it seems that ‘non-partisan’ had become a key qualification for the A.G. candidate, and Lynch was at the top of the list.
After the news leaked out on Friday, praise began pouring in for this classy, fearless, capable, yet unassuming woman who has toiled mightily for years to ensure justice for the people of Queens, Long Island, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. She received a standing ovation at the press conference. As the President noted, she “might be the only lawyer in America who battles mobsters and drug lords and terrorists, and still has the reputation for being a charming ‘people person.'”
Obama thanked Loretta’s family for agreeing to share her with the people of the United States a bit longer. The residents of the outer boroughs she served so well (and where she lived for decades) will miss her presence, as well. I was privileged to work at the same law firm with Loretta in the late 1980’s, and we have remained friends ever since. With fierce dedication to her brilliant career, she put marriage and children on the back burner for a really long time. The rest of us had spouses and children; Loretta was a big law firm partner and Federal Reserve Board member, instead. Eventually, she did wed Steve Hargrove, when she was well past the age of forty, and now enjoys being stepmother to his two grown children.
Ten years ago, after Loretta had completed her first stint as U.S. Attorney during the Clinton administration and was a busy law firm partner, she graciously agreed to be the subject of my daughter’s third-grade Black history month poster. Selection for the “African American Achievers’ Hall of Fame” on a bulletin board at PS 114 in Belle Harbor was just one small honor along the way, for a woman who has never sought the limelight. In fact, she is so low-key and non-political that when the Presidential election debates were held at Hofstra Law School in Hempstead, Long Island in fall 2012, two years into her second term sitting as U.S. Attorney, she did not even appear on the podium, or near the front, as you’d expect of a dignitary. Instead, she sat in the upper tier of seats. Quite a statement about her humility.
If she is confirmed by the Senate, Lynch will take her place in history as the first African-American woman ever to head the U.S. Department of Justice. She stated at the press conference that it is the only cabinet department named for an ideal. Obama summed up the ideal of justice quite eloquently as “whether we can make an honest living, whether we can provide for our families, whether we feel safe in our communities and welcome in our own country.” Our first president said: “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.”
Feeling safe in our communities? Lynch has done far more for Long Island and the three outer boroughs she serves than many people realize. We have a healthy share of corrupt politicians in these parts, and Loretta Lynch went after them all, regardless of their party, including Pedro Espada and Michael Grimm. Drug gangs are sadly, endemic to Rockaway–she shut many of those down, too. Until her office came in to investigate and prosecute, one group of dealers was ensconced for years on the very block of Beach 87th Street in Rockaway Beach that is now home to the Rockaway Beach Surf Club. Just three years ago, a walk down that block was a slightly scary proposition. Today the hipsters can wander safely from beach to bay along that stretch, thanks in part to the federal prosecutors of the Eastern District.
I often think back to summer 2012–remember the cache of weapons and explosives found in a garage in Rockaway Park, and the string of three bank robberies at the spanking-new Arverne Chase Manhattan bank branch? The Eastern District prosecutors sent all of those characters to jail, as well. Just days before Superstorm Sandy, I sent an email to Loretta complimenting her but expressing concern that she and her staff must be seriously sleep-deprived, having accomplished so much in such a short period of time.
Loretta’s extraordinary intelligence, sensitivity, and poise will serve her well in this position. Her tireless work to insure justice for the people of New York always fills me with pride and a sense of hope for the future. I have faith that the Senate will see it the same way, when they are asked to confirm her nomination.
Justice. What an ideal.
Text copyright Vivian R. Carter 2014. Photo of courthouse (in header and within post) copyright Vivian R. Carter 2011, installation photo copyright Vivian R. Carter 2010, poster copyright Elizabeth M. Carter 2004.