By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) -Alvin Bragg, a former federal prosecutor and civil rights lawyer, was leading the Democratic nominating contest for Manhattan district attorney on Tuesday, putting him in position to become the first Black person to lead one of the country's highest-profile prosecutor's offices.
With 96% of results reported, Bragg held 34% of the vote by registered Democrats, leading his main rival, former federal prosecutor and former Justice Department official Tali Farhadian Weinstein, who was in second place at 30%.
Six other candidates trailed far behind.
Given Manhattan's heavily Democratic lean, the winner of the primary is almost assured of prevailing in November's general election against Republican Thomas Kenniff, a former Westchester County prosecutor and Iraq War veteran who ran unopposed for his party's nomination.
The next district attorney will likely inherit the office's ongoing criminal probe into former President Donald Trump's business empire, which was initiated in 2018 under the retiring Cyrus Vance Jr.
The new prosecutor will also have to navigate a national debate over criminal justice, race and civil rights, even as the city faces an upswing in crime that has put public safety at the center of Tuesday's mayoral election.
Bragg, who won endorsements from progressives such as Rachael Rollins, Boston's district attorney, has tried to strike a balance between preserving civil liberties and protecting public safety.
Weinstein, who is seen as more moderate than most of the other candidates, had the backing of former presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. She raised far more campaign funds than any other candidate, thanks to her ties to Wall Street via her husband, the hedge fund manager Boaz Weinstein.
A win for either Bragg or Weinstein would mark a historic first: there has never been a Black or a female Manhattan district attorney.
Turnover in the office is unusual; the next district attorney will be only the third in nearly 50 years. The Manhattan district attorney's office employs 500 lawyers and has an annual budget of around $125 million. Thanks to Wall Street's location in Manhattan, the office oversees a wide range of financial crimes.
Unlike the mayoral election, voters did not use a ranked-choice voting system, which allows voters to rank multiple candidates in order of preference.
There are more than 27,000 absentee ballots still to be counted, according to the city elections board.
The candidates largely refrained from offering specific thoughts on the Trump investigation. But Bragg often reminded voters on the campaign trail that he helped sue the Trump administration "more than a hundred times" as a deputy in the New York state attorney general's office.
In an interview with Reuters earlier this year, Weinstein said, "Nobody is above the law, no matter who you are or what office you went on to occupy."
Whoever prevails is likely to become a target for Trump, who has dismissed the probe as a "witch hunt" and attacked Vance personally.
The winner will also have the opportunity to alter prosecutorial policies in the country's biggest city, following last year's widespread protests over policing and racial injustice.
Most of the candidates have vowed to prosecute fewer low-level crimes as part of a broader effort to address racial bias.
Bragg told Reuters earlier this year that more than 80% of the city's criminal docket consists of misdemeanors or lesser crimes.
"We need to drastically shrink that footprint," he said. "Many of those cases have absolutely nothing to do with public safety."
Weinstein also said she would shrink the number of cases by declining to prosecute those that do not advance public safety. But she also said she would use resources to ensure New Yorkers are safe.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Aurora Ellis and Simon Cameron-Moore)