Newall: El-Shabazz's campaign slogan ought to be 'Lien On Me'

Newall: El-Shabazz's campaign slogan ought to be 'Lien On Me'

Newall: El-Shabazz's campaign slogan ought to be 'Lien On Me'

Tariq El-Shabazz kept coming back to the same refrain as he announced his candidacy for district attorney: He’s not running from anything.

Like, you know, that he’s up to his eyeballs in debt to Uncle Sam.

That he’s failed to pay nearly $200,000 in taxes since 2013.

That his former law firm, El-Shabazz & Harris, has been dragged into court a half-dozen times in recent years for unpaid rent.

He’s not running from any of it, the former defense attorney and prosecutor, and most recently, right-hand man to Seth Williams, assured supporters Monday at a Chestnut Hill restaurant.

He just doesn’t want to talk about it.  He’s taking care of it, he said.  Trust him, he said.  

Right.

“That’s a very good question,” he told me Monday, when I asked if, especially in the wake of Seth Williams’ financial mess, voters didn’t deserve some explanation for how he racked up his debts – and details, any details, please,  about an agreement he says he worked out with the feds to pay it off.

“I’m not running from it,” he answered. 

Sorry. I forgot.

Last week, when my colleague Chris Brennan asked El-Shabazz about his financial troubles – $137,000 in unpaid federal taxes, $50,000 in defunct city taxes, and over a hundred thousand bucks in court judgments for unpaid rent – he answered again and again with this peach: He has a settlement, it’s up to date. Thanks for your interest. Bye, now.

Here’s about the only thing most voters know about El-Shabazz: that he’s the top lieutenant in a District Attorney’s Office plagued by scandal – and that he was tapped as an ally in the workplace by Williams when the walls started caving in.

At his announcement, he read from a prepared speech and introduced himself: his five years prosecuting violent crimes as a prosecutor and his decades as a respected, high-profile defense attorney. He talked of fighting for those treated unjustly by the system – and bringing justice to those who terrorize neighborhoods.

He laid out goals: of wanting to lead a national fight against mass incarceration, bolstering diversionary programs for nonviolent offenders, overhauling the city’s tattered parole and probation programs.

The thing is, ask those who know him, he said, and they’ll tell you that he shoots straight with people.  

Lawyers who’ve worked alongside him, or fought against him, in courtrooms describe him as  talented and charismatic, an orator, one of the best at his job. In a courtroom, they say, he is a man of his word. That means something.

But then it came time to answer questions – and faced with queries about his debts, the straight shooter fired blanks. He grew angry. He wanted to know why he had to answer the same question over and over.

As if the answer to that question could not be more clear?

This is a race built on fallout from the financial problems that shredded the office’s credibility. With due respect, you cannot start that campaign defending your own financial problems. You cannot start that race by ignoring questions that are fundamental to your credibility.

A lot of is asked of the assistant district attorneys who fight it out in city courtrooms every day. They work now for a man who accepted gifts and cash and didn’t bother to tell anyone about it.  El-Shabazz is asking them to now work for someone who hasn’t paid his bills and won’t say why.

They deserve better. So do we.

People get into financial trouble. It’s not a crime. But until he starts really answering questions about it, all he’s doing is running.

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Published at Tue, 21 Feb 2017 19:27:53 +0000

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