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Manhattan District Attorney's Race Could Bring Historic Changes As Cy Vance Leaves Office

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Crime is on the minds of New York City voters as they head to the polls in less than two weeks.

The Manhattan district attorney's race could bring big and historic changes to the office after Cyrus Vance chose not to run for re-election.

Democratic candidate, and presumed frontrunner, Alvin Bragg is a former deputy chief attorney general of New York. Republican Thomas Kenniff is a former prosecutor and veteran.

Both are vying to become the next Manhattan district attorney, but that's all they have in common.

"I've spent the past 20-plus years getting to the root causes, following the money, following the contraband, doing really significant cases that lead to enduring public safety," Bragg said.

"I've been a defense attorney for the last 15 years, in many instances, fighting against excessive bail applications. I believe in an adversarile system. Prosecutors who prosecute fairly, defense attorneys who defend," Kenniff said.

While murders have decreased, shootings are up nearly 4% from last year across the city as crime remains a top issue for voters.

"I had a shooting on my own block about 10 days ago," Bragg said. "We got to invest in our community interrupters. A lot of times, the violence that erupts into something that makes the news is the retaliation."

"I don't think there is any realistic debate that the bail reform has contributed to the increase in crimes and recidivist offenses," Kenniff said.

But data shows judges are setting bail in more cases and at higher amounts, and because of the crisis on Rikers Island, the Manhattan DA has advised prosecutors not to seek bail in more circumstances. It's a move Kenniff criticizes.

"We can't cure one illness by creating another one," he said.

In contrast, Bragg's plan is to further decarcerate Rikers and focus on providing more resources.

"Far better to connect those folks to the services that they may need, like substance use disorder and mental health," he said.

It's a completely different approach to the criminal legal system as public safety is a major factor as the city emerges from the pandemic.

If Bragg wins, he will make history and become the first African American to assume the role.

The next Manhattan DA will be only the fourth person elected to the position in the last 80 years.

Early voting begins Saturday and continues through Oct. 31.

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