Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez leads one of the largest DA offices in America, but he is not well known to voters. Gonzalez hopes to change that as he battles in a crowded Democratic primary for district attorney this year. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.
Eric Gonzalez says when he wrote his law school application, he said he wanted to be a public prosecutor.
Now, Gonzalez is the top prosecutor in Brooklyn, a dream realized for the lifelong Brooklynite who was not sure if he would even attend college.
"My mom and my father were separated, so we lived very much paycheck to paycheck," he said. "And I didn't know any lawyers. I didn't have anybody in my family that had gone to college."
Growing up, Gonzalez spent a lot of time in an East New York park playing baseball. He remembers it as rough place with drugs and gangs.
"They tried to take my sneakers," Gonzalez said. "I was able to struggle and fight them off."
He only began to think of a life beyond his neighborhood when he joined the Puerto Rican leadership club ASPIRA at John Dewey High School.
"I know I would not be here but for ASPIRA because they were the first people to take interest in me in sort of an academic way," he said.
He went on to Cornell University and then the University of Michigan Law School, where he met his future wife Dagmar. She teaches at a Williamsburg grade school, which the youngest of their three boys attends.
"I'm a Bronx girl, but Eric converted me to Brooklyn after we met and moved back to New York from law school. We settled in Williamsburg and we've been here ever since," Dagmar Gonzalez said.
That was in 1995, when Gonzalez joined the Brooklyn district attorney's office, first under Charles Hynes, then Ken Thompson, who promoted him to chief assistant.
When Thompson died of colon cancer last fall, Governor Andrew Cuomo named Gonzalez as his acting replacement. He's quickly learning the politics and will launch his campaign in March for a four-year term, his first run for public office.
"I'm here now, and I'm here to do the job," he said.
Gonzlaez vows to continue Thompson's convictions review unit, which has helped to overturn 22 wrongful convictions and is reviewing 100 more cases. Another focus is reaching young people. He started a chess program with the Police Athletic League.
Gonzalez already has raised $1 million for his campaign.