There Are Already Winners & Losers in Tuesday’s Queens DA Vote

Theodore Hamm Jun 24, 2019

“We are running on a bold, not just progressive, [but] de-carceral platform,” Tiffany Cabán told an enthusiastic crowd at a get-out-the-vote rally at Travers Park in Jackson Heights Sunday. 

Other speakers included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cynthia Nixon and Topeka K. Sam of #cut50. As state Sen. Jessica Ramos, who played emcee, exhorted, Cabán “understands us because she is us!” 

With hundreds of unpaid volunteers flooding neighborhoods across the borough, and Melinda Katz and Greg Lasak likely to divide up establishment votes, Cabán stands a good chance of winning Tuesday’s primary. Contrary to the race-politicking of Katz supporters — who claim that Cabán supporters don’t “look like” the largely black population of southeast Queens — canvassers from the political action arms of VOCAL-NY and Make the Road have been running an active ground game there.  

In some respects, Cabán is already victorious. 

At the recent WNYC debate, all of the candidates were asked to respond to the long list of non-violent crimes that Cabán would decline to prosecute. She is thus successfully moving the discussion towards downsizing the number of people entering the criminal justice system. 

Should Cabán lose, the next DA would be on the hook to move in the de-carceral direction. And that figure would also need to answer to the growing base of criminal justice activists that the Cabán campaign has mobilized. 

There are a growing number of losers in the race, regardless of the outcome. Topping the list is NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who has made criminal justice issues central to his own agenda. Williams has not endorsed Cabán and appears to be sitting out a race that is entirely focused on criminal justice reform. 

Since winning the special election for public advocate this past February, Williams has presented his own personal history as a low-level weed dealer while at Brooklyn Tech as illustrative of the need for marijuana legalization. He says he never smoked pot, suggesting that “I never got high on my own supply” could be his campaign slogan if he runs for mayor in 2021. 

Williams has also been scoring points by calling for the Manhattan DA to open an investigation into all of Central Park Five prosecutor Linda Fairstein’s cases. Although Cabán joined him at a rally in support of that call, Williams has not endorsed her DA bid. Meanwhile, Yusef Salaam, one of the CP5, has endorsed Cabán. 

Williams’ calculation may be that he needs the support of the sputtering Queens party machine in the 2021 race for mayor. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who calls himself “extremely conservative on crime,” seems more in-sync with older black voters in southeast Queens and has endorsed Katz. 

Williams is thus unlikely to gain the support of either Cabán’s galvanized base of activists or Queens party boss Greg “Aqueduct” Meeks. Even so, the only comment Williams has made about the race is a half-hearted condemnation of one of the racist ads run by the Katz campaign in the final days of the race. 

Rory Lancman is another big loser in the campaign. Lancman entered the race wanting to be the “Larry Krasner of Queens” but, bitter about the New York Times’ endorsement of Cabán, he opted to throw his support to Katz, who nobody has ever compared to Krasner. The sudden switch caused Lancman’s longtime chief of staff to resign in disgust

Lancman’s sudden defection to the Katz camp caused two of his earliest endorsers, State Senator James Sanders and the Rockaway Youth Task Force, to throw their support to Cabán. RYTF executive director Milan Taylor even tried to recruit Williams, to no avail. 

Labor leaders also are having a hard time explaining why they are backing a white candidate with no passion for criminal justice reform over a working-class Latina who has fought as a public defender on behalf of populations of color. 1199SEIU played a pivotal role in the election of Ken Thompson as Brooklyn DA in 2013 — but Thompson ran on a progressive platform, opposing stop and frisk and vowing to tackle the many wrongful convictions of the Charles Hynes era. 

The outcome of Tuesday’s election depends on the motivation of voters. Cabán’s troops are eager to head for the polls. Whether the party machine and union bosses can motivate their voters to show up to vote for a nothing-candidate remains to be seen. 


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