In her concession speech last night in Astoria, Tiffany Cabán declared that her grassroots campaign had “completely transformed the conversation in this city.” Among other achievements, she had inspired nearly 35,000 Democratic voters in Queens to rally behind her “boldly decarceral platform,” “forced the next DA to end all cash bail,” and — perhaps most surprisingly — “pushed the decriminalization of sex work into the presidential campaign.”
In making a similar case regarding Cabán’s impact, the Democratic Socialists of America’s New York City branch rightly took credit for being “the first organization to endorse Tiffany back in February, when no one believed that a queer Latina public defender running on a bold agenda of decarceration and refusing money from corporations stood a chance of becoming the next DA.”
(The Indypendent also first reported that Cabán was a viable contender in February.)
But along with the concession-night pep talk, the DSA’s statement also raised serious questions about how the votes were counted. “This election,” the DSA said in a statement, “highlighted the critical problem of systemic voter suppression and disenfranchisement in New York state.”
How Cabán’s lead of nearly 1,100 votes on primary night (which soon spiked to 1,200) dissipated is a study in party machine control of NY elections.
The biggest swing occurred when Katz received 57 percent of the roughly 3,400 absentee ballots. Her campaign had targeted largely older voters, who are the “lifeblood” of the Democratic Party machine. After that count (in which Cabán received 22 percent), Katz was now 20 votes ahead.
Next came the contested affidavit ballots, which saw the Queens Board of Elections (BoE) — a patronage mill controlled by the county’s Democratic and Republican machines — invalidate nearly 2,300 of 2,800 votes. Nearly 1,700 of the rejections were because the voters were not registered Democrats. While the DSA’s statement calls for New York to “abolish its out of date and unjust” closed primary system, that change would first need to happen in Albany.
That leaves over 600 rejections because the BoE found technicalities on the affidavit forms that accompany the ballots. Even though the BoE’s own manual says it’s the poll workers’ responsibility to fill out the forms — and case law reportedly backs that up — conservative Republican judge John Ingram issued a “by the book” ruling allowing the BoE’s rejections.
Although there were plenty of grounds to appeal Ingram’s ruling at both state and federal levels, Cabán opted to concede. The most likely reason is that her legal fees were piling up. The jury is out on whether her pricey lawyer Jerry Goldfeder mounted an effective case. But future insurgent campaigns would be well-advised to avoid hiring machine fixers with close ties to Andrew Cuomo.
Another remaining mystery is why Public Advocate Jumaane Williams sat out the DA’s race. Had he campaigned for Cabán, Williams very likely would have helped erase the 55-vote final differential. In a Twitter exchange, Williams provided no real explanation.
But as the dust settles, this much is clear: Given that the ultra-reactionary cop union boss Pat Lynch showed up at a Katz victory party, substantive criminal justice reform will have to be fought for every step of the way in Queens.