The Queens District Attorney Race Is a Mess

Image: Scott Heins/Getty

The nail-biter of a race for Queens District Attorney has dragged out for over a week since last month’s New York primary. The big news coming out of the race was what looked like a win for Tiffany Cabán, a young, extremely progressive Latinx attorney who was endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic Socialists of America, and presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Cabán declared victory on the night of the election, when it seemed she was up by over one thousand votes. But her opponent, Melinda Katz—who was backed by Democratic establishment figures including former Rep. Joe Crowley, who Ocasio-Cortez unexpectedly unseated last year—refused to concede, demanding that absentee votes be counted. Now, Cabán’s historic win is in question, according to NY1.

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Today, Board of Elections officials in Queens hand-counted paper ballots that included absentee and affidavit votes. Katz and Cabán’s lawyers fought for hours over which individual ballots were valid and should be included. At the end of the day, Katz was apparently up by just 20 votes, spurring a full manual recount.

Katz has issued a statement claiming victory, according to NY1.

“We said from the beginning that every vote needed to be counted and that every voter needs to be heard,” she said. “I am proud to have been chosen as the Democratic nominee for Queens district attorney.”

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“We know that these numbers can and will be subject to recount, and there may be legal challenges, but what matters most is the will of Queens voters,” she added. “I want to thank the people of Queens for delivering this important victory; I look forward to having tonight’s results affirmed in the coming days; and I am honored to be ready to serve as Queens’ next District attorney.”

Cabán’s camp also released a statement.

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The manual recount is scheduled to begin next week and should be completed by July 16th. The recount will also likely lead to a legal battle. Cabán’s lawyer already filed a lawsuit this Tuesday as a precaution.

“We do that as a prophylactic,” Cabán’s lawyer Jerry Goldfeder told NY1. “Just to make sure that in case there are disputes, there’s a judge ready to resolve them.”

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If Cabán does end up winning, it will be a major victory for the insurgent left-wing of the Democratic party that has elected politicians like Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib and beat local Democratic machines.

It would also show the strength of a national movement pushing for radical criminal justice reform. Cabán was endorsed by reform-minded DAs around the country, including Larry Krasner in Philadelphia. Her proposed policies include declining to charge low level crimes like sex work and recreational drug use, ending cash bail, ending civil asset forfeiture, shorter sentences for felonies, prosecuting ICE, and ending broken windows policing.

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In their surprise endorsement, the New York Times said Cabán was “unencumbered by ties to the borough power structure and free to pursue her commitment to serve the community by doing more than just winning convictions.”

But for now, Queens’ future is up in the air. Even if she doesn’t win, Cabán’s strength should shake the establishment. But Katz’s reaction to the close race shows that the Democratic machine will not give up so easily.

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