queens da race

How Tiffany Cabán Went From Nowhere to the Verge of Victory

Tiffany Cabán addresses supporters after polls close in the Democratic primary for Queens district attorney, June 25, 2019.
Tiffany Cabán addresses supporters after polls close in the Democratic primary for Queens district attorney, June 25, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A few months ago, Tiffany Cabán toiled in near anonymity as a public defender in Manhattan.

By late Tuesday night, the 31-year-old self-described “queer Latina” emerged as the latest herald of the AOC Effect, threatening to pull an upset victory in the Democratic primary for Queens district attorney.

“Whether Cabán wins or loses, she can only be cast as the winner,” said longtime local political strategist George Arzt.

Cabán fought through early fundraising woes and shake-ups in her campaign to stand out in an initially seven-candidate field headed by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, a career politician and Democratic Party stalwart.

Touting her working-class roots and a platform calling for criminal justice reform, Cabán tapped into the zeitgeist that carried insurgent Larry Krasner to victory last year in the Philadelphia district attorney’s race.

Krasner endorsed Cabán. So did Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and The New York Times.

But perhaps her most important backing came from Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who upended politics in Queens County — and around the country — with her upset victory last year over party leader Joe Crowley.

“When people come together, we can beat big money in elections,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted late Tuesday night. “People power is no fluke.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s coattails have extended to a new wave of state lawmakers who helped bring the Legislature back to full Democratic control for the first time in years — overturning GOP dominance on issues ranging from rent regulation to restoring undocumented immigrants’ ability to apply for driver’s licenses.

‘I’m Tired of the Same Old People’

Like Ocasio-Cortez, Cabán apparently benefitted from a strong fan base and weak voter turnout — a sign, perhaps, of voter apathy, growing disillusionment with the party establishment or a combination of both.

The crowd at La Boom in Woodside erupts when it become clear Tiffany Cabán is going to win the election day vote for Queen District Attorney, June 25, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“I just like that she’s new, young, a person of color, a lesbian,” said Matt Podaski, who was voting at Public School 122 in Astoria, adding he learned about Cabán after Ocasio-Cortez endorsed her.

“She’s good on all criminal reforms,” he said of Cabán. “And I’m tired of the same old people in our neighborhood.”

Harold Crooks, 70, said he sees the future in politicians like Ocasio-Cortez and Cabán.

“I want to be a small part of continuing that trend,” said Crooks, who voted at P.S. 239 in Ridgewood. “I think that New York City, the country and the world are facing huge challenges that cannot be dealt with by the status quo.”

Cabán couldn’t compete with Katz’ fundraising prowess, which tapped heavily into real estate interests. But Cabán drew many small — and a handful of large — donations, much of which poured in from outside New York.

Now her electoral fate rests with some 3,000 New Yorkers who filed absentee or paper ballots.

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