queens da race

Katz Tops Cabán in Recount as Queens DA Fight Starts New Round

Board of Elections workers count the final ballots in the Queens district attorney race, July 25, 2019.
Board of Elections workers count the final ballots in the Queens district attorney race, July 25, 2019. Photo: Christine Chung/THE CITY

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz emerged as the tentative winner of the Queens district attorney Democratic primary race Thursday, buoyed by a 60-vote lead as the laborious manual recount dribbled to a close.

Results are not yet official: The city Board of Elections must still certify the final tally next week — and there’s still pending litigation over the fate of 114 invalidated ballots and a handful of objections to board rulings.

Still, Katz declared victory as both campaigns confirmed her slim lead.

“We respect the recount process and the crucial role it has played in upholding our democracy and ensuring that every voice has been heard,” Katz said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

“Now that every valid vote has been counted and recounted, the results confirm once again that the people of Queens have chosen Melinda Katz as the Democratic nominee for district attorney.”

But Cabán refused to concede, declaring the contest was “far from over.”

“We are going to continue to fight,” she said, adding that the campaign would next head to court to make sure “the people of Queens are not disenfranchised.”

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz speaks at the National Action Network headquarters on MLK Day 2019.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz speaks at the National Action Network headquarters on MLK Day 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The Manhattan public defender said it was “too premature” to comment on next steps if the court fight does not go in her favor.

Over the past month since the June 25 primary, Board of Elections staffers, attorneys and volunteers for both candidates pored over some 91,000 ballots — one by one — at a voting machine facility nestled deep in the basement of a Middle Village shopping mall.

On Thursday afternoon, anxieties were riding high as observers crowded around the tables to watch the final three assembly districts being counted.

By the end of the day, Katz had secured 34,920 votes to Cabán’s 34,860, campaign sources said. The Board of Elections will not release numbers until the race’s certification.

A Battle Over 114 Ballots

A winner will not be made official until the Board of Elections certifies the results, which involves borough staff appearing before the commissioners, who will then sign off on the final tally. Board of Elections spokesperson Valerie Vasquez said this will happen at the next commissioners’ meeting, which could happen on Monday or Tuesday.

But that won’t be the end of the battle to replace the late, longtime DA Richard Brown.

Attorneys for both candidates are scheduled to appear before Judge John Ingram in Queens State Supreme Court on Aug. 6 to wrangle over 114 ballots that were invalidated due to voter errors, such as being filled out incompletely.

Cabán attorney Jerry Goldfeder vowed, “We are going to win.”

He said the Cabán campaign had “dozens” of objections to board rulings on individual ballots — and he’ll ask the judge to rule on a total number of ballots exceeding Katz’s 60-vote margin.

The slim lead that Katz now holds means that these 114 ballots and handful of objections are “very, very critical,” said election attorney Sarah Steiner, who is not attached to either campaign.

“Everything depends on those ballots now,” Steiner said.

Don’t Rule Out a Tie

Depending on the court appearance outcome, the possibility of a tie looms. Should this occur, election law dictates that the Queens County Democratic Party will decide the winner by a vote, Steiner said — meaning almost certain victory for Katz, the party’s nominee.

Despite the dragged out conclusion to the announcement of the Democratic primary winner, the race is still months away from being over. The party’s choice will have four months of fundraising and campaigning ahead before the Nov. 5 general election, ostensibly against GOP candidate Daniel Kogan.

Tiffany Cabán said she was not conceding the Queens district attorney race while standing next to her lawyer, Jerry Goldfeder, outside a ballot recount in Middle Village Thursday, July 25, 2019.
Tiffany Cabán said she was not conceding the Queens district attorney race while standing next to her lawyer, Jerry Goldfeder, outside a ballot recount in Middle Village Thursday, July 25, 2019. Photo: Christine Chung/THE CITY

Kogan, an Ozone-Park based attorney, previously told THE CITY he wasn’t planning on running “a vigorous campaign.” There’s talk in GOP circles that he could be replaced by former Judge Greg Lasak, who placed third in the Democratic primary.

Political strategist George Arzt said Katz’ apparent victory marked a big win for the Queens Democratic Party.

But he emphasized the hard-fought race underscored the party’s shaky hold in the borough, previously loosened by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory last year over Joe Crowley, then the party leader and a longtime member of the House of Representatives.

“The slim margin in a borough-wide race sharply demonstrates that the organization has a lot of work to do for future elections. The left has made great inroads but there are no moral victories in politics,” he added.

Queens Democratic Party chair Rep. Greg Meeks said that he was “feeling very good” about Thursday’s result, which he believes will stand even after the upcoming court battle. He conceded that the deeply divided vote in the crowded primary race showed the importance of a unified party.

“You can’t be a split party and expect to win… We have to figure it out and we have to work together… Queens as a whole will benefit,” the congressman said, adding he would “absolutely” welcome Cabán to join the Queens Dems.

Sign up for “THE CITY Scoop,” our daily newsletter where we send you stories like this first thing in the morning.

Want to republish this story? See our republication guidelines.