queens da race

Tiffany Cabán Launches Suit on Eve of Queens DA Ballot Count

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

Tiffany Cabán’s insurgent Democratic primary campaign for Queens district attorney filed a pre-emptive lawsuit aimed at keeping party politics out of Wednesday’s crucial count of paper ballots.

The Cabán team downplayed Tuesday’s legal maneuver as standard operating procedure. But the suit underscored the high stakes as she enters the ballot tally with an 1,199-vote lead over Queens Democratic Party candidate Melinda Katz.

Some 6,000-plus affidavit, absentee and military ballots will be tallied beginning Wednesday morning. It’s the kickoff of what could be a days-long process to determine the victor in the June 25 Democratic primary.

“We fully expect that once every valid vote is counted, Tiffany Cabán’s insurgent campaign will remain victorious,” said Monica Klein, a spokesperson for Cabán. “But in case there are any irregularities at the Party-controlled (Board of Elections), we are ready to take this to the courts to ensure there are no issues.”

Daniele de Groot, a Katz spokesperson, declined to comment on whether the campaign had filed a similar suit.

“Our strategy is simple: We believe every valid vote should be counted, period,” she said.

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

Cabán, who is backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens, The Bronx), last week became the latest candidate to upend the Queens Democratic Party. The public defender’s showing shocked supporters of Katz, Queens’ borough president and a well-financed party stalwart.

Cabán has retained high-profile election attorney Jerry Goldfeder, who previously worked for Rory Lancman’s DA run. Lancman dropped out of the seven-way race shortly before the Democratic primary and threw his support to Katz.

Goldfeder will be joined by Renée Paradis, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and attorney who worked in voter protection for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

About 50 Cabán volunteers have signed up to observe the ballot-count process, the spokesperson said.

Katz has hired attorney Vito Pitta, her campaign confirmed.

Meanwhile, Katz’ campaign said she will not run as a Republican if she loses the Democratic race. GOP candidate Daniel Kogan has said he doesn’t plan to run a vigorous campaign, leading some in his party to try to draft a replacement.

‘Like Watching Paint Dry’

The count to determine the Democratic candidate for Queens district attorney involves a laborious manual count of thousands of paper ballots — a process governed by strict rules.

It all begins 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Queens Board of Elections office in Forest Hills, where stacks of ballots will be carried in from a double-locked room.

A bipartisan team of Board of Elections staffers will open sealed envelopes, one by one, in the presence of lawyers, representatives for the two candidates and onlookers.

For all the drama surrounding the race to replace the late longtime DA Richard Brown, the manual counting of ballots “is like watching paint dry,” said former Brooklyn State Sen. Martin Connor, a top election lawyer.

“People are getting really excited about this,” he said. But, he added, “This is what the state requires for every election.”

Ballots can be invalided for a multitude of reasons, such as a form being filled out incorrectly or a voter not being a registered Democrat. Election attorneys are permitted to object to determinations on individual ballots. Points of contention are then refereed by a bipartisan pair of BOE staffers.

“I think that this is in the hands of lawyers at this point,” said George Arzt, a longtime political consultant. “I think that it’s a very difficult task to overcome a 1,200-vote margin.”

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