queens

Tiffany Cabán Lost the Queens DA Race, But She’s Still Running

Tiffany Cabán stands on 31st Street in Astoria.
Tiffany Cabán stands on 31st Street in Astoria. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The insurgent Democrat has been busy giving speeches, attending local rallies — and pushing presidential candidates on their criminal justice reform plans. Meanwhile, she’s been keeping in touch with the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who endorsed her run.

“I don’t want to waste any of what we built,” Cabán told THE CITY. “If you have a platform, you have to use it.”

Cabán, until recently an obscure public defender, is confident she and the coalition she built “won in so many different ways” by nudging the other candidates to the left.

The 32-year-old self-described “queer Latina” said she was proud of showing other young people of color that it’s possible to run for office — and of leaving the Democratic establishment “terrified,” as she put it in her concession speech.

“The campaign felt like one really, really, really long trial,” Cabán said. Public defenders, she added, “lose overwhelmingly. We lose way, way more than we win and we measure our wins in different ways.

“We take the little wins wherever we can.”

‘I Feel Pretty Good’

In an interview with THE CITY at an Astoria diner, Cabán conceded that the recount following what initially appeared to be her narrow victory in the June 25 primary was brutal. But now, she said, the campaign feels like a “lifetime ago.”

“I feel a lot better than I thought I would,” Cabán said. “I feel pretty good.”

She’s pivoted to planning her long game as an advocate for criminal justice reform.

Cabán said she has gotten job offers, although she declined to provide details aside from denying she’s considering a run for borough president, Katz’ current job.

Working at another DA’s office is “not without the realm of possibility,” she said, adding she hadn’t thought about the idea of working under Katz. When asked about pursuing a City Council seat, Cabán said she wasn’t planning a run “at the moment.”

Making Ends Meet

Meanwhile, there’s the pressing reality of living off her “meager savings” and being saddled with student loans — all without the security of a full-time job with benefits.

In an attempt to make do, she’s trying to secure short-term work that would give her the flexibility to determine what’s next for her career.

“I may very well be doing public defense work,” Cabán said. “But even the possibility that I could start picking up a caseload and then in a few months, leave? … Yeah, I wouldn’t want to do that.”

She’s consulting with friends — including local elected officials who were by her side during the campaign. Among her “north stars,” she said, are a coterie of young politicians that includes state Senators Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) and Jessica Ramos (D-Queens), both elected last year as part of a progressive wave.

“I think also the other thing that was really significant about those relationships were the commonalities in terms of being, you know, young, Latina women,” Cabán said.

And before she got on Sanders’ and Warren’s radars, Cabán notched the endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-The Bronx, Queens), whose 2018 primary victory upended Democratic politics in New York.

“It has been really, really cool just to be able to stay in contact with some of these folks,” Cabán said.

A firm launched by staffers from Sanders’ 2016 campaign is now doing communications work for Cabán.

‘Momentum to Build on’

Political insiders said Cabán would do well to choose her next path soon.

“The further you get away from the election, the less people will know her,” said longtime political consultant George Arzt. “Name recognition falls very rapidly, so she has to take advantage of it very soon or else she just becomes old news.”

Legislative strategist Evan Stavisky, a partner with The Parkside Group, said Cabán has “momentum to build on.”

“The DA race certainly proved that a small portion of the borough that’s highly energized and highly mobilized can generate nearly as many votes as the rest of the borough collectively,” Stavisky said. “The progressive energy in Western Queens is real, and people should underestimate it at their own peril.”

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz at victory rally in Forest Hills on July 29, 2019.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz at victory rally in Forest Hills on July 29, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Members of the Queens Democratic Socialists of America, which helped organize Cabán’s campaign, hope she’ll soon seek elected office.

“I appreciate that there are many opportunities in front of her and I have no doubt that she will find one through which she’ll be able to continue advancing transformative vision for the criminal justice reform that she put forth during her historic run for Queens DA,” said Aaron Taube, a spokesperson for the Queens DSA electoral working group.

Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party, said Cabán “inspired a grassroots movement the likes of which Queens has never seen before.”

He added: “This was always about more than one campaign — it’s about a movement that Tiffany, her supporters and the Working Families Party will keep building.”

Cabán said she recognizes this moment won’t last forever.

“I didn’t really know what to expect after the campaign,” she said. “I still feel really energized in some ways, so I’m excited to figure out what I’m going to do next.”

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