bitter end

Katz Wins — Again — as Cabán Concedes in Queens DA Primary

Tiffany Cabán addresses supporters at Katch Astoria, on Aug. 6, 2019.
Tiffany Cabán addresses supporters at Katch Astoria, on Aug. 6, 2019. Photo: Christine Chung/THe CITY

Six weeks after the Queens district attorney Democratic primary, Tiffany Cabán officially conceded the race Tuesday night.

Just hours after her team’s last-ditch effort to restore dozens of invalidated votes at a hearing in Forest Hills on Tuesday, the public defender addressed hundreds of backers at a beer garden in Astoria.

With tears in her eyes, Cabán thanked her supporters and emphasized the strides her campaign made in pushing the race to the left and “completely transforming the conversation about criminal justice.”

“We terrified the Democratic establishment,” she said. “There is still so, so much work to be done in Queens and beyond and you better believe I am going to keep fighting because we’ve got work to do.”

She pledged to “hold the next Queens DA accountable to ensure she keeps the promises she has made to our communities.”

Officials with both campaigns confirmed to THE CITY that Cabán called Katz before the concession speech. “She said she looks forward to working with Katz on all the issues,” said Katz campaign advisor Matthew Rey.

‘Closure’ for a Long Race

In a statement issued Tuesday night, Katz thanked Cabán for “bringing closure to this long and hard-fought race.”

“Too often, the process of primary campaigns obscures the vast commonalities we share as Democrats and reformers,” Katz added. “We all want a safe Queens where everyone is treated equally.”

Katz already held a victory party on July 29 in Forest Hills to thank her supporters, and she delivered celebratory remarks after the Board of Elections confirmed the recount’s determination that she led by 60 votes. She was surrounded by a phalanx of local elected officials — some of whom are expected to run to replace her as borough president.

Katz, a Queens Democratic Party stalwart who will face a Republican challenger in November, has already begun preparing for assuming office by meeting with members of the legal community, her campaign said.

She previously told THE CITY that she would reinterview current employees of the Queens DA office, long overseen by Richard Brown, who died in May.

‘Old Rules’ Fade Away

Cabán’s concession culminates a dramatic, months-long contest filled with seven candidates sparring over who was the most progressive of them all.

She first entered the race in January, with less than $10,000 in her campaign coffers.

On Tuesday night, she touted the achievement of building a grassroots volunteer run movement that attracted the high-profile support of dozens of elected officials — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose primary victory last year shocked the Queens Democratic Party.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz holds a victory rally in Forest Hills after a recount in the district attorney race, July 29, 2019.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz holds a victory rally in Forest Hills after a recount in the district attorney race, July 29, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“We showed that you can run on a boldly decarceral platform,” Cabán said. “That you don’t have to play by the old rules.”

Supporters and campaign staffers said they are concerned about what kind of DA Katz will be and whether or not she’ll abide by her campaign promises. Over the course of the race, Katz shifted several of her campaign positions — ultimately committing to ending cash bail and declining to prosecute sex workers, among other reforms pushed by Cabán.

Claire Robinson, who worked as an organizer in Southeast Queens for Cabán, said she was “sad AF” because she believed the candidate was “going to do the right thing.”

“I feel concerned because many candidates in this race piggybacked off of things that Tiffany said she was going to do,” Robinson added. “Melinda Katz is no different than anyone in that regard. You don’t know what she’s going to do and she’s also part of the machine.”

Cabán has been on leave from her position as a Manhattan public defender for the past six months and her next steps are unknown. Still, she emphasized that while the election was over, her political organizing isn’t.

“It will not stop,” Cabán added. “And we are just getting started.”

Cutting the Mustard

The concession followed a review earlier in the day of about 90 ballots challenged by Cabán and Katz at a four-hour hearing held at the Queens Board of Elections office in Forest Hills.

Lawyers for both candidates huddled around the judge, sparring over whether votes should be disqualified for having extra identifying marks such as lines on the ballot.

Cabán attorney Jerry Goldfeder even mounted an unsuccessful argument that a potential mustard stain on a ballot cast for Katz should be disqualified.

Cabán ultimately picked up five votes, narrowing Katz’ lead to 55. Cabán’s legal team had pinned their hopes on the judge unsealing 23 affidavit ballots where voters failed to write down their political party. Ingram opted not to, instead declaring it was “very clear” that party enrollment was required information on the affidavit ballot.

With that denial, Caban’s possible pathway to victory closed.

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