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Who’s After Katz? Race for Queens Borough President Is On

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (far left) and State Assemblymember Ron Kim (far right) attend Tiffany Cabán's Queens district attorney race election night party, June 25, 2019.
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (far left) and State Assemblymember Ron Kim (far right) attend Tiffany Cabán’s Queens district attorney race election night party, June 25, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

With the Queens district attorney primary finally resolved, there’s a new — and potentially packed — race already on to replace Melinda Katz as borough president.

Two Democrats — Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman — have established their candidacies, while up to six others are waiting in the wings. But Tiffany Cabán, who lost a close battle to Katz, apparently isn’t among the hopefuls, at this point.

Katz, now officially the Democratic nominee for Queens DA, has said she won’t step down from her current post before November’s general election. Given the borough’s majority of Democratic voters, she is expected to handily defeat Republican nominee Daniel Kogan.

A nonpartisan special election for borough president would likely be called in February — setting up another test for Democratic politics in post-AOC era after progressive upstart Cabán nearly beat party stalwart Katz.

The Gang’s All Here

The field of likely borough president candidates brims with local elected officials, some of whom have been quietly fundraising for months.

The roster includes: Assemblymember Ron Kim, former Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, Councilmembers Costa Constantinides, Donovan Richards, Paul Vallone and Eric Ulrich.

All are Democrats, save for Ulrich, a Republican. And all of the Council members will hit their term limits in December 2021.

Councilmember Donovan Richards is also eyeing the BP job.
Councilmember Donovan Richards is also eyeing the BP job.

Hyndman is the sole candidate to establish a committee to run for borough president. Others — Crowley, Richards, Vallone and Van Bramer — have general fundraising accounts that they’re steadily filling.

Van Bramer appears to have the most in his campaign coffers: As of January, he had roughly $330,000 in one account, and $334,000 in another past committee account.

‘Suppressed Democracy for Decades’

Since public defender Cabán conceded the Queens DA race Tuesday night, chatter has been swirling about her next steps.

But a source close to Cabán told THE CITY Thursday she is not seeking Katz’ post, although she has not ruled out running for another office down the line.

Over the course of the dramatic Queens DA race, Cabán did not mince any words criticizing the Queens Democratic Party.

“Our campaign, and all of Queens, is up against a party machine that has ruled local politics and suppressed democracy for decades,” she said in an email to supporters days before the manual recount in the June 15 primary.

Some political strategists previously told THE CITY that while Katz’s primary win was a victory for the party, her small margin served as the latest warning sign of its diminishing clout.

Party-Pooper Candidates

Crowley and Van Bramer have said they will not seek the party’s endorsement.

Crowley also said that she also would not be asking for the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America, which had backed Cabán in the DA race. The group also supported Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez against Crowley’s cousin Joe, the former Queens Democratic Party boss whose primary loss last year staggered the political establishment.

“I think it’s important to have a good discussion amongst Democrats and that people shouldn’t not run based on whatever the county or whatever other organizations do,” Elizabeth Crowley said.

Still, strategists say the party’s support, accompanied by its resources and network, remains valuable in a competitive borough-wide race.

“This is a crowded field and there is no big name to garner most of the initial publicity,” said longtime political consultant George Arzt. “If Cabán gets in, then we have to recalculate. But this is a very tough race for everyone and whoever does it has to have a complete team in place very early.”

Borough presidents wield some influence in land-use decisions and spending, appoint community board members, and generally serve as advocates and cheerleaders for their constituents.

Their impact, though, is a shadow of what it was when borough presidents sat on the all-powerful Board of Estimate, which was declared unconstitutional in 1989.

The job remains both a stepping stone to higher office and a way to stay in the political game.

“It’s a launching pad to run citywide and it’s a place to go after you’ve been term-limited,” one political consultant said.

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