Queens County, New York holds its seven-way Democratic primary on Tuesday to succeed longtime District Attorney Richard Brown, who announced he would retire in January and died in office last month. The New York Times wrote in January that Brown’s office still used “a number of hard-nosed policies aimed at compelling people to plead guilty,” and nearly all the seven Democratic candidates have pledged to adopt a considerably more progressive approach. Whomever wins the Democratic nod should have little trouble in the November general election in this deep-blue New York City borough.
One candidate has picked up the bulk of the endorsements and national attention in the homestretch. Public defender Tiffany Cabán, who works as an attorney for the New York County Defender Services, is running on a platform of prosecuting Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents “who exceed their authority” to detain undocumented immigrants residing in Queens.
Cabán, who at 31 is over a decade younger than any of her six rivals, has also stood out with her call to decriminalize sex work. Before this week Cabán already had the support of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents part of Queens, as well as Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who has made a name for himself nationally for pursuing criminal justice reform.
On Tuesday, one week ahead of the primary, Cabán also earned an endorsement from The New York Times, which is the dominant paper in the city. The paper said that, while it believed Cabán didn’t have the “managerial experience” of some of her rivals, she “would come into office unencumbered by ties to the borough power structure and free to pursue her commitment to serve the community by doing more than just winning convictions.”
The paper also wrote that Cabán, who “identifies as a queer Latina” and “is the first in her family to graduate from college,” would “bring a perspective suited to one of the world’s most diverse communities, one where elected officials have rarely reflected that reality.” The following day, Cabán picked up the support of two prominent presidential candidates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Cabán faces a number of other candidates next week, several of whom started the race with a much larger base of support than her and have considerably more money to spend. The most prominent candidate is Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, a longtime New York City politician (Katz narrowly lost a 1998 congressional primary to none other than Anthony Weiner).
Katz, who had the most cash available in late May, has the backing of a number of prominent establishment figures and groups including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Rep. and county Democratic Party chair Gregory Meeks, and the big four unions in New York City politics: 1199 SEIU, SEIU 32BJ, the Hotel Trades Council, and the United Federation of Teachers.
The other sitting elected official in the race is New York City Councilman Rory Lancman, whom longtime Digest readers may remember from his 2012 primary campaign for New York’s 6th District; Lancman lost to now-Rep. Grace Meng 53-25. Lancman is well-funded and has the backing of police reform activist Gwen Carr, the mother of the late Eric Garner.
City & State’s Jeff Coltin characterized Lancman as a candidate who “occupies a middle ground where he could appeal to both progressive voters who want to see radical change and establishment voters who want somebody from within the political system,” which could be either an asset or a liability in this crowded race.
But wait, there’s more! Also in the running is former Queens Supreme Court Judge Gregory Lasak, whom Coltin says “had been the heir apparent to the office for years.” There’s Mina Malik, a former Washington, D.C. deputy attorney general and New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board executive director. Attorney Betty Lugo is a former Republican who is running as the most moderate candidate, but she doesn’t have much cash. Neither does Jose Nieves, a former deputy chief state attorney general.
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