Bringing Cabán over the Finish Line First

Tiffany Cabán and campaign volunteers getting ready to knock on some doors in Jackson Heights.

By Queens Electoral Working Group

Tiffany Cabán’s grassroots campaign for Queens District Attorney has already achieved its first goal: changing the conversation about racist over-policing and mass incarceration in Queens. And with only a month to go until the June 25 Democratic Primary, it looks like the 31-year-old queer, Latina public defender, who is both a DSA member and DSA-endorsed candidate, may win an outright victory, if volunteers and donations keep on coming.

The change in the conversation is obvious to those who have been attending candidate forums over the past six months. One by one, Cabán’s rivals have adopted at least some of her positions — and even her language about “promoting community stability” to prevent recidivism and crime.

At a late April candidate forum sponsored by the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, the most conservative candidate in the race, Judge Greg Lasak, agreed under pressure not to prosecute sex workers and their clients. Cabán has promised this from the beginning, because it criminalizes work people need to support themselves and makes it impossible for them to report abuse by clients or traffickers.

Still, Cabán remains the clear progressive voice in the race, pledging to:

  • Never request cash bail (it’s unfair to the poor);

  • Not prosecute cases of drug possession, turnstile jumping, and other so-called broken windows crimes;

  • Publish the names of police who have committed perjury (no one should be charged or convicted based on the testimony of a proven liar), and prosecute corrupt police officers and prosecutors;

  • Require all ADAs to understand and avoid, when possible, charges that could lead to deportation of immigrants;

  • Not cooperate with ICE and help defendants avoid capture by, for example, allowing them not to appear at some hearings;

  • Charge real estate companies, lenders, employers, and healthcare providers with tenant abuse, mortgage lending and foreclosure abuse, wage theft, and overprescription and deceptive marketing of opioids, respectively;

  • Set up community advisory groups to address policy issues, such as how to avoid gun violence, and to participate in allocating discretionary funds, including the $100 million in federal asset forfeiture funds, to badly needed programs.

Cabán also argues for closing Rikers without building new jails, and that her policies could reduce the jail population from Queens by 80% in less than two years, making a new jail in Queens unnecessary.

Surprising Strength

Cabán’s progressive platform led to her receiving the highest overall grade in the 5 Boro Defenders Candidate Guide, and to a remarkably long string of endorsements from grassroots and national organizations, civil rights leaders and elected officials.

Endorsements from the Working Families Party and Real Justice in late March and early April were game changers that brought badly needed resources, including staff and mass texting and phone banking support from huge volunteer bases. The VOCAL-NY Action Fund (which organizes formerly incarcerated, homeless, substance abusers and AIDS survivors) and Make the Road New York Action Fund (which organizes immigrants) brought the credibility and active participation of directly-impacted communities.

The Ocasio-Cortez endorsement on May 22 was the next huge shot in the arm, bringing visibility, credibility and money. After news of the endorsement broke in The New York Times and trended on social media, canvassers for Cabán noted an immediate pick-up in positive results from voters, and online contributions soared.

For weeks, Cabán has been cited in online media reports as the leading challenger to Melinda Katz, the perceived frontrunner as the Democratic County machine’s candidate and twice-elected incumbent Queens Borough President. But Katz appears to have lost support recently in Southeast Queens to Councilmember Rory Lancman, the other career politician in the race, who represents much of that area. She may also be losing ground in her Forest Hills/Kew Gardens home base to Lasak.

It’s impossible to predict with any confidence how an election with seven candidates and no public polling will shake out. Katz, Lancman, and Lasak (the three white candidates in a borough that is 75% people of color) have raked in over $1 million each that they are using to air television commercials and mail literature. The three former prosecutors of color running haven’t gathered strong financial or volunteer support.

The Cabán campaign is by far the strongest in the field. On a single week in mid-May, its field schedule included more than 70 events. Hundreds of volunteers are knocking on doors and talking to voters at crowded community events in Western Queens (Astoria, Long Island City Sunnyside, Woodside and Jackson Heights), where Bernie Sanders did well in 2016 and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did well in 2018, and where a progressive mobilization led Amazon to give up its plan for a second headquarters.

VOCAL-NY is focused on canvassing the Queensbridge and Ravenswood housing projects; Make the Road on Spanish speaking parts of Corona and East Elmhurst. The Cabán campaign is also pushing to compete in West Central Queens (Rego Park, Forest Hills, and Kew Gardens) and in select parts of southern Queens, from Richmond Hill and Ozone Park to Jamaica, Cambria Heights, Laurelton and the Rockaways. Texting and phone banking across Queens will provide crucial coverage of voters the field campaign misses.

NYC-DSA has been central to the Cabán campaign from the beginning. We were the first organization to endorse her and are leading much of the field campaign and helping in other areas. But Queens is huge. With 2.3 million people and 109 square miles of land, Queens is far larger than Philadelphia, St. Louis or Boston, where other progressive prosecutors have won upsets in recent years. It’s also far larger than any district where a DSA member has been elected.

We need more volunteers in the field and on the phones, on a repeat basis, to support the final push that can bring Cabán over the finish line in first place. We also need more money, since Cabán is the only candidate to refuse donations from corporate and real estate-related contributions..

Help us make Queens safe and just for all its residents. We can make a huge difference in people’s lives immediately–and deliver another blow to the Queens machine while we’re at it.

About Rebecca Capua 117 Articles
Red Letter spotlights editor, former MWG OC