There’s a new queen of Queens.
In yet another earthshaking upset in Queens, leftist public defender Tiffany Cabán scored a shocking win in a six-person primary for Queens District Attorney. The primary marked the first competitive race for the role in Queens in a generation and the latest addition to a new wave of progressive prosecutors elected throughout the country.
Cabán’s leading opponent was Queens Borough President and establishment candidate Melinda Katz, who trailed by a narrow 1,000 votes. But support from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who shocked the political world in her primary upset against House Democrat powerhouse Joe Crowley nearly a year ago, may have pushed Cabán over the top, marking a new high for the rising left.
The political newbie’s high-profile endorsements didn’t stop at everyone’s favorite Bronx underdog AOC. She also received support from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Cabán is a 31-year-old Latina public defender of Puerto Rican descent who identifies as queer. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. And now, she is poised to be the top law enforcement official in one of the largest jurisdictions in the country.
And since prosecutors are the key drivers of mass incarceration, serve as the most powerful actors in the local criminal justice system and hold the near unilateral power to choose which charges to bring against anyone, it’s a powerful role, indeed.
Just think: If marijuana is illegal in a state, a district attorney could decide to completely ignore that aspect of the law under his or her jurisdiction. That’s some hefty power.
And while courts and juries provide a much-needed check on prosecutors, almost all criminal convictions are resolved out of court through plea agreements, which give prosecutors a lot of say.
With a platform that ran on “people-powered justice,” Cabán pushed to end cash bail, stop the prosecution of subway turnstile jumping, prosecute ICE, close Rikers Island, stop prosecution for marijuana possession and decriminalize sex work—all hard-left stances that mean a giant departure from the conventional tough-on-crime approach of longtime Queens DA Richard Brown. Cabán also set her agenda on focusing on reduced incarceration, recidivism and community engagement, rather than evaluating performance based on convictions.
But Cabán is also looking to take violent crimes seriously, ending the dual issue of over-policing minor crimes and sometimes under-policing serious ones.
With such a turn in approach, this new leftward lurch is sure to send ripples through Queens, potentially paving the way for reformers seeking to end mass incarceration and the war on drugs.
Cabán’s other primary opponents included former judge Gregory Lasak, whose base drew largely from law enforcement unions, and, of course, Katz. Katz carried strong union support and the stamp of approval from the Democratic machine, including Crowley and Representative Gregory Meeks.
Cabán, on the other hand, drew support from the Working Families Party and Democratic Socialists of America with support from the New York Times, as well.
She won by hulking margins in western Queens neighborhoods, including Long Island City and Astoria, where young progressive voters turned up in droves. Her multicultural message also won out in the immigrant-heavy parts of central Queens, while Katz fared better in the African-American neighborhoods of Southeast Queens and in white, middle-class eastern Queens.
But overall, Cabán’s 39.6% of the vote edged out Katz’s 38.3% in a slim but clear margin of 1.3 percentage points.
Cabán is now prepping to face off against Republican candidate Daniel Kogan in the general election, but in a borough as blue as Queens, the odds look in her favor.
If elected, she’ll be the first female, Latinx, openly queer and youngest person to ever be in her position. And she’s getting ready to overhaul the criminal justice system.