Hundreds of people were shouting “sí se puede (yes we can)” Tuesday night at La Boom nightclub in Woodside after public defender Tiffany Cabán narrowly won the Democratic primary for the Queens District Attorney’s race, according to unofficial results from NY1 and the New York Times.
The six-way race proved to be a nail-biter once the polls closed at 9 p.m. on June 25th, as frontrunners Borough President Melinda Katz and Cabán at differing points held on to the lead.
During the nine o’clock hour, Katz shot up to lead the pack, but after 10 p.m. Cabán continued to take the lead with a narrow margin as the borough president held on strong while being less than two percent behind the public defender in terms of votes.
Cabán virtually won the primary Tuesday night by 10:56 p.m. after 99 percent of votes were tallied and she garnered 39.6 percent of the counted 85,389 ballots, according to NYT. Katz had 38.3 percent of the ballots in her favor.
Cabán had 33,814 votes and Katz trailed behind with 1.3 percent less or 32,724 votes from 1,427 precincts out of 1,434 precincts reporting, according to NYT.
Former Judge Greg Lasak had 12,377 ballots and former Harvard lecturer Mina Malik had 3,310 votes, according to NY1. Former prosecutors José Nieves and Betty Lugo were at the bottom with 1,075 and 921 or a combined 2.3 percent votes, according to NYT.
Surprisingly, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) who dropped out of the race the week prior and endorsed Katz had come in ahead of Nieves and Lugo with 1,168 votes, according to the NYT. Had the votes gone to Katz, she would have had 33,892 and narrowly beat Cabán with 78 votes.
There are 3,400 absentee votes yet to be counted, according to the Board of Elections. In order for Katz to flip the win in her direction, she would need over 1,200 ballots, which would be a tough feat considering the votes could be split either six or seven ways.
“With such an important office at stake, every voice throughout the borough needs to be heard and every vote needs to be counted,” said Katz, who did not concede the election. “I want to thank every volunteer, voter, and organization who supported my campaign over the past several months. Thousands of people came together to fight hard to bring change to the Borough of Queens, and their dedication should be recognized. With thousands of ballots left to count, every voter deserves to be heard.”
In the meantime, Cabán’s win is another plus for progressives across the country and in Queens.
Her victory comes on the heels of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Jackson Heights) beating out former Queens County Democratic Boss Joe Crowley to represent the 14th Congressional District in 2018. The congresswoman endorsed Cabán a little over a month before the election.
“We did what everyone thought was unthinkable,” said Cabán to cheers. “A queer Latina public defender whose parents grew up in the Woodside Housing projects decided to run. I ran because for too long too many communities in Queens hadn’t had a fair shot in our criminal justice system.”
Cabán said she ran because she was tired of seeing poor, black, and those in the LGBT community be discriminated against in the criminal justice system.
“There are people on Rikers who are sitting in jail because they can’t afford their bail,” said Cabán as supporters chanted “no more jails.”
Under her leadership, Cabán will not criminalize individuals because of mental health issues, substance abuse disorders or public health issues.
“We must invest in treatment and support and not cages,” said Cabán as the crowd roared in the packed nightclub. “We cannot stand by as landlords unlawfully evict tenants and employers who steal wages and destabilize entire communities,” she added to rapturous applause.
Cabán believes that every community deserves justice and that starts with reducing recidivism, not criminalizing poverty, ending mass incarceration, protecting immigration and helping people accessing resources to succeed.
“I know the work that lies ahead and the obstacles we will face,” said Cabán. “We need to build bridges with communities.”
Cabán is prepared to face the skeptics who may not see the vision when it comes to the radical reforms that she wants to bring to the Queens District Attorney’s Office, but she intends to reach out to every community.
“Nothing is more important to me than the safety of all the people who call this borough home,” said Cabán. “We need a more fair, more equitable, more efficient criminal justice system and that doesn’t come at the cost of safety. That is the source of safety.”
One person looking forward to helping Cabán with her transition into her new role if she wins the general election is Shana Contra, a fellow public defender and friend of the DA-elect.
“I’m going to work with her day one,” said Contra a criminal defense attorney for juveniles. “She is honest and she has always been honest. She is transparent in her life, she knows who she is, and what she represents and what kind of family she comes from and what kind of friend she is. The true definition of a person is how they treat their family and their friends. She has nothing to hide and that is refreshing to see in politics.”
Contra said that the reforms that Cabán wants to implement are not “theoretical.”
“We’ve seen the system from the other side,” said Contra. “People ask us our whole lives how can you defend the guilty. That is not what we do. Me and Tiffany, and every other public defender, we believe in the Constitution. We believe that everyone should be treated fairly and we believe that everybody has the right to the same representation that money can buy. If we take that to the DA’s office, you flip it on its head.”
Carl Stubbs the founder of VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization, was proud to endorse Cabán and see her win.
“I feel great!” said Stubbs, of Flushing. “It’s time now that black people got their district attorney. We got work to do.”