The progressive left won another huge victory in New York City on Tuesday night: Tiffany Cabán won the Democratic primary race for district attorney of Queens.
The race might seem local, but Queens’ population is larger than that of 16 U.S. states. And Cabán, a 31-year-old Queens native and a former public defender and a Latina queer woman, has some very big plans, including the decriminalization of sex work and the end of cash bail.
She edged out Melinda Katz by a small margin that’s expected to hold in the official final tally.
The win is thanks in part to some pretty big backers: the Working Families Party as well as the Democratic Socialists of America. Not to mention the New York Times and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who also won a shock victory in the Bronx and Queens last year and went on to become one of the biggest celebrities in Congress. Oh, and there’s the endorsements from Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the popular progressives running for president.
That is to say: Cabán is yet another example of a broader shift happening in parts of the Democratic Party, which has been having an identity crisis since Sanders waged a surprisingly successful challenge against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries. Cabán’s victory in New York City’s second-largest borough will alter the criminal justice system that presides over 2.4 million people. Cabán has specifically said she wants to stop prosecuting poor people who hop subway turnstiles, engage in sex for work, or use drugs recreationally to work toward “population zero” in prisons. She has also called for ending the office’s work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Cabán’s principal opponent, establishment-backed Melinda Katz, has refused to concede after Cabán bested her by little more than 1,000 votes, with some paper ballots still being counted. Ocasio-Cortez’s bested opponent, Joe Crowley, threw his own support behind Katz. His tweeted endorsement of Katz got the former congressman quickly ratioed.
Cabán’s victory mirrors that of Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, who’s been leading the city’s district attorney’s office on a platform of dramatic reform since last year. (Philadelphia, with a population of about 1.5 million people, is smaller than Queens.) Krasner was a public defender and civil rights lawyer before he became the city’s chief prosecutor. In his first week, Krasner fired 31 prosecutors who were expected to resist him.
Cabán and Krasner represent a startling shift in how district attorney offices have been expected to operate in the U.S. for decades. What prompted Cabán to run, which her opponents dismissed as a long-shot protest campaign, was a series of five texts from a friend. The friend wrote:
Dude / Run for DA in Queens / Let’s make it happen / You’ve got the vacation days / Let’s go
Despite her stunning victory, Cabán understands that she’ll face an uphill battle to accomplish her ambitious goals.
“Transforming this system will not be easy, and it will not happen overnight,” she tweeted Tuesday. “But I am ready. We are ready.”
Cover: Queens district attorney candidate Tiffany Caban speaks to supporters Tuesday, June 25, 2019, in the Queens borough of New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)