After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a shock primary victory over long-time Democratic establishment incumbent Joe Crowley for the congressional seat in Queens, NY, the party leaders were determined not to let themselves be blindsided again. So when Tiffany Cabán, described as a “31 year old, Democratic Socialist, queer, Latinx public defender”, challenged the party machine candidate Melinda Katz for the position of district attorney on a progressive platform, they pulled out all the stops. And yet yesterday, Cabán won.
Cabán’s apparent victory is a show of force in New York for the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which worked hard for Cabán early, as well as for the Working Families Party and Real Justice PAC. Larry Krasner, the Philadelphia district attorney elected with the help of Real Justice on a similarly radical platform, was in attendance at Cabán’s election night party.
The most significant endorsement, however, likely came from Bronx and Queens Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The district attorney has jurisdiction over all of Queens and its some 2.4 million residents, but Cabán put up huge margins in portions of Queens represented by Ocasio-Cortez, which is both a reflection of their aligned politics and the influence of Ocasio-Cortez. A year ago, the party establishment could claim — whether it was true or not — to have been caught off guard by Ocasio-Cortez. That rationale is absent in Tuesday’s race. The eyes of the country were on Queens, and the machine was as prepared as it could be. It simply couldn’t muscle out the vote.
Katz, who was running for her sixth elected office in New York in 25 years, had support from former congressman and former Queens County Democratic Party Chair Crowley, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with New York Congressional Reps. Gregory Meeks, Tom Suozzi, Carolyn Maloney, and Adriano Espaillat, and a host of local and state unions. Meeks, despite a key vote on Capitol Hill Tuesday, was at Katz’s election night party. Earlier, he slammed Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for endorsing Cabán without consulting leaders of the machine. The move, he said, was “arrogant” and “patronizing.”
But progressive groups coalesced around Cabán and brought the race national attention. Organizers pushing to end the construction of new jails, decriminalize sex work, and build relationships between the district attorney and the communities most impacted by choices the DA makes knocked on doors, organized rallies, and got out the word to propel Cabán’s campaign further than many expected it to go.
Here is a report on the race before the results were known.
Given the politics of Queens, winning the Democratic primary all but assures winning in the general election, so Cabán is following in the footsteps of Ocasio-Cortez.
Whether the New York city borough of Queens can be considered a bellwether of what is in store nationally or is an outlier is not the point. The party machine should read the writing on the wall and realize that they can no longer use their financial and establishment power to muscle out progressives. Genuine grass roots movements can wield power and bring in new people, those whose voices have traditionally been ignored, into the fold. Rather than being fought against, they should be welcomed.