What’s next for Queens and Cabán

Takeaways from Tiffany Cabán’s performance on Tuesday and what it means for Queens.

Public defender Tiffany Cabán stunned the city with her takedown of yet another establishment politician in Queens. In some ways her performance was more locally impressive even than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s narrow district-only win in 2018, despite the strength of the incumbent, Joe Crowley. Cabán (provisionally) won her primary boroughwide, albeit on the strength of a huge margin in Western Queens neighborhoods. Her election-night party drew national attention and hundreds of elated supporters to Woodside.

Here are some takeaways from the election.

It’s still up in the air.

Cabán led Queens Borough President Melinda Katz by just over 1,000 votes with almost 99 percent of scanners reporting on Wednesday.

There are still votes to count: some 3,600 absentee ballots, 2,800 affidavit ballots (though that number is boroughwide and could include other races), according to the city Board of Elections. Then there are the uncounted votes from the scanners, maybe another 1,230 if estimating proportionally.

Katz has vowed to keep counting, though the math doesn’t look great for her, considering that seven total candidates can claim those uncounted votes.

Regardless, the counting won’t begin until July 3 because the BOE is still receiving absentees.

This didn’t start Tuesday.

There was a lot to foreshadow Cabán’s success beyond Ocasio-Cortez, and the progressive anti-establishment wins have not been confined to Queens. State Senate primary challengers across the boroughs swept out a group of moderate Democrats in 2018, which charted the demise of the Independent Democratic Conference. Adem Bunkeddeko nearly beat a long-serving congresswoman in Brooklyn, and Kings County has made headlines for “progressive” prosecution since the late Ken Thompson was district attorney and trying to reduce marijuana cases half a decade ago.

A guy named Bill de Blasio also surprised some observers and took advantage of a fractured Democratic field with a message about inequality back in 2013.

It probably doesn’t end soon. 

Political observers and insiders are already swarming with thoughts on the next sure-thing politician who might face a challenge and fall in the foreseeable future. The No IDC NY group that helped flip the State Senate is considering primaries against Assembly Democrats who haven’t gotten with the new Albany program. Congressional challengers might feel emboldened with the help of national progressive groups that proved themselves here.

The future will certainly include some level of squabbling among the victors. Whose support proved more important, the Democratic Socialists of America’s door-knockers, or the Working Families Party’s organizational experience? Can the door-knockers make a more significant dent in non-Manhattan-adjacent communities that Katz carried?

What changes for Queens?

If Cabán pulls through in the primary and then defeats the Republican challenger in November, she would presumably begin implementing her platform, which includes ending cash bail, reducing the number of people remanded to Rikers Island, and declining to prosecute crimes from farebeating to marijuana.

Those would be big changes for Queens. But Cabán also would have a tough path. The DA’s office includes hundreds of employees, a tough management task. And many of them would likely be resistant to some of the changes she has proposed: reduced prosecutions for low-level crimes might be swallowed but what about full decriminalization of sex work, buyers and sellers? 

The beginning will be particularly important. Not long after de Blasio came into office with criminal justice reform hopes, he faced protests from police officers after the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island and the fatal shooting of police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn. Some officers deemed de Blasio too understanding of the Black Lives Matter protesters’ side and turned their backs or slowed down work on the job. Public safety levels tend to be keenly felt by voters (safety levels in NYC continue to be high).

Since then, de Blasio has arguably sought to largely avoid direct confrontation with the NYPD. 

Mark Chiusano