Tiffany Cabán announces bid for northwest Queens City Council seat

Tiffany Caban
Photo Credit: Tiffany Caban campaign

Tiffany Cabán, the progressive public defender who ran for Queens district attorney in 2019, officially announced her bid for the New York City Council on Thursday, Sept. 10. 

Cabán, who ran on the hopes of reforming the criminal justice system in the borough, aims to represent City Council District 22, which covers parts of Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside and Rikers Island, the home of the city’s most notorious jail. The council seat is currently held by Costa Constantinides, who will be term-limited out of office in November 2021. 

“This is where the work is. This is where we are going to change lives,” Cabán said. “When the systems failed to protect us, we witnessed was was possible when we decided to protect each other. When leadership failed us, we witnessed what was possible when we became our own leaders. Who we elect to serve in our City Council is a matter of life and death.”

Cabán, who made her campaign announcement at Katch Astoria on Thursday, was joined by many of the same lawmakers and activists who supported her run for DA – a race she lost by a slim margin and only after a contentious recount. She conceded the DA’s race at the same restaurant around a year ago.   

State Senators Jessica Ramos, Michael Gianaris, and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, all showed up to again show support to the progressive candidate. 

“We need policies that reflect the needs of working class people in Astoria, Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and beyond,” Ramos said on Thursday. “It is deeply important for me to see my hometown well represented in the City Council, which is why I’m here to support Tiffany Cabán in her candidacy.”

Also at the announcement were a handful of activists and current candidates for public office whose runs were partially inspired by Cabán’s grassroots campaign in 2019, including Democratic nominee for State Assembly Jessica González-Rojas and recently-elected District Leader Shawna Morlock. 

“I had the pleasure of volunteering for Tiffany from almost the very beginning,” Morlock said. “I know deep in my heart that Tiffany Cabán represents my values. She’s fighting for working class people, she’s fighting for families, she’s fighting for everyone in this borough that needs representation that has been ignored for way too long.”

Cabán said she sees support her for and her electoral runs as support for a broader coalition and movement.

“Our coalition has gone on to organize and they helped really dope people get elected,” she said. “I just see that we are building and building. I think about my work very simply, it’s locating myself in the moment and saying how can I best be of service.”

The Queens chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America threw their support behind Cabán in 2019, endorsing her and powering much of her volunteer effort during the campaign. Cabán has applied for an endorsement from the group – whose endorsements will be announced in November – in her bid for City Council, according to a person with knowledge of DSA’s endorsement process. 

The City Council district has become one of the more progressive districts in the city. DSA-backed Zohran Mamdani recently was elected as the Democratic nominee for the district’s Assembly seat and a portion of the district is represented in Congress by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, arguably the face of the progressive left movement in the United States.

As a candidate for DA, Cabán, 33, won around 74 percent of the vote in the district. No where else in Queens did she receive such a high percentage of the vote. 

In the Democratic primary for the City Council seat, Cabán will face off against Constantinides’ Chief of Staff Nick Roloson, who has received an endorsement from the incumbent. Jesse Cerrotti, a progressive activist, had previously announced his bid for the seat, only to suspend his campaign on Thursday and announce his support for Cabán.

Cabán’s DA campaign focused on reforming the criminal justice system she worked in as a public defender for most of her professional career. Running as a decarceral DA, Cabán advocated for decriminalizing sex work, ending cash bail and closing Rikers Island. While her platform will extend beyond criminal justice reform during her bid for City Council, many of those themes are likely to remain a centerpiece of her campaign in the coming year. 

“We cannot thrive if our families are being criminalized for being poor, if our queer or trans family can’t walk the streets without fear of incarceration, if our neighbors – in district, the way – on Rikers Island go abandoned and ignored,” Cabán said. 

Born in Richmond Hill, Cabán is a second-generation Queens resident – her parents grew up in the Woodside Houses. She attended PS 62 in Richmond Hill, JHS 210 Elizabeth Blackwell in Woodhaven and St. Francis Preparatory High School in Fresh Meadows. 

After graduating high school, Cabán completed her undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University and earned her Juris Doctorate from New York Law School. 

Cabán has spent the past year working as a national organizer for the Working Families Party. 

Additional reporting by Angélica Acevedo. 

This story first appeared on our sister publication qns.com.