Only 16 Votes

Pamela Y. Price
Jul 7 · 5 min read
Credit: Gabriella Angotti-Jones for The New York Times

Tiffany Caban’s Election — Part 1

Tiffany Caban is losing her election to Queens District Attorney by only 16 votes. Only 16 votes could decide the race. The criminal justice system in Queens impacts 2.4 million people. The race highlights the dangers of “provisional ballots” and the power of absentee ballots.

Election officials initially tossed out an estimated 2,500 provisional ballots. Some people registered too late to vote in the primary election. Others moved and did not re-register in time. Some voters forgot to sign and swear they were registered Democrats. On the flip side, usually the most reliable and conservative voters cast absentee ballots. Absentee voters vote early and those votes usually decide the race. That conventional wisdom may prove true in Queens.

What’s At Stake in Queens

Tiffany Caban’s race for District Attorney has captured the attention of the nation. Her story, in case you missed it, is an original American story. She’s young, a mere 31 years old, of Puerto Rican descent, a former Public Defender and the first in her family to graduate from college. Bringing all of her real life and world experience, she put together a broad coalition of progressives, formerly incarcerated folks, sex workers and undocumented immigrants.

New York based Working Families Party, Real Justice PAC, Color of Change, Our Revolution and Democrats for Socialist America (DSA) also supported Tiffany. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krashner, Singer John Legend, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, former NY gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon and the New York Times newspaper all endorsed Tiffany.

Only 1 major labor union endorsed Tiffany Caban.

According to the New York Times, the Queens District Attorney’s office is woefully out of step with the community it serves. The office features high racial disparities in prosecutions and routine violations of the right to counsel. It has no dedicated unit to address wrongful convictions and no oversight of abusive landlords.

Who is Melinda Katz?

Melinda Katz, Tiffany’s opponent, is an established player in New York politics. Melinda has been the Queens Borough President for 6 years. She will be termed out when her term expires in 2021. She is running for her 6th elected office in 25 years. In her long political career she has not shown any interest in criminal justice reform. She has not led any challenges to mass incarceration in New York.

In 1995, Melinda voted as a member of the New York State Assembly to reinstate the death penalty. On the City Council, she voted to increase penalties for low-level offenses and create a new category of crime (gang recruitment). She also favors increased police surveillance in city schools. Every elected member of Congress from New York except one, and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo endorsed Melinda.

Not surprising, big labor unions like SEIU, Teamsters, Firefighters and the building trades all support Melinda Katz. Melinda has no courtroom experience even though she is a lawyer. Her last real gig was as a lobbyist for real estate clients at Greenberg Taurig. The firm has a scandalous history, including a$7.6 million fine in 2006 levied by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to settle allegations that the firm helped cover up a bank’s financial misconduct. Greenberg is also Rudy Giuliani, former NY mayor and current Trump surrogate’s old law firm.

The Democratic Party Favorite

Here’s how one local writer described Melinda’s ties to the Queens Democratic Party:

Katz has also cemented her ties to the Queens Democratic Party, which is often criticized as one of the last bastions of calcified political power in the city. The Party protects and promotes its own and, in any race, brings to bear a large cadre of local, state, and national elected officials that originated from its ranks or owe it some allegiance, as well as the allies of those officials, other local party officials like members of the state committee, political club members, and others.

The Queens Democratic Party was previously headed by Congressional representative-turned-lobbyist Joe Crowley, who lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and has been fundraising for Katz.”

According to one commentator, Melinda Katz ran on the traditional campaign of fear and racism. As she notes, “Law-and-order feminists have long used the idea of professional white women’s safety and reputation against young women activists of color.” Yet, she’s ahead by only 16 votes.

The Wrong Side of History

In August 2018, Shaun King lamented the absence of the Democratic Party in the fight for criminal justice reform. He asked “Does the Democratic Party really care about black people or do they just want our votes?”

The reality, reflected in the Queens DA race, is that the Democratic Party is very much present. On the wrong side of history. This was obvious in the 2018 Alameda County District Attorney race. According to the local Democratic Party Chair, Robin Torello, incumbent DA Nancy O’Malley “fights for our Democratic values of justice, equality and civil rights everyday.”

Every one of O’Malley’s answers are inconsistent with the California Democratic Party platform. Nonetheless, the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee, the Sierra Club and Senator Kamala Harris all endorsed O’Malley. After that, less than 100 days after winning re-election with financial and logistical support from the Democratic party machine, O’Malley endorsed the anti-choice Republican candidate for State Assembly over a Democrat. Fortunately, the Republican lost her seat.

Only 16 Votes

I pray that Tiffany Caban can get at least 17 more votes. Still, the hard lesson for progressives is that we have to “flip” the party. We have a chance to do just that in Alameda County in March 2020. If you are not a registered Democrat, you must re-register and do it early.

One estimate is that a million independent voters (registered as “no party preference”) in California risk not being able to vote for president or local Democratic party representatives in the March primary. In other words, independents who want to change the status quo in March 2020 best re-register to vote as a Democrat. You can change it back later.

In California, the drop dead date to re-register to vote by mail in the primary is January 15, 2020. So, you can only vote by mail for local Democratic party officials if you are a registered Democrat by January 15, 2020. If you want to vote in person, the final date to re-register to get a Democratic ballot is February 17, 2020.

Across the country, we see this is where “the petal meets the metal.” We really need everyone to “#DEM-ENTER” ASAP.

For updates on the Queens DA race, or to offer your support, go to cabanforqueens.com.

Pamela Y. Price

Written by

CA Lawyer of the Year in Employment (2002). Champion of Justice. Civil Rights Warrior. Title IX Pioneer. Survivor of Ohio juvenile justice & foster care system.

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