Queens is the most populous district in the USA, with a population (2.359m) larger than many states; the District Attorney of Queens wields incredible power, and now that power has shifted dramatically.
Like many of New York City's elected offices, the real race for DA is decided by the local Democratic Party machine, as the electorate is overwhelmingly Democrate-voting. In the case of the DA's office, the retirement (and subsequent death) of 30-year DA Dick Brown created an opportunity for one of Brown's proteges to step in and continue Brown's legacy of incarceration for minor offenses. A predictable crop of usual suspects presented themselves and one, Queens borough president Melinda Katz, got the establishment endorsement, including the blessing of Joe Crowley, the finance-friendly "Democrat" who lost a primary race to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last year.
Enter Tiffany Cabán: a 31 year old, Democratic Socialist, queer, Latinx public defender in New York City who stepped up to run against Katz and the other establishment candidates. Billed as a long-shot, Cabán won the endorsements of AOC, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and ran a grassroots campaign that saw her raising money from three times as many local supporters as any of the other candidates (the other candidates still outraised Cabán, by bringing in big checks from wealthy out-of-district donors).
Cabán's campaign was also popular outside of Queens. I — along with many other leftists and members of the Democratic Socialists — donated small sums to her.
When Joe Crowley lost his primary race to AOC, the Democratic establishment claimed that it had been taken by surprise — and denied that the upset represented any deeper structural shift in the American mood or the Democratic Party's base. They can't make such a claim this time around: the Democratic establishment pulled out all the stops to crush Cabán's campaign — and last night, Cabán declared victory.
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.
"Take nothing for granted," said Daeha Ko, who spent his day canvassing for Cabán in Astoria, early in the night to a fellow supporter. By the end of the night, he might have been talking to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.
Tiffany Cabán Stuns Queens Machine, Holds Solid Lead in Race for Queens District Attorney [Akela Lacya and Nausicaa Renner/The Intercept]