On election night, Cabán originally appeared to win the race by a narrow margin, but the paper ballot count had Katz in the lead by 16 votes. After the final recount, in which a judge refused to allow discarded ballots that Cabán’s campaign fought to reinstate, Katz won by just 55 votes — 34,913 to 34,858.
Addressing her supporters at a beer garden in Astoria, Cabán delivered a hopeful concession speech. "We completely transformed the conversation around criminal justice reform. We forced the next district attorney to commit to ending all cash bail. We pushed for the decriminalization of sex work, and we pushed it all the way into the presidential campaign," she said. “This campaign may be over, but the movement does not stop. ... We are just getting started.”
Update (July 9, 2019): In an unexpected turn of events, Borough President Melinda Katz now leads Tiffany Cabán by just 16 votes after paper ballots were counted in the pivotal Queens, New York, district attorney race. The razor-thin margin and a dispute over 114 disqualified affidavit ballots have triggered a full manual recount of the roughly 91,000 total ballots cast on June 25, which is set to start on Tuesday. Lawyers for both candidates will also appear in court Tuesday to battle it out over the disqualified ballots.
This story was originally published on June 25, 2019.
Tiffany Cabán declared victory in New York City’s primary election for Queens district attorney on Tuesday, edging out establishment candidate Queens Borough President Melinda Katz in an incredibly close race by just a few hundred votes, according to unofficial results from the city Board of Elections. With about 3,400 uncounted paper ballots left that can't be tallied until July 3, Katz isn't ready to give up, telling supporters, "We are doing a recount."
If Cabán officially wins the primary, it all but guarantees that she will be the next DA of Queens, the 11th-most populous county in the U.S. If elected, Cabán will be the first female, Latinx, openly queer, and youngest person to ever hold the position. And she says she is ready to overhaul the criminal justice system.
"They said I was too young, they said I didn’t look like a district attorney, they said we couldn’t build a movement from the grassroots, they said we could not win — but we did it, y’all," Cabán said to supporters late Tuesday night at her victory party at La Boom nightclub in Woodside, Queens.
The 31-year-old former public defender ran her campaign on going “against the machine” — refusing to take corporate money and seeking to transform criminal justice from a punitive system to a restorative one. Originally seen as a dark horse in the race, Cabán reached a pivotal moment when she gained the endorsement of freshman congresswoman and fellow New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Joe Crowley, the former congressman who lost to AOC last year, has been raising money for Katz.) Cabán has since also earned endorsements from senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who are both running for president, the progressive former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, and the most establishment publication of them all — The New York Times.
In a crowded race of six Democratic candidates, Cabán’s progressive platform has pushed further left than the rest, including vowing to end the prosecution of low-level offenses like marijuana possession and fare evasion on the NYC subway, support for NYC’s No New Jails movement, and the push to decriminalize sex work.
“Our justice system has historically oppressed and marginalized certain groups,” Cabán said in an interview with Refinery29 in May. “We should be switching the metrics to saying that you’re doing your job [well] if you show that you are reducing recidivism, decarcerating our jails, and keeping people rooted in their communities with access to services and support, and applying it all fairly across racial and class lines.”
Although NYC residents in four boroughs (all but the Bronx) voted to fill several other roles, including several judges and a city council seat in Brooklyn, the Queens DA race attracted national attention after AOC weighed in. The seat opened up in May when Richard Brown, who was elected in 1991, passed away. Since there are no term limits, DAs in NYC can occupy their office for decades.
“As a working-class Latina myself, I never thought I’d be in a position to have the ability to run for office,” Cabán said. “And [AOC] is an example of saying that these are spaces that we can enter — and we can win."