Queens DA race heads to court, Katz declares victory
by Benjamin Fang
Jul 31, 2019 | 8315 views | 0 0 comments | 385 385 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Melinda Katz at a victory party with her supporters on Monday night.
Melinda Katz at a victory party with her supporters on Monday night.
Tiffany Caban discusses her legal challenge last week.
Tiffany Caban discusses her legal challenge last week.
The manual recount is officially over, but the court battle is about to begin.

Last Thursday, the New York City Board of Elections finished the recounting of ballots cast in the Democratic primary for Queens district attorney.

Borough President Melinda Katz emerged with a 60-vote margin over public defender and insurgent candidate Tiffany Caban, 34,920 to 34,860. The BOE certified the results on Monday.

In a statement, Katz’s campaign declared victory.

“Now that every valid vote has been counted and recounted, the results confirm once again that the people of Queens have chosen Melinda Katz as the Democratic nominee for District Attorney,” said Katz campaign adviser Andrew Kirtzman. “We wish to thank all of those who continued to believe in her message, and to the many who never gave up faith.”

Caban declared victory on Election Night after garnering a 1,090-vote lead over Katz, But after the BOE counted some 6,000 paper ballots, Katz went ahead by 15 votes. The recount bumped up Katz’s lead to 60 votes.

Last week, Caban said the race is not over, but instead will head to court.

“We are going to continue to fight to make sure that every single ballot vote is counted,” she said.

On July 31, the two sides will head to Queens Supreme Court, where a judge will determine the validity of 114 affidavit ballots that were initially invalidated and never opened.

Caban campaign attorney Jerry Goldfeder contended that the ballots were erroneously thrown out because voters didn’t fill out their forms precisely, they were told to go to the wrong polling sites, or were given the wrong ballots.

“At the end of the day, I think we will see that all the ballots that should have been counted are counted,” he said.

Caban’s team also had “dozens” of objections to recount rulings on individual ballots.

Although he declined to give the exact number of ballots the Caban campaign will contest, he said they will bring to the court’s attention “more ballots than this margin.”

“The race is not over, it is far from over,” Caban said. “The priority is making sure every single ballot with a Democratic vote is counted.”

But Katz’s campaign had other ideas. On Monday night, Katz supporters packed Banter, a Forest Hills pub, to celebrate her apparent victory two days before the court battle.

The “appreciation” party featured dozens of supporters, Queens elected officials and members of labor unions like 32BJ SEIU, which supported Katz in the campaign.

Kyle Bragg, the new president of 32BJ, said the district attorney race was a “roller coaster ride,” but it showed the importance of the Democratic system.

“Melinda, now as the elected DA of Queens, has the opportunity to bring all of Queens behind her,” he said, “and unite communities that have been left behind by that office.”

Congressman Gregory Meeks, who chairs the Queens Democratic Party, said it wasn’t long ago when he stood at that very spot at Banter on Election Night when Katz was down, calling for every vote to be counted.

“Let’s run back the videotape,” he said. “Guess what? Today, every vote was counted.

“We continually talk about how diversity is our strength, but unity is our power,” Meeks added. “We are together for Melinda Katz as our next district attorney.”

Katz then took the stage with her two sons and welcomed her supporters to “Election Night Two.”

She said it was “really hard to stand up” the last few weeks, with the outcome of the race so uncertain.

“We were having difficult times in the papers, we weren’t sure if we won or lost,” Katz said. “When I came here the night of the election and saw so many people still here waiting for me to come in, you made it so I didn’t concede.”

The borough president gave thanks to her family, including her mother, who passed away when she was three years old, her father, who raised her and her three brothers, and her brother Michael, who passed away during the campaign from a heart attack.

Katz said her father taught her that despite growing up through “difficult times,” every family “comes to the table” with a history.

“You don’t know the things people have been through,” she said. “You can’t judge them for just the moment you have in front.”

As the next DA, Katz said, she would make sure there is “justice for victims and justice for defendants.” She pledged to prosecute gun traffickers who sell guns to children, but provide mentors and resources for young people.

She added that families are safest when their family members never enter the criminal justice system in the first place.

“We don’t lower crime by putting everyone in jail,” Katz said. “You lower crime by making sure they never end up in front of a judge.”

She said she sees the office as an opportunity to change the criminal justice system, including reforming bail and the discovery process.

At the end of her speech, Katz called for unity within the borough’s Democratic Party.

“It’s time to get to work,” she said. “It’s time for this party to stand together.”
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