Katz wins Queens DA primary, pledges reform
by Benjamin Fang
Aug 14, 2019 | 9931 views | 0 0 comments | 543 543 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Melinda Katz addresses the media the day after Tiffany Caban conceded.
Melinda Katz addresses the media the day after Tiffany Caban conceded.
Tiffany Caban talks to supporters in Astoria.
Tiffany Caban talks to supporters in Astoria.
After six weeks of laborious manual recounts and court battles, Melinda Katz has won the Democratic primary for Queens district attorney.

Katz, the Queens borough president, will face GOP candidate and Ozone Park lawyer Daniel Kogan in the general election on November 5.

With Democrats heavily outnumbering Republicans in the borough, and Kogan reportedly admitting that he might not even run an “active” campaign, barring another independent challenger, Katz is all but guaranteed to be the next district attorney.

“The rhetoric is done, the campaign is done,” Katz said last Wednesday outside of Borough Hall. “It is now time to turn to real work that needs to happen here in the borough.”

Tiffany Caban, the progressive public defender who waged an insurgent campaign, conceded last Tuesday after her campaign fought in court to restore dozens of invalidated ballots.

According to reports, Katz’s 60-vote lead was trimmed to 55 after State Supreme Court Judge John Ingram overruled the Board of Elections on five ballots in Caban’s favor.

But the judge later ruled against opening dozens of affidavit ballots where voters did not write their political party, effectively ending the challenge.

Later that evening, a teary-eyed Caban addressed dozens of supporters and volunteers at Katch, a beer gardenin Astoria. She recalled how three friends “empowered” her to run, despite a dearth of resources and no political backing.

“I don’t look like our politicians, I don’t sound like most of them,” she said. “I’ve never run a campaign before.”

Caban said she formed her policy platform after filling out questionnaires, including one that earned her an endorsement from the local Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

She would get on FaceTime and Google Hangout with her friends, and “rap back and forth” while going through policies that were rooted in her values and experiences as a public defender.

“That first iteration of our policy platform is identical to what we stood for, what we fought for,” she said. “It didn’t change.”

Caban said the campaign built a coalition of community leaders, activists and organizers, as well as formerly incarcerated people, sex workers and undocumented immigrants. Together, they “completely transformed the conversation” around criminal justice reform, she said.

Her campaign pushed the field left, moving Katz and other candidates to commit to ending all cash bail. Caban said their push to decriminalize sex work made it “all the way to the presidential campaign.”

Other victories included changing candidates’ positions on prosecuting marijuana and low-level offenses, as well as demanding to close Rikers Island faster and building opening new jails.

“We terrified the Democratic establishment,” Caban said. “We showed that you can run on a boldly decarceral platform.

“That you don’t have to compromise your values,” she added, “that you don’t have to play by the old rules.”

However, Caban noted, there is more work to be done to reform the criminal justice system. She listed ending solitary confinement, reforming the parole system and allowing for public disclosure of police records as some of the top priorities.

“We need to hold the next Queens DA accountable,” she said, “to ensure that she keeps the promises that she has made to our communities.”

Additionally, Caban called for fixing “serious flaws in the election system” that the last six weeks have exposed. She said dozens of voters were disenfranchised for technical errors, and dozens of ballots were left unopened.

“We can’t have elections where the outcome is in doubt because the Board of Elections is more focused on disenfranchising voters,” she said.

She sent a parting message to every supporter inspired by the campaign, including young people, people of color, LGBTQ people and women: “you are next.”

“I promise that I will be the first one knocking doors with you,” Caban said.

The following day, Katz spoke to reporters outside Borough Hall about her next steps after the win. She confirmed that Caban called to concede, and that she appreciated the call.

“It’s time for everyone to come together,” Katz said. “It’s time for the Democratic Party to work together.”

She reiterated some of her campaign promises, including ending all cash bail in Queens, discovery reform, and making sure plea bargains are done at the lowest count.

At the same time, she pledged to prosecute gun traffickers and those who commit hate crimes “to the fullest extent of the law.”

“You can have justice for victims and justice for defendants,” Katz said. “They are not mutually exclusive.”

To accomplish these reforms, Katz said she will leverage the partnerships she has already created with anti-violence groups, workforce development organizations and more.

“You need to know the communities,” she said. “You need to have deep ties and relationships with these organizations you’re going to entrust and partner with as a district attorney.”
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