Gotham Gazette Sun, 29 Nov 2020 11:11:50 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Bail Reform Rollbacks are a Dangerous Failing of Moral Courage 3 albany ltgov duffy grad

State lawmakers wrongly bowed to law enforcement pressure on bail reform, the author writes (photo: governor's office)

Predictably, and disappointingly, the New York State Legislature rolled back last year’s historic and hard fought bail reforms at the eleventh hour. It was an act of cruelty after providing our communities the briefest of reprieves following the historic enactment of bail reform just three months ago, on January 1.

Less than two minutes of floor debate allowed racists and prison profiteers to win in their crusade to diminish the reforms, condemning thousands more black, brown, and poor New Yorkers to our broken system of mass incarceration. While the debate was over quickly, the consequences will be felt for generations.

The changes decrease public safety and increase New York’s role in mass incarceration. More misdemeanors are back on the books as eligible for money bail, as are several non-violent felonies like grand larceny in the first degree and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree. In practice, the law blames poor people for the conditions our governments impose on them, allowing factors like lack of stable housing and employment to increase the likelihood of destabilization, arrest, and pretrial detention.

District Attorneys will almost certainly exploit the expansion of bail eligible cases, maximizing their ability to jail the poor pre-trial by upcharging and overcharging incidents as hate crimes or domestic violence. Worse, the rollbacks will result in at minimum hundreds, possibly thousands, more to be incarcerated — possibly preventing the supposedly imminent closure of the Rikers Island jails.

From the moment the clock struck midnight on January 1 and New York’s bail reforms went into effect, critics of the changes and defenders of the status quo went on the attack, determined to undo key measures of justice. They painted a false picture of chaos and anarchy throughout the state, perpetuating the assumption that not forcing legally innocent poor people to remain in jail would make our communities unsafe.

The myth that bail reform would lead to lawless anarchy was absurdly false, but effective at creating a bogeyman. The reality is the now-rolled back bail laws worked. For every cherry-picked, misrepresented case in the media, thousands of black, brown, and poor people were being released pending trial like their wealthy, white counterparts had been for so long. They returned to court, and rates of violent crime did not increase. Lives were saved. Families were spared the intergenerational violence and trauma of incarceration. Housing and jobs were kept. Communities are safer because people with mental health and substance use issues had opportunities for treatment, instead of suffering the cruel, dual punishments of inadequate healthcare while locked in a jail cell.

If the opposition’s aim was merely to create safe and healthy communities, they would be working alongside criminal justice reform advocates to expand public health interventions, affordable housing, education and community-based programs. Opponents of bail reform had a different aim than public safety. Their goal is to reclaim more control over the justice system that remains filled with black, brown and poor New Yorkers. This twisted investment in systemic racism and addiction to punishment comes at the cost of real human lives.

There are legislators who will look at this archaic return to yesteryear and try to tell you the rollbacks aren’t as bad as it could’ve been. That they saved us from “dangerousness” being added to the books, but we know better. One missing tool in a toolbox of oppressive measures isn’t enough to stop a system that is swallowing entire communities whole.

Do not be fooled. There are no heroes here. Any call that these changes are minor is an act of deceit. When taken from the state Capitol building and brought into our criminal courtrooms, the increase in incarceration will be anything but minor.

What is happening here in New York isn’t new. When slavery was abolished, racists adapted and we were met with the Black Codes and convict leasing. When that system as it existed “fell” we eventually received mandatory minimums, three strikes, stop-and-frisk, and broken windows policing. It is no different today. As we fight to dismantle our racist oppressive systems, our opponents are working tirelessly to build new supports to continue to prop them up.

In these recent state budget negotiations, New York’s elected officials had the choice to stand strong and defend bail reform. Instead they chose to retreat and uphold a system of mass punishment -- based on the lies of the very people who directly profit from incarceration and state violence against black, brown, and poor people.

Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature failed the test of moral courage.

Tiffany Cabán is a national organizer with the Working Families Party. On Twitter @tiffany_caban.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Bail Reform Rollbacks are a Dangerous Failing of Moral Courage Thu, 02 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Promising Reform and Independence, Melinda Katz Elected Next Queens District Attorney 46150297784 be0720dfa5 c

Melinda Katz (photo: Queens Borough President Melinda Katz)

Queens will get a new district attorney for the first time in nearly three decades as Democrat Melinda Katz won the seat on Tuesday with an overwhelming 75% of votes over Republican Joseph Murray, who received 24% of the vote (about 1% of the more than 184,000 votes were write-ins). Katz will be the first newly-elected Queens DA after former District Attorney Richard Brown died in May. Brown had been in office nearly 30 years.

After squeaking out a primary win in a recount earlier this year, Katz was all but assured a victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic borough, with strong name recognition after having served as Queens Borough President since 2013, and broad support from the Queens Democratic Party, labor unions, and fellow local and state elected officials.

Murray, an attorney and former NYPD officer, is a registered Democrat but received the Republican Party line to run against Katz. He had little hope of winning but campaigned arguing that Katz was promising to go too far as a progressive prosecutor, part of a larger movement in the city, state, and country that he believes is misguided.

In her victory speech, Katz hit familiar themes of promoting what is good for Queens families and honoring the borough's tremendous diversity, while reiterating promises to fight gun violence, end cash bail, protect victims of crime, including workers, and more. Katz said Queens has the opportunity to be a national model for criminal justice reform and pledged to work with a broad coalition to execute her extensive list of campaign promises.

Katz did not simply sail to election, having had to first fight a drawn-out primary battle that was only settled after a recount and court battle over uncounted votes. She came out on top with a 55-vote margin against insurgent candidate Tiffany Cabán, a queer Latina public defender who ran on a platform of decarceration and gained national attention from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.

Though Cabán lost the recount, she was successful in pulling Katz to the left. The borough president’s rhetoric and promises became decidedly more progressive as she saw the winds change and Cabán receive many endorsements.

However, to Katz’s critics, that was further evidence that she is a career politician searching for her next gig. She has previously served in the City Council and the state Assembly, and unsuccessfully ran for Congress and for City Comptroller. In between, she was a lobbyist with ties to the real estate industry and those connections have been a source of some criticism in the current race. Developers were among her biggest contributors this time around, even as Katz vowed to crack down on predatory landlords and developers, and pitched a detailed platform for construction worker safety and worker protection. Katz also drew criticism, which she pushed back against, that she is too close to the Queens Democratic Party, and therefore not independent enough to be the kind of district attorney free of political ties and considerations.

As district attorney, Katz will head up an office of roughly 600 people, which she argued she is qualified to do, given her time running the borough president’s office since 2009. But what she has in at least some managerial qualifications, she lacks in actual courtroom experience. Of all the candidates who ran in the Democratic primary, she was the only one without any.

Nonetheless, she has promised to transform the Queens district attorney’s office, which has been among the last in the city to embrace a less punitive approach to criminal justice. Former DA Brown had a reputation for being tough on crime and did not follow the example of other district attorneys in the city who moved away from prosecuting low-level offenses. He even refused to create a conviction review unit to investigate potential wrongful convictions, something that Katz has promised to do.

During the race, Katz made a slew of promises that advocates and observers will likely hold her to as they seek to see a new system of criminal justice in a borough that is home to over 2.3 million people, largely immigrants. She will also take office at the start of 2020 when sweeping reforms passed by the state Legislature this year – including bail reform, speedy trial and discovery reform – will take effect.

[Read: 19 Things Melinda Katz Promised To Do As Queens District Attorney]

[Read: 'Hard to Define': Melinda Katz's Path to the Precipice of Becoming Queens District Attorney]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Promising Reform and Independence, Melinda Katz Elected Next Queens District Attorney Tue, 05 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Queens District Attorney Primary Heads to Recount mxm logo

l-r: Tiffany Cabán (photo: @CabanForQueens); Melinda Katz (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

July 10, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: the Queens District Attorney Primary Heads to Recount

juan manuel benitezThe Queens District Attorney Democratic primary is heading into a recount, and Juan Manuel Benitez of NY1 & NY1 Noticias, who has been covering the process closely, joined the show it all down, from the absentee ballots that moved Tiffany Cabán from the primary night lead to second place behind Melinda Katz by 16 votes, to controversy over contested affidavit ballots, the potential for hundreds of new votes that ballot scanners didn't read, and political implications of how it all turns out.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Queens District Attorney Primary Heads to Recount Wed, 10 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Public Defenders are Exactly Who We Should Be Electing as District Attorneys caban district attorney public defenders

(photo: @CabanForQueens)

Imagine this: you're a 50-year-old black man working as an assistant manager at a Gristedes in lower Manhattan, where you've worked for the past 25 years. It’s a typical evening: you close up the store and prepare for your long journey home to Harlem with a couple bags of groceries you bought for your family.

Once aboard an uncrowded A train, you set your groceries down next to you on one of many empty seats. At the 125th street stop, two uniformed NYPD officers board the train. They spot you, grab your groceries, dump them onto the floor, and place you in handcuffs. They proceed to take you to jail where you spend the night for the crime of "occupying multiple seats on a transit facility."

Many often characterize our criminal justice system as “broken.” The system is not broken — rather, it functions exactly as designed.

It is a well-oiled machine that fails to indict the likes of NYPD Officer Daniel Panteleo, who choked Eric Garner to death over cries of “I can’t breathe.” Yet it sends another man to prison for giving a single Xanax to an undercover officer who feigned withdrawal. These are not malfunctions or misfires, they are successes for a racist institution. Prosecuting, incarcerating, and disenfranchising people of color leads to perpetuating racial oppression, which is and always has been the purpose.

According to the NAACP, though African-Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the U.S. population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015. If African-Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.

District Attorneys prosecute poor people of color for jumping a turnstile or walking through an exit gate, possessing a minor amount of marijuana, ‘obstructing’ a park bench, or occupying two seats on an empty subway car.

For the past decade as a public defender in Manhattan, I've seen firsthand the oppressive system at work. I’ve watched as police officers have justified under oath unconstitutional stops and arrests, viewed video recordings of coercive interrogations, and seen line-ups that were fraught with inherent racism. District Attorneys utilize coercive plea bargaining, withholding of evidence, and trial processes that favor disproportionate sentencing over fairness, rehabilitation, and respect for a person’s humanity.

The system subjugates and criminalizes the very existence of black and brown people, attacks the trans community, remains disproportionately lenient on those who abuse their power over citizens, and regularly disenfranchises society’s most vulnerable populations. "Broken" is a mischaracterization that ignores the deliberate mechanisms that create countless inequities.

Sweeping reform needs to occur to ensure that the system really works.

Manhattan—with all our privilege, status, and wealth—ought to set an unparalleled example and eliminate every type of discrimination in our criminal justice system. However, we have already fallen behind Philadelphia, Boston, St. Louis, and now Queens, with the likely election of Tiffany Cabán as the next District Attorney there. The grassroots forces that propelled Cabán to victory must come to Manhattan next.

The time for an equitable justice system in Manhattan is long overdue. Now is the moment for the borough to catch up and completely reimagine the justice system. To fight recidivism, crime, and assure real justice, we need to rebuild the system from the inside out.

A public defender, like Tiffany Cabán, is the only one in the courtroom who intimately grasps the trauma and indignities of what our system does to people of color and others who lack the means to hire private attorneys. Public defenders on the front lines have always known that our system is racist and classist. Presently we have two systems of justice, one for the wealthy, and one for the poor.

Right now, by electing public defenders as District Attorneys, we are finally seeing a movement to make sweeping changes, and we may have a chance to create a justice system that truly works.

Eliza Orlins is a public defender in Manhattan. On Twitter @eorlins.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Public Defenders are Exactly Who We Should Be Electing as District Attorneys Sun, 30 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing Queens District Attorney Primary Results caban katz

l-r: Tiffany Cabán (photo: @CabanForQueens); Melinda Katz (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

June 26, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the Queens District Attorney Primary Results

public def tiff caban victory2The hosts discussed the apparent outcome of the Queens District Attorney primary, where public defender Tiffany Cabán appears to have beaten the rest of the field, including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing Queens District Attorney Primary Results Wed, 26 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
20 Things Tiffany Cabán Promised To Do As Queens District Attorney tiffany caban

Tiffany Cabán and supporters (photo: Working Families Party)

Public defender Tiffany Cabán, a self-described “31-year-old queer Latina” originally from Richmond Hill, appeared to pull off a stunning upset victory on Tuesday in the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney. If the counting of a few thousand absentee and other final ballots stays true to her roughly 1.5% margin over apparent second-place finisher Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Cabán will be the heavy favorite to win the general election and take over as District Attorney in January, the first newly-elected Queens DA in almost 30 years.

Cabán declared victory Tuesday night, while Katz declined to concede and said every vote must be counted. In her remarks to a packed and jubilant crowd -- chanting “Tiffany,” “Black Lives Matter,” “No new jails,” “AOC,” “DSA” and more -- at La Boom in Woodside, Cabán reiterated key planks of her insurgent campaign, in which she promised nothing short of a complete overhaul of the Queens District Attorney office and how criminal justice is meted out in the borough of more than 2 million people.

“We can’t have people sitting on Rikers simply because they cannot afford their bail, while the wealthy continue to be provided their constitutional right to the presumption of innocence,” she said Tuesday night. "We built a campaign to reduce recidivism, to decriminalize poverty, to end mass incarceration, to protect our immigrant communities and keep people rooted in their communities through access to services and support."

"We will need to build bridges with communities that have understandably been distrustful of the District Attorney’s office," Cabán said,  while also promising to be a DA for those who did not vote for her.

"I want to be very clear: nothing, nothing is more important to me than the safety of all people who call this borough home,” she said toward the end of her remarks. “We are going to center community solutions, and invest in healing and stabilizing lives. The changes that we are fighting for will be a fairer, more equitable, more efficient criminal justice system. And that doesn’t come at the cost of our safety, that is the source of safety."

But what exactly did Cabán promise throughout her campaign? What were the planks of her platform that energized thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of voters?

“For me, my decision to run in this race very much so feels like the natural progression of my advocacy for my clients,” Cabán said in a February interview with Gotham Gazette. Below are 20 more specific things she promised to do if elected Queens District Attorney:

1. Decline to prosecute many non-violent crimes.
-“Decline to prosecute cases that pose little or no threat to public safety” and “Decline to prosecute crimes of poverty and instead go after wage theft and bad landlords,” according to her campaign website, and force bad landlords to provide decent housing.
-“Not only decline to prosecute individuals who engage in sex work, but...partner with sex workers to push for legislative reform,” according to her Jim Owles Club survey.
-“Decline [to prosecute] transit offenses, trespasses, gravity knives,” she said at a May 3 Players Coalition forum.

Her full decline-to-prosecute list of offenses, per her survey for an Accountability coalition including 5Boro Defenders, Vocal New York, and others : marijuana, theft of services, unlicensed massage parlors, airport taxi (1220B), unlicensed driving and other minor driving offenses, turnstile jumping, petit larceny/shoplifting for amounts under $250, trespassing, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest,“bump up” burglary in the third degree felonies (would charge them as petit larceny misdemeanors), possession of gravity knives, “bump up” felony gravity knife cases, loitering, drug possession, welfare fraud, prostitution.

2. For misdemeanors, raise charge standard from “probable cause” to “beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to her campaign website. And analyze racial, economic, and immigration impacts of charges filed, according to her campaign website and debate appearances.

3. Hold police officers accountable for breaking the law, including for lying under oath. She told the Queens Daily Eagle she would publish the DA office's list of officers who have credibility and misconduct problems, and may be liabilities if put on the stand in a case.

4. Decriminalize drug use “that does not pose a threat to others,” including but not limited to marijuana. “We’re going to decriminalize marijuana and invest in services for substance use disorder, not fight a failed war on drugs,” she said in a June 19 tweet.”

5. Support the creation of supervised injection sites, according to her Jim Owles Club survey. Provide naloxone, overdose training, and outreach to reduce overdose deaths, according to her campaign website, and bring companies that deliberately overprescribe drugs to court.

6.Bail reform.
-End cash bail for all offenses. “Cash bail is wrong—period. We can’t have two systems of justice: one for the poor and one for the wealthy,” she tweeted. And implement prompt automatic bail reviews.
-Cease use of risk score algorithms which are “based in...racist and classist ideas,” as she said in a May 3 candidate forum. 

7. Fight for open file discovery – “it speeds up cases, it’s what’s fair, it provides closure for survivors and victims of crime much earlier, ” she said in a tweet from February.

8. Pursue shorter felony sentences and never pursue life without parole.
-Advocate for legislation to review sentences of those over 55 who have been incarcerated for over 15 years – a “top priority in my office,” according to her survey for the Jim Owles Club, which endorsed her. “The goal should be on rehabilitation and safety – not on punitive, overly-lengthy sentences that do little to safeguard community stability,” she wrote.
-Presume shortest possible sentence, exceptions are to raise length of sentence – not the other way around, she said at a May 3 Players Coalition forum.

9. End civil asset forfeiture, and refuse to profit from prosecution decisions. In February, she called civil asset forfeiture “a terrible practice where money is seized from people who haven’t even been convicted of a crime.”

10. Consider defendant’s ability to pay in imposing fees and fines, according to her campaign website.

11. Give money obtained from legal proceedings to housing, job, and education services, which “evidence shows actually reduce crime,” according to her campaign website.

12. Create a Conviction Integrity Unit to review cases. “Part of what [it] will do is not just look at the quote on quote typical innocent cases but looking at cases that involved officers who have histories of misconduct, looking at cases that involve prosecutorial misconduct, looking at cases that relied on bad science to get convictions,” she said in a June interview with PIX11.

13. Create a Retroactive Release Unit “so that we are making sure that we are not unnecessarily keeping people incarcerated for offenses that we recognize really should be treated with treatment or supportive services,” she said in a June interview with PIX11.

14. Create a Record Review Unit to clear the record of those in prison for no-longer-prosecuted offenses, according to her campaign website.

15. Create a Reentry Services Unit to help the recently-released and reduce recidivism, according to her campaign website, “because 97 to 98 percent of people who are removed from their community reenter their communities no better than what they were, [and] in fact oftentimes worse,” as she said in an interview with New York Magazine.

16. Create units for corporate crime, consumer protection, wage theft, and antitrust investigations, according to her campaign website.

17. Prosecute ICE agents who engage in abusive conduct, according to her campaign website, and “Ban ICE from our courtrooms, not let them terrorize our neighbors,” she tweeted on June 19.

18. Help close Rikers Island jails, “faster than the proposed timeline,” with no new jails built in its place. “Every time new jails are built throughout this country's history, they are filled, she’s said. She promised to fight instead for “significantly smaller, better equipped community based jails next to court houses,” according to her Accountability survey.

19. Hold quarterly town halls, per her Accountability survey, and create a Community Advisory Board, according to her website. 

20. Exit the District Attorney Association of New York. “I will exit DAASNY & work instead with DAs who share our values,” she said, due to DAASNY’s opposition to open discovery. “These associations tend to have regressive, racist, and classist “tough on crime” mentalities,” she wrote in an Accountability survey.

by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

20 Things Tiffany Cabán Promised To Do As Queens District Attorney Wed, 26 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
2019 Primary Election Results: Cabán Declares Victory in Queens DA; Louis Prevails for City Council; & More caban rally

Tiffany Caban (photo: @CabanForQueens)

Public defender Tiffany Cabán declared victory in the crowded, competitive Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney on Tuesday night, though Borough President Melinda Katz did not concede, instead promising to see every vote counted, despite the fact that the numbers appear to make Cabán nearly impossible to overcome.

A primary win would set Cabán up to win in November in the overwhelmingly Democratic borough and become the first newly-elected Queens District Attorney in almost 30 years.

With 98.58 of election precints reporting, Cabán had 33,814 votes - or 39.57% of the total, outpacing Katz, who had 32.724 votes, or 38.3%.

Coming in third was Greg Lasak, with about 14.5%, followed by Mina Malik with 3.9%, City Council Member Rory Lancman, who dropped from the race on Friday to back Katz, with 1.4%; Jose Nieves with 1.3%, and Betty Lugo with 1%. The total number of votes in the primary stood at 85,447 at that point, roughly 12% of Queens' 766,117 active registered Democrats (as of February 1, according to the state Board of Elections).

The New York City Board of Elections will be responsible for counting outstanding absentee, military, and affidavit ballots, and reviewing the election results before certifying them. It is unclear if Katz will reevaluate her stance and concede -- she spoke Tuesday night before Cabán declared victory.

In the other higher-profile primary race of the day, City Council Member Farah Louis -- who won a crowded special election on May 14 -- won the Democratic primary as she tries to keep the District 45 seat formerly held by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams beyond this year. If Louis wins in November, she'll have the seat for the rest of what was to be Williams' term, through 2021. Louis again defeated a field with Monique Chandler-Waterman, who had Williams' support. Louis recorded about 50% of the vote to Chandler-Waterman's 43%, unofficially.

In judicial races:

-Margarita Lopez Torres won a Surrogate Court Democratic primary race in Brooklyn.

-D. Bernadette Neckles won a Brooklyn Civil Court Democratic primary.

-Lumarie Maldonado-Cruz won a Queens Civil Court Democratic primary.

-E. Grace Park won a Democratic primary for Judge of the Civil Court - 4th Municipal Court District in Manhattan.

-Caroline P. Cohen won a Democratic primary for Judge of the Civil Court - 6th Municipal Court District in Brooklyn.

Other results for judicial delegates and state committee and county committee positions can be found here.


2019 Primary Election Results: Cabán Declares Victory in Queens DA; Louis Prevails for City Council; & More Tue, 25 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Cabán Declares Victory, Katz Doesn't Concede in Queens District Attorney Primary caban qda

(photo: @CabanForQueens)

Tiffany Cabán, a 31-year-old public defender, made national headlines and shocked the New York political world on Tuesday evening, taking a commanding lead and declaring victory in the crowded Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney. Her closest rival, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, did not concede, however, and said she wants to see every vote counted, and perhaps recounted.

A primary win would set Cabán up toward victory in November -- something she indicated in her remarks she believes is a given -- in the overwhelmingly Democratic borough and become the first newly-elected Queens District Attorney in almost 30 years.

qns da primary mapWith 98.58 of election precints reporting, Cabán had 33,814 votes, or 39.57% of the total, outpacing Katz, who had 32.724 votes, or 38.3%. Cabán did especially well in western Queens, including areas such as Astoria and Long Island City (see map to the left, created by Steven Romalewski of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York Graduate Center).

Coming in third was Greg Lasak, with about 14.5%, followed by Mina Malik with 3.9%, City Council Member Rory Lancman, who dropped from the race on Friday to back Katz, with 1.4%; Jose Nieves with 1.3%, and Betty Lugo with 1%. The total number of votes in the primary stood at 85,447 at that point, roughly 12% of Queens' 766,117 active registered Democrats (as of February 1, according to the state Board of Elections).

The New York City Board of Elections will be responsible for counting outstanding absentee, military, and affidavit ballots, and reviewing the election results before certifying them. It is unclear if Katz will reevaluate her stance and concede -- she spoke Tuesday night before Cabán declared victory.

Cabán ran on a radical platform of a “decarceral state,” pledging to keep as many people out of jail as possible by investing in communities, never seeking cash bail, not prosecuting a host of lower-level offenses, and other campaign promises that made her the candidate of New York’s ascendent left wing.

"[T]hey said we couldn't win, but we did it, y'all," Cabán declared on Tuesday evening to a raucous crowd of supporters at La Boom in Queens.

She pledged to overhaul the Queens criminal justice system toward fairness, and investment in communities rather than more punitive prosecutorial measures. But, she stressed, "Nothing is more important to me than the safety of all people who call this borough home." She promised to build relationships across the borough and in its various communities, to work with those who did not vote for her, and to create an equitable justice system not "at the cost of safety - that is the source of safety."

The race is for an open seat after long-time Queens DA Richard Brown passed away in May; he had already declared that he would not be running for reelection, prompting the first competitive primary in several decades.

Cabán, a Latina who identifies as queer, was the insurgent, far-left progressive in the race, running a grassroots campaign built on the strength of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of small donors, as well as big ones, from inside Queens and across the country.

Having served as a public defender in Manhattan for seven years, she became the poster child for opposing the calcified tough-on-crime policies of the Queens DA’s office, which Brown had led since 1991, though all the other candidates also ran on progressive platforms.

Cabán was the only candidate in the primary who has neither been a prosecutor nor an elected official. But her candidacy inspired criminal justice reformers and like-minded elected officials who have fought for policies of decarceration. She drew comparisons with the dynamic and groundbreaking Democratic Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who endorsed Cabán and lent her campaign a surge of energy. That soon followed with endorsements from presidential candidates Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Cabán was backed by a somewhat surprising number of local elected officials, including Queens electeds such as State Senators Michael Gianaris, Jessica Ramos, and James Sanders, Assemblymember Ron Kim, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer; as well as city Comptroller Scott Stringer, and others. She received endorsements from recent progressive hero candidates Cynthia Nixon and Zephyr Teachout, as well as activist groups who represent people who’ve been in the criminal justice system, immigrants, and others. She made special mention of The Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America during her victory speech.

The New York Times editorial board, not known for supporting new-into-politics revolutionary candidates, endorsed Cabán as well, saying she would come into office “unencumbered by ties to the borough power structure and free to pursue her commitment to serve the community by doing more than just winning convictions. Her seven years as a public defender have given her insight into how the system works, and how it ought to be changed.”

Her lack of prosecutorial and managerial experience was often used as criticism by her opponents, who said she did not seem interested in law and order, raising concerns that crime would rise under her tenure. But her supporters argued that that is what makes her uniquely qualified to usher in a paradigm shift in the Queens DA’s office, which other recently elected DAs across the country have attempted including Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Rachael Rollins in Boston, both of whom endorsed Cabán.

In overwhelmingly Democratic Queens, Cabán is almost sure to win the November 5 general election, assuming her apparent primary win holds. She would face a nominal opponent in Republican candidate Daniel Kogan, an attorney in private practice (there was no Republican primary), but the ballot is not yet set and it is unclear if Republicans may try to field another candidate given a Cabán victory, or if any other efforts to defeat her could emerge.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Cabán Declares Victory, Katz Doesn't Concede in Queens District Attorney Primary Tue, 25 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
‘Hard to Define’: Melinda Katz’s Path to the Precipice of Becoming Queens District Attorney gov completion qbp

Melinda Katz (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

“If it’s good for families, it’s good for Queens,” Melinda Katz likes to say. It’s a line she used in her first State of the Borough speech as borough president, a position she has held for six years and she now hopes will propel her to the office of Queens District Attorney.

Katz is one of six Democratic candidates running to be the top prosecutor in Queens, home to more than 2 million people, 48% of whom are foreign-born. About 190 nationalities are represented across the borough’s population, with more than 200 languages spoken by its residents.

Though she is the perceived frontrunner due to her borough-wide position, name recognition, and support from labor unions, elected officials, and others, Katz is the only candidate in the race who lacks courtroom experience. She hasn’t shown much interest in criminal justice reform in well over a decade, and she’s been accused of being most interested in figuring out her next political job than in any particular mission to help the people of Queens. Yet she has served the people of Queens in some form or another for much of the last 25 years, including as a state legislator, City Council member, attorney, real estate lobbyist, and borough president.

Seen by many, including her opponents, as the most likely to win, Katz has won many endorsements from officials and groups, but they credit her mostly with simply having been around -- holding office, developing good relationships, and showing an interest in community concerns -- while the editorial boards of the three major New York City daily newspapers (The New York Times, Daily News, and Post) all deemed her unqualified for the position of district attorney and endorsed other candidates.

Besides Katz, on the ballot for the June 25 primary election are former State Supreme Court Justice and Assistant District Attorney Greg Lasak, who was endorsed by the News and the Post; Tiffany Cabán, a public defender in Manhattan endorsed by the Times; Betty Lugo, a former Nassau County assistant district attorney; Mina Malik, a Harvard professor and former prosecutor; Jose Nieves, formerly deputy chief in the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit at the Office of the New York State Attorney General; and City Council Member Rory Lancman, who dropped out of the race Friday and threw his support behind Katz.

Running for District Attorney, Katz has promised, like most of the other candidates, to pursue broad progressive reforms that break with the tough-on-crime reputation that the Queens DA’s office fostered for decades under the late DA Richard Brown, who recently passed away just shy of his planned retirement after nearly 28 years in the position. Katz has both leaned into the notion that she has “establishment” support, claiming many ties to communities in the borough, and distanced herself from the traditional power structures that she is aligned with.

To her critics and opponents, Katz is a career politician looking for her next gig, eyeing the term-limitless district attorney post as she faces term limits on her borough presidency at the end of 2021. To her supporters, she is a dedicated public servant searching for her next assignment on behalf of the people. But to both, she is not easily characterized. Katz does not appear to have had one or more clear focus areas as an elected official, and, particularly germane to the position she’s seeking, she has not appeared especially interested in criminal justice reform.

Katz’s list of projects and accomplishments is long, and varied, and there aren’t easy associations with her public image, unlike some of the other borough presidents -- indicative of her lack of clear issue focus, but also the fact that she has often sat out debates over some of the most pressing issues in the city.

“My biggest pride comes from knowing that every day that I have been in public service, I have stood up to powerful interests but I’ve also been a voice for people who didn’t have one,” Katz said in a phone interview, just a few days before the primary election. “And at every level that I’ve served, I have brought justice to people.”

Katz was clear that she believes she alone has the experience and the trust of Queens communities that would make for a successful next district attorney. She has spent years on the ground, she says, across the borough, face-to-face with the very people whose lives will be affected by the decisions she will make if elected.

“She’s hard to define,” said City Council Member Daniel Dromm, a Queens Democrat who has not made an endorsement in the district attorney race. “She’s got a finger in everything.”

Broadly seen as the frontrunner in the race, with a slew of endorsements from prominent labor unions, community leaders, and elected officials, and a hefty campaign war chest, Katz is banking on her resume and wide name recognition in the borough to take her to victory on June 25. The winner of the Democratic primary is all but assured to win in the November general in the overwhelmingly Democratic borough, with only nominal opposition from the Republican candidate, attorney Daniel Kogan.

A Queens native and graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Katz earned a law degree at St. John’s School of Law. She was an intern at the Legal Aid Society representing tenants in forcible eviction cases and later interned in the Organized Crime Unit for the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and for U.S. District Court judge Michael Mukasey. After law school, Katz worked in securities litigation for the white-shoe firm Weil, Gotshal and Manges.

Katz first won elected office in 1994, in a special election to the New York State Assembly, running as an outsider candidate on the Liberal and Good Government Party lines. She defeated local Democratic district leader Michael Cohen by just 420 votes in a low-turnout election and filled the seat vacated by Alan Hevesi, who had been elected comptroller. Hevesi supported Katz’s bid to be his successor.

Over her first five years in office, Katz was successful in passing 16 bills, including several related to the legal system and criminal justice reform, such as Kendall’s Law, which allows prosecutors to pursue cases of long-term child abuse by extending the statute of limitations for victims to report child sexual abuse.

“I had to stand up to the Catholic Church,” Katz said on Thursday. “It was not easy 25 years ago. Nobody wanted to talk about sexual abuse as a child, it was not an open conversation by anybody in the church and I had to pass this bill against a very powerful interest.”

Her other bills included giving women direct access to gynecological care, increasing penalties for domestic violence, and adding sexual orientation as a protected class under the state hate crimes law. In 1995, just a year into office, the New York Daily News named her “one of the one hundred up-and-coming young leaders for the 21st Century.”

But Katz would soon face defeat at the ballot box when she attempted to run for Congress, seeking the Democratic nomination for the 9th Congressional District, formerly held by now U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. She lost by 285 votes to Anthony Weiner, a former aide to Schumer. The Queens Democratic Party, which was on the opposing side when she first ran for Assembly, was in her corner. Even the New York Times editorial board endorsed Katz, writing at the time that she “has only been in office four years, but she has distinguished herself as an advocate of health and women's issues and for her constituent services.”

Following her stint in the Assembly, Katz took a role under then-Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, as director of community boards. She served there for three years before being elected to the New York City Council.

It was perhaps on the Council, where she served from 2002 through 2009, that Katz made her most significant mark on the city, as chair of the powerful land use committee. Her campaign says she helped secure private-sector partnerships that created 15,000 units of affordable housing and that she fought to protect communities from overdevelopment. Most importantly, she says, she changed the culture of the land use process: “changed the discussion from ‘how many units’ to ‘how we’re going to build’ as well. Whether or not we’re going to use union labor, the importance of union labor to make sure we had safe work sites and the importance of hiring from the community.”

Her push for safety protections at construction sites, she says, cost developers hundreds of millions of dollars. She insists that’s one of her major accomplishments and one that undercuts her opponents’ claims that she is far too allied with real estate interests, a critique that has dogged her since her time on the Council and persists to her current race for district attorney.

Her work after the Council gives those criticisms credence. In 2009, Katz gave up her Council seat and ran for city comptroller, aided by hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from real estate firms, according to the New York Times. She ran on a platform of “common sense and accountability” amid the financial crisis that was roiling the city, pledging to audit city agencies to eliminate wasteful spending, expand effective programs and ensure federal stimulus money was creating jobs. Katz lost that election to John Liu, also of Queens, and went on to work for the law firm of Greenberg Traurig for the next three years, lobbying on behalf of real estate clients.

In each race since then, including two for borough president and now for district attorney, Katz has continued to gather large donations from prominent real estate firms. (She notes that several of her opponents are throwing stones from glass houses, having also received large contributions from corporate donors.)

“Melinda Katz has an expansive resume and her relationships are very, very deep. I don’t really buy into that critique,” said Queens City Council Member Adrienne Adams, who has endorsed her, of the real estate ties.

In 2013, Katz was elected borough president and handily won reelection in 2017 for a second and final term. 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. (Ocasio-Cortez is backing Caban.) The current county party chair, Congressional Rep. Gregory Meeks, has rallied the party behind Katz, who has also been endorsed by the likes of Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx, and others. It’s what makes Katz the establishment candidate, a moniker with connotations akin to party nepotism and one that her opponents have employed as a cudgel. She pushes back against it.

“My campaign started with 300 people standing in a park that were not elected officials,” she said. (There were indeed local elected officials present, according to a Queens Daily Eagle report.) “They were civic leaders, they were Cure Violence groups, they were immigration groups, who said to the city of New York and the borough of Queens, ‘We trust Melinda Katz to make the decisions as the district attorney of Queens County.’ That’s how my campaign started.”

The office of borough president, though far less powerful now than in the past and lacking the policy clout of an elected legislator, is nonetheless a prominent position in which officials have wielded significant influence. Borough presidents can sponsor legislation in the City Council. They are advocates and cheerleaders for their boroughs, figureheads of sorts who are supposed to keep a finger on the pulse of their many constituents and neighborhoods. They have a strong voice (though not a binding one) in land use applications.

The office also controls millions of dollars in discretionary capital and expense funding each year, to distribute to pet causes, nonprofits, schools and cultural institutions, and the politically-potent power to name hundreds of members of community boards.

Katz has embraced the various aspects of the role, lending her visibility across the borough. “I believe that she’s the strongest candidate,” said Council Member Adams. “Melinda has a scope that reaches far beyond any of her opponents as far as I’m concerned. Her experience as far as managing the entire borough of Queens along with her experience as an attorney to me, again, put her as a very strong frontrunner for this race. A lot of people talk about experience in the courtroom, but no one has managed the number of people that Melinda Katz has.”

Caban and others, including the three editorial boards and good government group Citizens Union, which backed Lasak, have been particularly critical of Katz’s lack of time in court, but the borough president has parried by touting her managerial experience, insisting that it sets her up to lead the large complement of attorney that comprise the DA’s office.

Among the accomplishments Katz touts are her creation of an Immigration Task Force, which works with nearly 100 nonprofits and city agencies to provide services to immigrants. She secured funding for the Queens Family Justice Center, which serves domestic violence and human trafficking victims. She launched the Jamaica Now Action Plan, a $153-million city funded revitalization project for Jamaica Center.

She has advocated for Hurricane Sandy victims, for veterans, for public housing residents. And she’s channelled nearly $200 million in investments towards schools, hospitals, NYCHA, and parks in the borough. And she led a campaign to restore the New York State Pavilion, including putting $11.5 million in capital funds towards the project.

Katz’s opponents and critics, however, say her record on criminal justice issues has been lacklustre at best, and harmful at worst. They point to her past votes as a legislator: as an Assembly member in 1995, she voted to reinstate the death penalty, while as a Council member she voted against it. In the Council, she voted to increase penalties for low-level offenses, voted to create a new category of crime (gang recruitment), and in favor of increased police surveillance in city schools.

They also see her as moving with the political winds and shifting her positions, even during the current race -- for instance, she has taken a more expansive position on ending cash bail in recent weeks compared to most of her first several months on the trail.

“Melinda Katz could never be a champion of the policies that the people of Queens, specifically black and brown residents, need and have been calling out for,” said Milan Taylor of the Rockaway Youth Action Fund, which endorsed Lancman but moved to Caban upon his departure from the race. “[Katz] embraces the establishment’s tradition of lackluster reform and discriminatory practices. Katz has done an unsatisfactory job on criminal justice reform as Borough President and will do the same as District Attorney.”

Alyssa Aguilera, executive director of VOCAL-NY Action Fund, which endorsed Cabán’s insurgent campaign, said her organization has worked on criminal justice reforms in all aspects -- policing, bail reform, access to jobs and reentry -- and “Melinda Katz is not somebody that we ever interact with. She’s not somebody who’s known as standing behind organizations, community members in these big fights to, for instance, end stop-and-frisk, or when Eric Garner was killed, or the fight to close Rikers. She was a nonplayer in all of those efforts.”

Over the course of the race and more so in the last few weeks, Lancman levelled direct criticism at Katz, running an ad blasting her vote for the death penalty, and confronting her at a May forum for a lack of interest in criminal justice reform both as a Council member and borough president.

But, on Friday Lancman said he feared splitting the vote of Southeast Queens residents, who are predominantly African-American, and withdrew from the race. He endorsed Katz “because she has made the effort to successfully garner support within every community in our borough, the experience as a public official to see essential criminal justice reforms through to completion, and the relationships with the civic and community organizations and institutions throughout Queens necessary to effect real change.”

On Wednesday, Katz rejected four city-led land use applications related to building a 1,500-bed jail in Kew Gardens, Queens that is meant to help speed up the closure of Rikers Island jails. She said that closing Rikers is “a moral imperative” but raised concerns that the community did not have sufficient buy-in on the Kew Gardens jail plan and that large borough facilities would replicate the problems on Rikers.

Council Members I. Daneek Miller and Donovan Richards, fellow Queens Democrats, in an interview defended Katz from charges that she is a political climber. “For you to get up there every day, that your charge and your mission is to serve others, is noble,” said Miller, standing with Richards at City Hall. “And anyone who would speak against that, I would question their motives.”

“It’s called a sacrifice,” Richards said. Katz has “delivered” for Queens, he said. “Between our districts, you look at infrastructure, you look at investments in parks, investments in healthcare...there’s been no shortage of equitable things she’s done to work with us to shift resources into communities that were sorely missing the investment that they needed.”

Miller said Katz has successfully raised the issue of predatory real estate practices in Southeast Queens and has worked with him on labor issues and workers rights. “She’s been an excellent partner who really understands the needs and values of Southeast Queens.” Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ, the property services union, similarly praised Katz in a statement announcing his union’s endorsement. “Her plan to protect Queens residents from wage theft, unsafe workplaces, and hostile work environments will make New York a better, safer place for working families.”

Katz has carefully sought to counter critiques of her record. Her campaign points to her work in sponsoring warrant forgiveness and conviction sealing programs, hate crime forums, and gun violence town halls.

“Those are real-life instances of standing up for criminal justice reform,” she said in the interview. She also pushed for the creation of a new police precinct in the borough. And she cites her managerial experience, noting the other candidates’ lack thereof.

“If you’re going to get meaningful criminal justice reform, it also requires having the skill-set to run a $59 million budget with 530 employees. As the borough president, I run an enormous office that’s borough-wide and have answered to the community voter by voter, constituent by constituent, every single day for the last six years across a huge and vast borough,” she said.

She has also lamented her original death penalty vote. “I would say that is my deepest regret,” she said.

And she believes that her record makes her the one candidate with the strongest chance of bringing about the reforms that have taken centerplace in the race. “I don’t know how many people that are running for this race have had to actually answer to their constituents in the borough of Queens, who have had to take a lot of heat for the decisions that they’ve made and the policies they’ve stood up for,” she said. “But I always stand up strong for the things that I believe in.”

Aguilera said, nonetheless, Katz’s bid raises one key question. “Are you doing this because you’re a true believer, you’re really down for the issues that we care about, or is this just your next political move?”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
‘Hard to Define’: Melinda Katz’s Path to the Precipice of Becoming Queens District Attorney Sat, 22 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Breaking Down the Queens District Attorney Race queens da seven

(l-r)Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Greg Lasak, Betty Lugo, Mina Malik, & Jose Nieves

June 19, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Breaking Down the Queens District Attorney Race

Journalists Emma Whitford, who has written for Gotham Gazette and other outlets, and David Brand of the Queens Daily Eagle joined the show to discuss the Queens District Attorney race, just days before the June 25 Democratic primary vote.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Breaking Down the Queens District Attorney Race Wed, 19 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000