Queens Democrats Endorse Katz for DA; DSA Backs Cabán

Eagle photo by David Brand

Eagle photo by David Brand

By David Brand

The Queens County Democratic Party will endorse Borough President Melinda Katz in the race for Queens district attorney, six members of the Queens Democrats told the Eagle, which was first to report the endorsement.

The members, including someone working at the Queens Democrats’ office, each spoke on background because the party had not officially announced the decision.

“I am honored to have the support of strong Democratic leaders from across Queens County,” Katz said in a statement. “With Trump's administration advocating for bigoted legislation and racist immigration policies, we need to unite and fight for our Democratic values at a local level. It's clear that Queens is ready for criminal justice reform, and I look forward to transforming the District Attorney's office into a partner for justice for everyone who calls Queens home.”

The party contacted all 72 Queens district leaders ahead of the meeting, though not all the district leaders showed up. Queens Councilmember Rory Lancman, a candidate for DA and himself a Queens district leader, did not attend the meeting to endorse a DA candidate.

A few district leaders in attendance voiced their support for Lancman and Judge Gregory Lasak at the meeting, though they were outnumbered by Katz supporters, members said. Queens County Democratic Party chairperson Joseph Crowley who exerts powerful influence over the party has reportedly long favored Katz in the DA race.

“Loves and hugs to everyone,” Lancman told the Eagle when asked about the endorsement. “I’m building the broadest boldest coalition of activists, community leaders, unions, clergy and elected officials to radically transform the criminal justice system in Queens and I’m confident I will win on June 25.”

Lasak’s campaign manager Danny O’Halloran dismissed the endorsement in a statement.

“Today, Queens County insiders lined up to support a career politician wholly unqualified to do the job she's running for — and someone they can trust to avoid systemic changes to a broken system,” O’Halloran said. “Given the choice between Judge Lasak, an experienced prosecutor and judge who has actually jailed the guilty while securing freedom for the wrongfully convicted, and Katz, a term-limited politician who has never stepped foot in a criminal courtroom, the machine opted for the tried-and-failed status quo. Fortunately, reform-minded voters will make the choice that matters on June 25th and we're confident they'll choose Judge Lasak.”

Lancman and Lasak have both received the party’s backing in past elections.

Party spokesperson Michael Reich said the district leaders selected Katz because she had the most experience and countywide appeal of any candidate.

“When all is said and done, Melinda brought to table her experiences at many levels of government and as a trial attorney versus the others who have limited experience in some of those areas,” Reich said.

In response to social media criticism that the Queens Democrats did not solicit input from County Committee members, Reich said only district leaders and party leaders have a role in the endorsement decision.

“County committee members don’t have a role in this in a sense that this is not a nominating process,” he said. “[The endorsement] says these are the people who the bulk of [district] leaders will go out and support. [It’s] no different than in the state committee level where they designate governor and lieutenant governor candidates.”

The endorsement by the Queens Democrats comes a day after the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America announced that they would endorse public defender Tiffany Cabán in the DA race.

“Queens voters have opened the doors for a new, democratic socialist vision of electoral politics,” said Sasha Weinstein of the NYC-DSA’s Queens Electoral Organizing Committee, “People are no longer content with out-of-touch politicians that ignore the working class. A Cabán victory will show that Queens is ready to throw out establishment politicians, close Rikers the right way, and invest in community, not billion-dollar jails.”  

The opposing endorsements set up another showdown between the establishment Democrats and the DSA nearly eight months after U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, chairman of the Queens Democrats, in the Democratic primary to represent New York’s 14th Congressional District. Ocasio-Cortez has not endorsed a candidate in the DA race.

But Reich dismissed the notion that the DA’s race represents a proxy battle for the future of the party.

“That makes no sense, the Democrat Socialists vs. the Democratic organization,” he said. “All I know is if you look at the breadth and depth of the Democratic Party, there’s no question Melinda has the most support.”

“[Cabán] doesn’t have enough years of experience to be nominated for a judgeship,” he continued.

Former state Attorney General’s Office prosecutor Jose Nieves, former Queens assistant district attorney and Civilian Complaint Review Board Director Mina Malik and attorney Betty Lugo, who founded the first Latina-owned law firm in New York City, are also running for DA.

Malik’s campaign declined to comment for this story.

Lugo said she did not have an opportunity to meet with the party leaders before they made their endorsement.

“I would have appreciated the opportunity to meet with the Queens Democrats so they could consider me for the endorsement for Queens District Attorney,” Lugo said.

Nieves said it was “no surprise the Queens County Democratic political machine has backed Melinda Katz.”

“It's a clear sign of backroom politics as usual,” he continued. “We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the criminal justice system to be more fair and just for everyone in Queens.  On June 25th, voters will decide whether they want maintain the status quo by electing the same politicians they have seen for years or chart a new course for the Queens District Attorney's office with a candidate who is career prosecutor, combat veteran and community leader.”