By David Brand
A political operative working on behalf of former Queens prosecutor Mina Malik filed an objection to public defender Tiffany Cabán’s ballot petition last Friday, prompting backlash and igniting intrigue in the race for Queens district attorney — even before the Democratic primary ballot is set.
But the objection to Cabán’s petition is just the beginning, Malik’s campaign told the Eagle.
All seven candidates for Queens DA submitted petitions with at least 4,000 signatures before the deadline on April 4, but a signature is only valid if it belongs to a Queens resident registered to vote as a Democrat. The primary election is June 25.
Jamaica resident Fred Simmons filed the objection to Cabán’s petition. The objection was co-signed by election attorney Ali Najmi, a 2015 candidate for City Council who has represented several Queens candidates, including Assemblymember Brian Barnwell and Council candidates Richard David and Alison Tan. A spokesperson for Malik said Simmons “is contracted for the campaign.” Najmi also works on behalf of Malik.
After filing an objection, an individual or campaign has six days to specify which signatures they object to. Specifications for an objection filed on April 5 must be filed by midnight on April 11, according to the Board of Elections. That gives the campaign three more full days to review the individual signatures and identify invalid submissions.
Malik’s spokesperson Antonya Jeffrey said the campaign filed the petition objection to “maintain the integrity of the election process.”
“[We] intend to file general objections to the petitions of several candidates to ensure they do the same,” Jeffrey said.
The general objection prompted speculation and anger among Cabán supporters, who criticized Najmi for making an “underhanded move” and alleged that he was playing dirty tricks. Many election-watchers initially thought the objection came from the Queens County Democratic Party, which routinely challenges candidate petitions.
“Likely county,” one DA candidate told the Eagle by text on Friday.
Najmi contended that general objections are standard procedure during elections.
“I’m an election lawyer. I do election lawyer things. A campaign with a well organized petition operation should have no reason to be rattled by the filing of a simple general objection,” Najmi tweeted Sunday.
“The process of verifying petitions is an essential part of the political process. Vilifying the ability to verify a campaign’s petitions is an invitation to welcome corruption and abuse in the petition process,” he continued. “The filing of a General Objection is largely a non-event for most.”
Each campaign has relied on volunteers to obtain signatures, and Cabán has energized Queens progressives who have canvassed the borough and posted their efforts on social media. On Saturday, for example, two Cabán canvassers handed out flyers to people waiting to meet with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and State Sen. Michael Gianaris at an event at the Queens Public Library’s Woodside branch.
Cabán declined to respond directly to the petition objection.
“We’re staying focused on what will win this election: talking to our neighbors and building a diverse coalition of Queens residents ready to bring the transformative change to the DA’s office,” Cabán told the Eagle.
The Board of Elections did not respond to phone calls asking for comment.
Borough President Melinda Katz filed her petition on Monday, along with Malik and Cabán. Councilmember Rory Lancman, former Judge Gregory Lasak, attorney Betty Lugo and former Attorney General’s office prosecutor Jose Nieves all filed their petitions on Thursday.
District Attorney Richard Brown announced in January that he would not seek re-election to the position he has held since 1991, setting up the wide-open primary.