U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed public defender Tiffany Cabán in the race for Queens District Attorney, a move likely to further galvanize progressive voters and raise Cabán’s profile just over a month before the June 25 primary election.
“Our criminal justice system needs to change. New Yorkers deserve a seat at the table, and a champion who will fight to realign our priorities towards equal treatment under the law,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement.
Cabán, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, has pledged to radically transform the district attorney’s office to focus on rehabilitation, restorative justice and alternatives to detention in a county with nearly 2.4 million residents.
“We have a system where public health issues are punted to our criminal justice system so we need people who have a better understanding of immigration, education, health issues. There will be a place for all those people,” Cabán said in an April interview with the Eagle.
Cabán’s campaign has generated significant grassroots support and has often been compared to Ocasio-Cortez’s successful primary bid against incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley last year.
Before announcing her endorsement, Ocasio-Cortez said she was keeping tabs on the race, in which all seven Democratic candidates have positioned themselves as reformers.
Late-DA Richard Brown, who died earlier this month, had served in office since 1991 and faced criticism for his relative unwillingness to embrace justice reform issues, like bail reform and declining to prosecute low-level offenses that disproportionately impact people of color. Acting Queens DA John Ryan has worked in the office for decades and has continued Brown’s policies.
Ocasio-Cortez declined to back a candidate during a Queens Community Board 2 meeting earlier this year and again at a town hall meeting in Jackson Heights, but said she was monitoring the race, Patch reported.
Several people who volunteered for Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign last year have also worked for Cabán, though the campaign has been marred by a failure to pay some staff members.
Cabán received the endorsement of the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America in February.
“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 in February. “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.”
A day later, the Queens County Democratic Party — then chaired by Crowley — backed Borough President Melinda Katz, prompting comparisons to the 2018 race to represent New York’s 14th Congressional District.
County party spokesperson Michael Reich dismissed the comparisons, however.
“That makes no sense, the Democrat Socialists vs. the Democratic organization,” Reich told the Eagle in February. “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.
Councilmember Rory Lancman, former Judge Gregory Lasak, attorney Betty Lugo, former Queens prosecutor and Civilian Complaint Review Board Director Mina Malik and former state Attorney General’s Office prosecutor Jose Nieves are also running for the Democratic nomination for Queens DA.