Melinda Katz, pledging justice reform, wins Queens DA race

AP Photo by Seth Wenig.

AP Photo by Seth Wenig.

By David Brand and Victoria Merlino

Eleven months after officially kicking off her campaign in Forest Hills, Melinda Katz returned to her home neighborhood Tuesday to claim victory in the race for Queens district attorney. Katz, a Democrat and the Queens borough president, campaigned on a progressive justice reform platform that included ending the use of cash bail, declining to prosecute various low-level offenses and establishing a conviction review unit in the office

She captured nearly three-quarters of the vote in the general election to defeat Republican Joe Murray, a defense attorney and former NYPD officer, according to preliminary results from the Board of Elections. Katz will take office on Jan. 1, 2020 unless Gov. Andrew Cuomo appoints her to take over the office earlier.

“I am so proud to be the district attorney elect of Queens County,” Katz told supporters inside the Queens County Democratic Party headquarters Tuesday. She acknowledged her late parents and brother early in her speech. When Katz was a child, her mother was struck and killed by a drunk driver. That tragedy informed her commitment to justice and accountability, she said.

Katz officially launched her campaign at an outdoor rally in December 2018. As other candidates pushed increasingly more progressive policy proposals, Katz moved further to the left on certain issues — including a pledge to never ask for cash bail in any circumstances.

She has also committed to cracking down on gun violence in Queens by targeting individuals who transport guns into the borough from other states with looser gun laws — a practice known as the “Iron Pipeline.” On Tuesday, she pledged to bring justice for crime victims and to oppose Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents inside the courthouse.

Katz celebrated Queens’ diversity during her speech, gesturing to the crowd of supporters of various backgrounds and ethnicities, including various elected officials, inside the cramped clubhouse.

“We are an unbelievable borough. We are diverse. We are a multicultural borough,” she said. “We all want a better life for our families than we ever dreamed of having for ourselves.”

She will succeed Acting Queens DA John Ryan, who took over for DA Richard Brown after Brown died in May. Brown served seven full terms as DA from 1991 until his death. She recognized Ryan during her speech.

“Jack Ryan had been holding down the fort at the district attorney’s office [and] he has been unbelievably open and gracious during this transition,” Katz said.

Her win Tuesday will open up the borough presidency in a special election next year. Seven candidates have announced their bids or are rumored to be considering a bid for borough president. Three of them — Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman, Councilmember Donovan Richards and former Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley attended Katz’s election night event. The other candidates include Councilmember Costa Constantinides, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and Anthony Miranda, a former NYPD officer who founded an organization that supports Latino police officers.

Katz’ easy victory in the general election comes three months after she won the Democratic primary by just 55 votes over public defender Tiffany Cabán. The primary resulted in a weeks-long recount and court battle before Katz prevailed.

Queens County Demoratic Party Chairperson Gregory Meeks, a U.S. Congressman, praised Katz in his introductory remarks.

“This is what I call a good night,” Meeks said.