By David Brand
State Sen. Jessica Ramos has endorsed public defender Tiffany Cabán in the race for Queens District Attorney, telling the Eagle that Cabán will bring “bold, transformational change” to an office occupied by DA Richard Brown since 1991.
Ramos, a lifelong Queens resident, is the latest progressive leader to back Cabán, joining former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon and State Sen. Julia Salazar, along with organizations like Make the Road Action and New Queens Democrats. The endorsement is likely to carry weight among residents of East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Corona, which Ramos represents in Albany.
Ramos will make the endorsement official during a rally at Corona Plaza Monday morning. She and Cabán spoke with the Eagle last week to discuss the endorsement and to outline their shared vision of criminal justice reform, which includes decriminalizing sex work and ending cash bail, and is informed by empathy for individuals involved in the justice system, especially low-income people of color.
“From the start Tiffany has demonstrated not only a wide understanding of what has been missing from the Queens DA’s office for a long time, but also the lived experiences of real people from Queens,” Ramos said. “She shows me we can achieve the bold, transformational change that we deserve.”
Ramos said she first met Cabán after she entered the race in January and was drawn to Cabán’s perspective as a public defender. Cabán has worked for New York County Defenders Services as well as Legal Aid. She also interned with the Queens DA’s office during law school.
“Being a public defender, she has actually spoken to residents of Queens, and New Yorkers who are undergoing their own experience in the criminal justice system and she’s seen that from very close hand,” Ramos said. “I have been thoroughly impressed by how she interacts — she’s a very good listener that that’s a key quality for any elected official, especially a district attorney.”
Ramos recounted the times she was profiled and stopped and frisked in her community, experiences that helped inform her own criminal justice reform perspective. Cabán would not just understand those experiences but act to stop abusive practices and bridge divides between communities of color and law enforcement, she said.
“She is the perfect partner for me in that endeavor,” Ramos said. “I get to pass the laws and she gets to enforce them.”
“Ultimately, sex work is work. Decriminalizing sex work will protect sex workers from exploitation, allow them to seek protection from trafficking, and will help victims of sex trafficking seek justice,” Ramos said at a February rally organized by the Decrim NY coalition, which advocates for full decriminalization.
Cabán discussed her own commitment to decriminalizing sex work during a candidate forum at the CUNY School of Law last month, an event that Emma Whitford covered for the Eagle.
“I will decline to prosecute all offenses related to sex work, including the prosecution of customers and landlords,” Cabán said. “As a queer Latina I understand that our trans communities of color are disproportionately affected by these laws.”
Ramos was elected to the State Senate in November after running on a progressive platform and defeating the late-State Sen. Jose Peralta in the Democratic primary. In January 2017, Peralta joined the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction of Senate Democrats who caucused with Republicans. The IDC defection — just a few months after Donald Trump was elected president — further galvanized Central Queens constituents, as well as Democrats throughout the state who felt their interests and values were not represented in Albany. Powerful grassroots organizing and a clear recognition that the status quo has failed low-income individuals, particularly people of color, catapulted several new leaders, like Ramos, Salazar and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez into power.
The success of New York’s new progressive leaders, particularly those representing Queens, has helped to inspire and empower even more progressive and socialist candidates to run for office.
Cabán said she had a “huge grin” on her face as Ramos discussed the endorsement by phone.
“It means the world to me to have Sen. Ramos’ support because I see what she’s doing out in the community,” Cabán said. “I would endeavor to be as good of an advocate.”
If elected DA, she said she would introduce a leadership team that embodies her progressive values and listens to the diverse communities of Queens — though she said she would not automatically make wholesale staff changes.
“Historically, the DA’s office has taken the approach of being an expert in everything,” Cabán said. “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.”
“‘Go in and fire everyone,’ that’s not the position I take,” Cabán continued.
She said that bureau chiefs play one of the most important roles in the office because they outline policies and set the tone for the dozens of assistant DAs beneath them who interact directly with defendants, victims, witnesses and families
The six other candidates running for DA have all championed criminal justice reform to some extent ahead of the June 25 Democratic primary.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has received the backing of the Queens County Democratic Party and establishment stalwarts like U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Gregory Meeks.
Councilmember Rory Lancman has earned the endorsement of Justice Jonathan Lippman, the former Chief Judge of the Court Appeals, who oversaw the city report that advocates for closing Rikers Island jails. Lancman has also been endorsed by police reform advocates Gwen Carr and Valerie Bell, whose sons were killed by NYPD officers.
Former Judge Gregory Lasak has been endorsed by various court staff and law enforcement unions, including the New York State Court Clerks Association, the New York State Supreme Court Officers Association and the MTA Police Benevolent Association.
Attorney Betty Lugo has the backing of Assemblymember Latrice Walker and former Assemblymember Luis Diaz.
Former Queens ADA and Civilian Complaint Review Board Director Mina Malik has the endorsement of District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, her former supervisor, and the criminal justice reform scholar Angela J. Davis.
Former State Attorney General’s Office prosecutorJose Nieves is also running for DA on a reform platform.