The Race for Queens District Attorney: A Retrospective

Eagle  file photo by Jonathan Sperling.

Eagle file photo by Jonathan Sperling.

By Victoria Merlino

Supporters gathered at the Queens Democractic Party’s Forest Hills headquarters on Tuesday night to celebrate Borough President Melinda Katz’s victory over Republican opponent Joe Murray to become Queens’ next district attorney. It has been a long road for Katz to get to this moment, and the Queens Daily Eagle has followed the race from the start. Take a look back with us as we reflect on some of the Queens DA race’s highest highs, lowest lows and spiciest moments. 

Eagle  file photo by David Brand.

Eagle file photo by David Brand.

Challengers Approach

The Queens DA race began all the way back in August 2018, when former Justice Gregory Lasak resigned from his spot in Queens Criminal Court, fueling rumors of a potential bid. Councilmember Rory Lancman declared his candidacy that September, and rumors of former Civilian Complaint Review Board Director Mina Malik joining the race began to circulate. Former prosecutors Betty Lugo and José Nieves threw their hats in the ring in early 2019. Katz announced her candidacy in December 2018, and was later backed by the Queens Democratic Party.

Eagle  file photo by Phineas Rueckert.

Eagle file photo by Phineas Rueckert.

A 32-Year-Old Queer Latina Public Defender

The Eagle was the first outlet to report on public defender Tiffany Cabán’s candidacy, running on a progressive platform and backed by the Democratic Socialists of America. Cabán garnered support from Queens progressive powerhouses like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and State Sens. Jessica Ramos and Michael Gianaris, as well as presidential candidates U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Her star rose rapidly as she continued to campaign. 

AP Photo/File.

AP Photo/File.

The King of Queens

Former Queens DA Richard Brown was initially undecided on his future when candidates first started declaring their intent to run for DA in 2018. Brown, 86, was the longest-serving top prosecutor that Queens had ever seen, serving an unprecedented 28 years in office. Brown announced that he would be resigning from his post in March, citing health issues, and he died in May. His second-in-command, Chief Assistant District Attorney John Ryan, took over Brown’s duties while the race raged on. Ryan later told the Eagle that he plans to resign from the DA’s office entirely after the new DA takes office on Jan. 1, 2020. 

Eagle  file photo by Phineas Rueckert.

Eagle file photo by Phineas Rueckert.

Making the Rounds

Jockeying for the title of Queens DA Democractic nominee grew more intense as the June primary approached. Candidates staked out positions on cash bail, sex work decriminalization, the city community jails plan and other key issues at forums across the borough, including one hosted by the Eagle. The Queens County Bar Association and the New York City Bar Association weighed in, “approving” six of the seven candidates. And the money started to flow in a big way, with millions of dollars pouring in from around the country to a race that had started to draw national attention. 

Eagle  file photo by David Brand.

Eagle file photo by David Brand.

A Dramatic Exit

With only days to go before the primary, Lancman announced that he would be dropping out of the race and supporting Katz. This came as a surprise to some, as Lancman had been critical of Katz’ stances during his time in the race. “The numbers are simply not there for me to win this Tuesday’s Democratic primary for district attorney,” he said at the time. “I’m especially concerned about causing a split in South Queens, effectively diluting the community most impacted by the decisions our next DA must make.”

“This has nothing to do with the Queens County Democratic Party organizations. I’ve had no conversations, no signals, no winks, no nods,” Lancman said, insisting that the decision was of his own volition. “No communication whatsoever with the Queens County Democratic Party.”

Lancman’s chief of staff and legislative counsel resigned over the decision.

Eagle  file photo by Phineas Rueckert.

Eagle file photo by Phineas Rueckert.

Eagle  file photo by Victoria Merlino.

Eagle file photo by Victoria Merlino.

From Forest Hills to La Boom

A nerve-wracking primary night saw Cabán eek out a surprising lead over Democratic party favorite Katz in a too-close-to-call race. Katz vowed at her viewing party in Forest Hills that night to stay in the race until every ballot was counted, while Cabán celebrated her lead at her party in Woodside. Katz reversed the lead after all those ballots were tallied and came out on top by just 16 votes. Turnout for the off-year election was low, setting up the first grueling, manual recount the borough had seen in 64 years.

Eagle  file photo by Jonathan Sperling.

Eagle file photo by Jonathan Sperling.

La-La-Lawsuit

After weeks of waiting, the manual recount reached completion and Katz led by 60 votes. The Cabán campaign filed a lawsuit for a judge to review invalidated ballots not previously factored into the final tally, and Katz’ and Cabán’s lawyer set out to fight for (or against) every vote. Cabán picked up another five votes, narrowing Katz’ lead to 55, but a judge’s refusal to open affidavit ballots where voters did not write their party affiliation on the envelope closed her long-shot path to victory. Cabán conceded defeat in August, over a month after the primary election, and Katz capped what she called the “longest Election Day ever.”

Photo courtesy of Joe Murray.

Photo courtesy of Joe Murray.

Meanwhile…

As the Democratic nomination for Queens DA hung in limbo, so did the Republican nomination. Attorney Daniel Kogan, who was named the Republican nominee, told the Eagle that he would step aside and let Lasak run on the Republican ticket if he wanted to, following Lasak’s defeat to Katz. Queens Republicans went on to nominee Kogan for a judgeship in August, leaving the spot open for attorney and former NYPD officer Joe Murray to step in

Eagle  photo by Jonathan Sperling.

Eagle photo by Jonathan Sperling.

The End (Or the Beginning)

Katz defeated Murray on Election Day, nabbing 75 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. “We know that there is a better Queens ahead of us,” Katz told supporters on Tuesday at the Queens Democractic Party’s headquarters. Already, advocacy groups are calling for Katz to stick to campaign promises and produce major reforms for the Queens DA office. She will officially enter office on Jan. 1, 2020, leaving her borough president spot to a new crop of contenders.