It looked like change was eminent in Queens politics, but a voter recount might say otherwise. Two weeks ago, public defender Tiffany Cabán declared victory in the Democratic primary for Queens district attorney. She emerged from a trove of candidates with 39.6 percent of the vote. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz ended the night right behind her at 38.3 percent.
Katz said that she’d wait for the recount before conceding although she might not have to concede at all.
Despite having a 1,100-vote deficit after primary night, Katz held out for the Queens Board of Elections to count the 3,400 paper absentee and affidavit ballots. With a combo of those ballots plus votes being thrown out based on technicalities, Katz had a 30-vote lead (that’s now down to 16). Starting this Tuesday, the BOE started counting 91,000 votes by hand while Cabán and Katz’s people went to court to fight over 114 thrown out affidavit ballots. BOE officials said that the recount would take 10 days.
In a statement, Cabán’s campaign spokesperson Monica Klein said that the BOE made a mistake by throwing out ballots and vowed to continue to fight to have the ballots counted.
“As we have said from the beginning, and as the New York Times agreed today, every valid vote in this election must be counted. Over the coming days and weeks, we will continue to fight in court and at the Board of Elections to make sure Queens voters are not disenfranchised. Melinda Katz said on election night that every vote should be counted. We hope her campaign will join us in court to make sure that happens—and join our call on Governor Cuomo to quickly sign already-passed legislation that could prevent otherwise valid votes from being thrown out by technicalities.
“We remain confident that when all the votes are counted, we will win,” Klein concluded.
Klein’s sentiments were also uttered by New York Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton. In an emailed statement, Lipton said that the BOE is on the verge of disenfranchising eligible voters.
“There is pending legislation that could help ensure that these voters are protected. We ask Melinda Katz to demonstrate her commitment to democratic values by joining us to ask that the Assembly forward the bill to the executive chamber for the governor’s signature,” said Lipton. “Common sense dictates that where the will and intent of an eligible voter is clear, that vote should be counted. This bill will bring us closer to common-sense and inclusive voting rights for New Yorkers.”
But not all agree. New York State Sen. Leroy Comrie said that Cabán’s people haven’t been forthright with their motives during the recount.
“I think Team Cabán’s been very disingenuous about every level of the count,” said Comrie. “It’s been transparent. The press and media have been there every day. Her lawyers admitted twice that the process was fair and transparent.”
Comrie also accused Cabán’s campaign of trying to reinstall ballots from parts of Queens more favorable to the public defender.
“They tried to cherry pick districts where they had a chance of getting a better outcome,” continued Comrie. “It’s been a horrible social media campaign full of lies and deliberate disingenuousness. There were people who voted who were registered Republicans or Independents. They’re just trying to tell lies and spin the story. I’m disappointed in the campaign.”
Cabán’s campaign floated the idea that more than 2,000 votes were unjustly purged leading to Katz’s current lead.
Last Friday, Katz put out a statement declaring victory once the lead swung to her side.
“We said from the beginning that every vote needs to be counted and that every voter needs to be heard, and now we see clearly why this must always be the case,” stated Katz. “I am proud to have been chosen as the Democratic nominee for Queens District Attorney. We know that these numbers can and will be subject to recount, and there may be legal challenges, but what matters most is the will of Queens voters.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped into the mix suggesting that state officials look into the Cabán’s campaign’s claims about the affidavit ballots despite the accusations being unsubstantiated.
The Queens district attorney race has garnered national attention due to key endorsements. Cabán was endorsed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and the New York Times.
Katz kept her endorsements local with 32BJ SEIU, CWA Local 1180, the United Federation of Teachers, 1199 SEIU and TWU Local 100.
Keith Wright, current leader of the New York County Democrats, said that he found it peculiar that a local race would make national news.
“It’s just not done,” said Wright. “I applaud the Cabán camp for I guess getting that exposure. But it’s just not done at all. This race is a community race. It’s Forest Hills. It’s East Elmhurst. It’s Bayside. It’s Southeast Queens. I don’t think Elizabeth Warren could tell you where East Elmhurst is.”
However, no matter the endorsements, the recounts will determine the next Queens district attorney. New York City Council Member Adrienne Adams said that she’s confident that the recount will be handled fairly.
“With such a razor-thin margin between the candidates, it is imperative that every valid vote be counted and the conspiracy rhetoric by individuals that don’t necessarily live in Queens or New York City proper be tamped down,” said Adams.
New York City Council Member Donovan Richards said he wanted the in-party fighting to stop.
“There is a set process by law that must be abided by and must run its course,” said Richards. “What has been disappointing is the rhetoric that has come out of ensuring that all votes are counted. Melinda Katz has spent decades dedicating her life to public service, and the attacks that have been levied against her, especially in recent days; are wholly inappropriate. The language that we use matters, especially with a president who distorts the truth to further his agenda. Democrats should not match the bombastic language that’s coming out of the White House with our own hyperbole.”