AOC, other prominent progressives hold big rally for Cabán in Jackson Heights ahead of DA primary

Max Parrott/QNS

Less than two days from the Democratic primary, hundreds of Tiffany Cabán supporters gathered in Jackson Heights on Sunday for a get-out-the-vote rally in the heated Queens district attorney race.

Helping to lead the charge was Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who hopes Cabán pulls off the same kind of upset that she did against then-Congressman Joe Crowley nearly a year ago. 

Jackson Heights’ state Senator Jessica Ramos, riding high from a series of legislative victories in Albany over the past week, led speakers from the growing ranks of New York City’s progressive legislators across city, state and federal office, who emphasized the importance of door-knocking as a make-or-break strategy for the campaign.

Others in attendance, including state Senator Michael Gianaris, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon and Comptroller Scott Stringer, among others, touted Cabán’s progressive vision of criminal justice and framed the race as a referendum on the Queens Machine, slotting her as the heir to the victories that anti-establishment Latina candidates Ramos and Ocasio-Cortez won in Queens last summer.

“We’re not just running a so-called progressive campaign, we’re running a decarceral campaign,” Cabán said when she took the podium.

The organizers of the event highlighted Cabán’s unorthodox appeal, blasting reggaeton of Calle 13 as the speakers gathered around the podium and canvassers advertised that anyone who signed up for a shift would get three tacos from a local truck that volunteered to help the campaign.

Ramos, who emceed the rally, came out the gate with a searing indictment of the late former District Attorney Richard A. Brown.

“For those of us who are long-timers I don’t have to tell you what Jackson Heights looked like in the ’80s and ’90s. We’ve come a long way but it wasn’t because of the district attorney … So many of our loved ones were criminalized simply for being poor,” she said.

Throughout the rest of the event, Ramos insistently reminded the crowd of the importance of canvassing during the final days of the campaign in order to bring out untapped groups of Queens voters.

Setting the event in Jackson Heights played to Cabán’s strengths within more progressive voting districts of western Queens. Cabán’s campaign manager, Luke Hayes, the brother of MSNBC host Chris Hayes, said that they chose the location because Cabán held a rally with Akeem Browder and Shawn King in St. Albans Park the day before.

“Yesterday was southeast. Today is western Queens,” said Hayes.

Six Democrats are in Tuesday’s Queens district attorney primary, with Borough President Melinda Katz and Cabán emerging in recent days as the frontrunners in the race. Some see Cabán’s campaign as a grassroots battle against longtime political stalwarts in the borough.

Van Bramer, who was one of the earliest endorsements of Cabán’s campaign, leaned into this conflict during his speech.

“We all can help Tiffany Cabán and our congresswoman deliver the knockout punch to Queens Machine politics. When the machine wins, people lose. When the machine wins, big real estate money wins,” Van Bramer said.

For her part, Ocasio-Cortez focused more on how her definition of criminal justice paralleled Cabán’s in her speech.

“This is about changing the entire paradigm of criminal justice,” Ocasio-Cortez said, before going on to describe the phone calls that the two women had before leading up to the congresswoman’s endorsement.

Hayes said that the volunteer efforts behind Cabán’s campaign had been building over the last several weeks following the string of high profile endorsements from Ocasio-Cortez, Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Those endorsements kept stacking up this weekend with state Senator James Sanders, Gianaris and Councilman Antonio Reynoso all giving her their support.