BY ROBERT POZARYCKI AND MARK HALLUM
Moderate and conservative Democrats across Queens face a daunting question should Tiffany Cabán’s win in the district attorney primary become official: Do they vote for the far left progressive come November, or hold their noses and elect the Republican candidate?
At the moment, the latter choice is Ozone Park attorney Daniel Kogan. The Republican doesn’t have a campaign website or social media presence — and, according to published reports, the willingness to run a competitive race against the likely Democratic nominee.
In post-primary interviews with The City and the New York Post, Kogan said that he doesn’t anticipate running a vigorous campaign, knowing that he would be an overwhelming underdog in this overwhelmingly Democratic borough.
That sent GOP leaders in Queens scrambling for answers and even alternatives. The Post reported that they’ve reached such a desperate point that they’re willing to approach two Democrats — Borough President Melinda Katz, who finished second in the primary and is waiting for all the votes to be counted before making any confession, and retired Judge Gregory Lasak — about running for DA on their party line in November.
So far, according to the Post report, Lasak declined to comment, and Katz’s representatives said they were more focused on the vote count in the still-unofficial DA primary race. Yet, in that same Post report, Councilman Eric Ulrich — the Ozone Park-based lawmaker who is currently Queens’ only Republican elected official — claimed that both candidates had a path toward gaining the Republican line.
But Joann Ariola, chair of the Queens County Republican Party, told QNS on Thursday that there have been no discussions over whether they would consider giving Katz or Lasak their line in the general election. Further, Ariola said there have been no discussions with Meeks and that they would stick by their man, Kogan.
“We are committed to running a candidate that we have on the ballot,” Ariola said. “I know there’s been back-and-forth that his campaign hasn’t been started yet, but it hasn’t been our campaign yet. It’s been all about the Democratic primary, but we’re committed to putting together a rigorous campaign for him and give Queens a choice for district attorney.”
Ariola asserted that the county GOP has not considered any other candidate other than Kogan, and stressed the importance of beating Cabán in the interest of thwarting her controversial goals.
“My conversations with him – and I’ve only had conversations with him, not with the Democratic Party, not with the candidates who were unsuccessful in the primary election – it’s been only about what we will do to strategize and raise money and make sure that we will be successful in November,” Ariola said. “We really have to have a candidate and I believe he is that candidate. But we need a candidate who can beat Tiffany Cabán because to sum her up, she is a get-out-of-jail-free card and that’s not something we can put up with here in Queens County or in this state.”
But if it wanted to, could the Queens County GOP actually recruit a Democrat and defeat a progressive juggernaut in November? It’s difficult, but not impossible — and in Queens, they’ve done it before.
Under state election law, the party can not replace a candidate for office after the primary unless that candidate dies or accepts and offered nomination to run for a judgeship. Once the ballot line is vacated under such a scenario, the party committee can nominate the candidate of its choice.
Back in 2017, the Queens County Republican Party had such a situation develop in the 30th City Council District race. Then-incumbent Elizabeth Crowley defeated then-civic leader Robert Holden in the Democratic Primary, but Holden opted to continue his campaign on third-Party lines. Meanwhile, the Republican candidate for City Council, a local attorney named Joseph Kasper, was set to face Crowley in the general election — but, like Kogan today, Kasper ran an almost nonexistent campaign.
In September 2017, the Queens County GOP shook up its leadership, ousting its chair, former Congressman Robert Turner, and replacing him with Ariola. The new leadership then nominated Kasper to run for a judgeship in November, and Kasper accepted.
That cleared the ballot line in the 30th Council District race. Ariola and company approached Holden and offered him the GOP nomination. He happily accepted, and received enough Republican votes to pull off a narrow upset over Crowley in November.
This time around, the stars must completely align for the Republicans to pull off a potential November upset over Cabán.
Any Republican nominee for DA faces a tremendous challenge in November. Against Cabán, they would be facing a juggernaut with a passionate base and an aggressive get-out-the-vote operation that took six Assembly Districts in northwest Queens by storm.
Still, even though she’s the apparent winner of the primary at this point, Cabán did not win a majority of votes. The unofficial Board of Elections numbers from the primary give Cabán 33,814 votes, or 39.57 percent of the total ballots. Katz and Lasak combined for 45,101 votes, or 52.8 percent — or, a majority of all votes cast.
The Republican nominee would get Republican and conservative voters who could not participate in the Democratic primary, but the candidate would have to work even harder than Cabán to motivate Democratic voters to the polls in their favor.
They would need to convince dyed-in-the-wool Democrats across Queens to do something that, for many progressives, goes against their instincts in the age of Trump: voting for a Republican.