Geography and getting out the vote: Two factors that will decide the Queens DA race

katz caban
Photos by Mark Hallum/QNS

The biggest bombshell to rock the Queens District Attorney’s race took place on Friday at a Jamaica church, with City Councilman Rory Lancman dropping out of the race and endorsing Borough President Melinda Katz in the Democratic primary four days away.

Politics, like real estate, often comes down to location, location, location — and it’s not all that surprising Lancman made his announcement in Jamaica, a stronghold for well-established Democrats where Katz figures to draw plenty of votes on Tuesday.

Indeed, Lancman seemed to appeal directly to voters of color in southeastern Queens in throwing his support to Katz on Friday — and slamming, in the process, one of her biggest competitors, Tiffany Cabán, whom he said hasn’t done enough to connect with African-American voters there.

“You cannot be the district attorney without having any meaningful rapport in the African-American community. No pastors, no elected officials,” he said. “You cannot be the district attorney without even making an effort to reach out to the Jewish community.”

Katz, backed by the Queens County Democratic Party, needs all the votes she can get out of the southeastern area of Queens — because if recent electoral history repeats itself, Cabán’s ballot strength will most likely come from the other side of the borough.

The upstart, progressive public defender has made plenty of headlines in recent days, having won the endorsements of The New York Times and two Democratic presidential candidates: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The latter pair of endorsements was enough to irk Congressman Gregory Meeks, the Queens County Democratic Party chair, who suggested that Sanders and Warren didn’t consider the feelings of African-Americans in Queens before making their decision to back Cabán.

The northwestern Queens area has trended further to the left in recent years. It certainly wasn’t kind to establishment Democrats in 2018.

One of Cabán’s biggest supporters is Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who last June pulled off the upset of upsets in defeating 10-term incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley. The turnout was light, but Ocasio-Cortez’s get-out-the-vote campaign generated a stunning blowout win. She won 60 percent or more in numerous northwestern Queens districts.

The win wasn’t an aberration, as the September primary for statewide offices proved.

Turnout in northwest Queens surged, propelling two upstart progressive Democrats to victory over incumbent Democrats: Jessica Ramos defeated state Senator Jose Peralta, and Catalina Cruz bested Assemblywoman Ari Espinal.

The progressive wave didn’t impact the governor’s race at the top of the primary ballot, as incumbent Andrew Cuomo easily defeated challenger and progressive activist Cynthia Nixon in 17 of Queens’ 18 Assembly districts.

The one Assembly district Nixon won? That would be the 36th District covering Astoria and Long Island City, which also had the largest voter turnout of any Queens Assembly district in the September primary.

And, like AOC, Nixon endorsed Cabán in the Queens district attorney primary.

Conversely, in the same primary, Cuomo’s biggest margin of victory in a Queens Assembly district came in the 32nd District of southeast Queens, where he won 90 percent of the vote over Nixon.

There were 15,603 total votes were cast in the 32nd District during the September primary, while the 36th District had 13,582.

Another southeastern Queens Assembly district had the highest turnout in Queens during the November 2018 general election: the 33rd District, where Governor Cuomo garnered more than 33,000 votes.

Clearly, Katz and her supporters are banking on getting enough votes in the southeastern area to pull off the victory on Tuesday and survive a wave of Cabán momentum largely out of the northwestern part of our borough.

Will all of Lancman’s voters be as enthusiastic to support Katz and make the difference? Maybe.

It’s too late for Lancman’s name to be removed from the ballot, so voters who aren’t happy with Katz could still fill the ballot circle for Lancman or one of the five other Queens DA candidates.

The other wild card in the race is the candidacy of retired Judge Gregory Lasak, who stands out as the traditional law-and-order successor to the late Richard A. Brown. He may appeal to voters in more conservative areas of Queens, including Bayside, Whitestone, Howard Beach, Maspeth and Middle Village; that could cost Katz votes on Primary Day.

Hoping to be more than a spoiler, Lasak also made an appeal to voters fed up with the establishment and “the political machine” in slamming Lancman’s impending withdrawal the night before it became official.

“This sounds like a classic plea deal. The political machine pleaded for one career politician to endorse another career politician, and once again Queens families are left out,” Lasak said.