Accusations of racism, and rage against ‘the machine’: The unsettled Queens DA race takes ugly turn

Photos: Mark Hallum/QNS

As a mandatory recount looms in the too-close-to-call Democratic primary for Queens district attorney, tensions between the campaigns of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and public defender Tiffany Cabán are reaching the boiling point.

In less than two weeks, the two top vote-getters in the primary have each claimed victory — Cabán after she built a 1,100-vote lead following the June 25 primary, and Katz after overcoming that deficit and taking a 20-vote lead following the July 3 paper ballot count. (Katz’s lead shrunk on July 5 to just 16 after the Board of Elections unsealed six affidavit ballots deemed valid. Five of them were for Cabán, the other for Katz).

Now the two campaigns are trading vicious barbs with one another over the process itself. In statements sent to QNS on July 4 and 5, Cabán’s camp claimed that the recount process was tainted by insider “machine” politics, while Katz’s team countered that her main opponent deliberately sought to exclude votes from communities of color.

A Cabán spokesperson charged insinuated that the campaign “is up against a party machine that has ruled local politics and suppressed democracy for decades.” Bill Lipton, director of the Working Families Party, which supports Cabán, further insinuated that the machine “handpicked” Board of Elections workers who turned away first-time voters, many of whom likely would have chosen the public defender.

He added that in cases where new voters did cast their ballots, they may have been invalidated.

“Thousands of affidavit ballots, many of them cast by new voters inspired by Tiffany’s message of a criminal justice system that works for all of us, were invalidated by poll workers handpicked by Queens party leaders,” Lipton said. “At the same time, when we go to court, we’ll face judges handpicked by the same machine. The system is rife with conflicts of interest.”

The Caban campaign is also fundraising off allegations of impropriety. In an email received by QNS, the campaign sought $10 donations from the public in order to have “the resources we need to make sure that this recount is fair and transparent.” The email claimed that the Board of Elections “is trying to throw out over 2,000 votes.”

But Matthew Rey, a partner at Red Horse Strategies and spokesperson for the Katz campaign, dismissed the allegations as “outrageous” and “wrongheaded claims.” He then charged that earlier in the week, “the Cabán legal team tried to stop votes from being counted in southeast Queens and lost, and now her supporters are making false claims about Melinda and this process to try to discredit results which aren’t in her favor.”

“Our goal at the beginning of this week was to count every valid vote, and our goal remains to count every valid vote,” Rey said. “Our values were consistent when we were behind, and now that we have the lead, remain the same. We don’t cherry-pick voters, and we certainly don’t exclude voters from communities of color, as others have tried to do.”

The recount, automatically triggered by law because the winning margin is less than half of 1 percent, is scheduled to take place beginning on Tuesday, July 9, in Middle Village. The Board of Elections must count by hand more than 90,000 ballots, including scanned ballots from Primary Day, absentee ballots and permitted affidavit ballots.

It could take up to two weeks to be completed, according to The City.

More from Around New York