Melinda Katz bests Joe Murray in Queens DA race

Photo by Todd Maisel

After a primary campaign that attracted a national media frenzy and a month-and-a-half-long primary election, Melinda Katz clinched her role as the next Queens District Attorney with a victory against Joe Murray in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 5. 

Katz declared victory shortly after the polls closed, while the city’s Board of Elections has Katz ahead with 137,632 votes compared to Murray’s 44,905 votes as of Wednesday afternoon, with nearly 96 percent of the precincts reporting.

“We are facing here an opportunity to make a national model for criminal justice reform and if we don’t do it right here, it’s going to have massive effects all across this country,” said Katz said at her victory party at the Queens Democratic Party office in Forest Hills.

After Katz eked out her primary battle against the decarceral public defender Tiffany Cabán in a primary battle that involved a recount and court battle, she went on to win handily with a 50 point margin against Murray, an ex-cop, lawyer and registered Democrat who the Republicans nominated after the primary. 

Katz emerged from her primary victory as the favorite to win in a borough-wide race where Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost six to one, and Katz had out-raised Murray by the about the same multiple. 

Her victory caps a campaign that argued for an approach to the office that blends a list of consensus-driven progressive reforms with experience of running a large city agency. 

In her victory speech, Katz listed some of her policy priorities, which includes ending cash bail, prosecuting unscrupulous employers, protecting immigrant rights by keeping ICE agents out of the courts and reducing gun violence. In the weeks leading up to the election, Katz also pledged to not prosecute low-level marijuana arrests and create a conviction integrity unit.

She spent the largest portion of her speech on policies aimed at reducing gun violence, which largely do not involve her role as a prosecutor. Following the death of 14-year-old Aamir Griffin in South Jamaica and a recent spike in gun violence in southeastern Queens overall, Katz promised to use the office of district attorney as a support system for community groups for at-risk youth.

“I will work day and night to make sure that we not only keep this borough safe, but that our young people get second chances,” Katz said. “That we have rehab programs to make sure that people get the help that they actually need; that we have mental health programs to make sure recidivism does go down and we will make sure there is justice here in the borough of Queens.”

The no-frills setting of the Queens Democratic Party Office served as a reminder of Katz’s loyalty to the County Party establishment. It wasn’t chosen for its practicality, since the small, balmy office could barely fit the crowd of party insiders that came to see Katz announce her victory.

“Considering everything we’ve been through and how important the Queens Organization was to this selection, it was an important place to hold it,” said Michael Reich, executive director of the Queens Party, adding that the party “broke it’s back” to help elect Katz. 

Among the party insiders in attendance were four of the borough president hopefuls — Paul Vallone, Elizabeth Crowley, Donovan Richards and Alicia Hyndman, all of whom are vying for the official party endorsement.

Now that Katz will officially be vacating her current role of borough president, the race to replace her will kick into high gear. A special election for the position will be held 45 days after Katz assumes the role of district attorney. 

STORY UPDATED: 12:04 p.m. Wednesday Nov. 6