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Photo by Mark Hallum
Tiffany Caban's near-upset in last years Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney emboldened many young progressives to challenge the party establishment in 2020.

The 2020 elections will let voters know if the drift towards the left wing progressives continues in Queens, particularly in the western portion of the borough, and if the events of the last two election cycles represent a fluke or a tectonic shift in politics in the borough.

With the entire state legislature facing re-election, the polls next year will serve as a rorschach test for which direction the borough is moving politically.

The shift to the left began with Congresswoman Alexander Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning primary upset of Democratic boss Joe Crowley which gave new energy to progressive organizations such as the Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America in Queens. The organizations coalesced around the mission of defeating the so-called Queens Machine, and that led to a near upset by public defender Tiffany Cabán against the “establishment candidate,” Queens Borough President Melinda Katz who eventually won the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney by only 55 votes after a six-week recount.

Cabán’s radical decarceral platform became a national story and earned her the endorsements of presidential candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But it may have awakened a sleeping giant at the same time, the rest of the Democratic party in Queens that year after year had low voter turnout because so many candidates were left unchallenged on primary ballots and many times unopposed by Republicans in the general election.

Many other Democrats in other areas of the borough grew alarmed at the progressive victories, primarily when it came to criminal justice reforms in the state legislature.

This is what makes the 2020 cycle so interesting to watch as Democratic incumbents are facing primary challenges, some for the first time, from candidates who claim to be more progressive.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Assemblyman Michael DenDekker and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas are all facing primary challenges from the progressives.

State Senator Michael Gianaris, the Deputy Majority Leader, who played a central role in flipping the Senate from Republican control last year, is facing two challengers in the Democratic primary for a very different reason. Jusitn Potter on Long Island City and Iggy Terranova of Astoria were so outraged by Gianaris’ stand against Amazon’s plan to build an HQ2 campus along the East River waterfront in Long Island City that they launched campaigns to defeat him.

Gianaris became such a central figure in the groundswell of opposition against the e-commerce giant that he became known as the “Amazon Slayer” who saw the nearly $3 billion the state and city were offering in the deal as corporate welfare wasting money that should be used on schools, transportation, housing and infrastructure.

Terranova and Potter blame Gianaris for the loss of 25,000 good-paying jobs that Amazon promised over 10 years, with a plan to grow to 40,000 over 15 years.

With all of the drama that is set to play out in 2020, it will be the undercard to the following year when 2021 will usher in a sea change in leadership in the City Council. In Queens, 11 out of 15 City Council districts will have open contests because term limits prevent the incumbent from seeking re-election.

The 2020 election cycle should serve as a barometer as to which direction Queens is headed.

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