By Josefa Velasquez, Christine Chung and Rachel Holliday Smith, THE CITY
This story was originally published on 10/31/19 by THE CITY
The Working Families Party stepped in to shore up Tiffany Cabán’s campaign for Queens district attorney earlier this year when she was just an unknown public defender, helping bring her within a stunning 55 votes of the Democratic nomination.
Now Cabán is returning the favor by going to work for the left-leaning party for the next few months — and possibly longer — lending her near-success story to a national campaign to recruit and run other criminal justice reformers.
The effort represents a “significant escalation” of the WFP’s criminal justice push, said Rob Duffey, a spokesperson for the party.
“I do think Tiffany’s engagement with the WFP does represent a sort of heightened focus on criminal justice,” he said. “This is a dramatic new expansion of the electoral sheriff and DA work, which I think is very exciting.”
The hire was first reported by The Appeal.
Cuomo vs. WFP
Cabán’s post-campaign gig comes as Working Families faces an existential threat in its home state, where allies of Gov. Andrew Cuomo are floating changes to election law that could deny the party its longtime spot on the ballot.
The WFP focused on labor issues in previous years, reflecting large financial contributions from the state’s largest labor unions.
Signature campaigns have pushed for increases in the minimum wage and paid family leave.
But some of the party’s biggest union backers dropped out after Cuomo drove a wedge into its membership during his 2014 campaign.
Since then, WFP has logged some of its greatest successes on the criminal justice reform front.
In 2017, it helped elect Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who ran on a platform of reducing mass incarceration. After coming within striking distance in the Queens DA race, the party is looking to replicate the momentum its gained with Cabán as the face of the movement.
Her full-time role runs through the end of February 2020, with the potential for an extension, Duffey added.
Cabán, who began her new position earlier this week, said she hopes to “help create an infrastructure and sustainable model so that the WFP can continue to do the work of electing decarceral prosecutors long term.”
Returning the Favor
Back in January, Cabán was one of the last candidates to enter the Democratic primary race to become the party’s nominee for Queens DA. Then a newcomer to politics, she struggled to raise more than $1,000 at the campaign’s start.
In the first few months, she cycled through numerous campaign managers and former staffers told THE CITY that the campaign was severely mismanaged — from paychecks that arrived months late, to few and misguided efforts dedicated to fundraising.
In the last stretch before the June 25 primary, the Working Families Party came to Cabán’s aid.
Following the party’s April endorsement, WFP lent substantial support by bankrolling a new campaign manager and communications director, and turbocharging Cabán’s previously sluggish fundraising efforts.
The party allocated at least $266,000 on Cabán’s campaign, according to THE CITY’s review of financial disclosures.
She also gained endorsements from presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — and scored the key backing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who upended the Queens Democratic Party in 2018 and quickly became a national figure.
Party Under Threat in New York
Cabán’s new role with the Working Families Party comes as the group is under threat of extinction by Cuomo — despite helping secure a solidly Democratic State Senate for the first time in decades and shepherding the passage of long-stalled legislation.
The animus between the governor and the New York branch of the WFP stems back to 2014, when Cuomo capitulated to the party’s legislative demands for its endorsement in his race against Zephyr Teachout.
In 2018, the WFP declined to endorse Cuomo’s reelection bid in 2018, overwhelmingly opting to back former “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon. Cuomo said he didn’t want the endorsement anyway.
The governor has been publicly dismissive of talk he’s pushing to end fusion voting, which allows candidates to run on multiple party lines. But Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the state Democratic party and a close Cuomo political ally, is advancing a proposal that would effectively quash third parties, like the WFP.
Jacobs hopes to quintuple the 50,000 votes a party currently needs to get a spot on the ballot in the next election, The New York Times reported.
What’s Next for Cabán?
Weeks after she lost the Democratic primary to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz in a protracted recount, Cabán told THE CITY that she wanted to build on the momentum of her campaign. She added she was contemplating short-term work that would give her the time and flexibility to decide on what was next.
Cabán registered a new campaign committee in mid-September with the state’s Board of Elections, although her filing didn’t state what office or seat she was eyeing.
Political consultants said they weren’t surprised by her new role with the WFP, which seemingly leaves the door open for her to seek another elected position in the future.
“It makes total sense,” one Democratic strategist said.
In her WFP gig, Cabán will help “identify places where we could have the biggest impact,” said Duffey — a role that could further boost her name recognition and profile.
Strategist Mia Pearlman said she thought Cabán’s new position was a “good move for the WFP.”
“I think that Cabán’s national profile makes her the perfect face for this effort, which I hope will last beyond 2020,” she added.
Manhattan Could be Calling Cabán
Cabán’s first foray into district attorney races may be just across the East River, where Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance hasn’t yet said he will seek re-election.
The primary for that race isn’t until 2021, but the contest is already heating up — and two top early candidates are eager to align themselves with Cabán and the WFP.
DA hopeful Alvin Bragg, former chief deputy state attorney general, said he is looking “forward to working with Tiffany and the WFP to deliver one standard of justice for all the people who call Manhattan home.”
Assemblymember Dan Quart, also vying for the office, noted his close relationship with the WFP “over the course of many years,” including its endorsement when he first ran for the legislature in 2011.
He has met with Cabán, he said, to discuss the race and “what type of campaign I would be running.”
This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.