Saturday, June 22, 2019

School Scope: The Queens DA Race - The Battle of the Political Machines in the Democratic Party -

 Does the Queens District Attorney race come down to Katz vs. Caban?

Published in The WAVE print and e-editions, June 21, 2019

School Scope:  The Battle of the Political Machines in the Democratic Party
By Norm Scott

Does the Queens District Attorney race come down to Katz vs. Caban?

The Queens DA race has national implications as it pits candidates with a range of political and philosophical positions on the criminal justice system. Seven – count ‘em – seven – candidates are running, some professional politicians, others new to the political scene.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) shocked the world when she beat the Democratic machine and Joe Crowley for Congress in a Queens/Bronx district in 2018. She was backed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) which put troops on the ground for AOC, in essence building its own more fluid machine for races they focus on, which makes them more nimble (and much younger) than the traditional party machinery. We will see local and national races  pitting the two forces against each other, a fascinating development.

A similar battle is taking place in the Queens DA race which has some relevance to the national internal battle among Democrats between the progressive/reform and the machine wings. Many progressive District Attorneys have been elected around the nation, promising major reforms, so DA has become a sort of glamor job for change.

The favorite is machine-backed Melinda Katz. The Democratic party machine has the ground troops. I knew that when I saw Lew Simon getting signatures for Katz. She is a permanent politician  with six years in the Assembly, eight on the City Council and the last six as Queens Borough President. There’s good, bad and ugly in that, as I generally do not trust the machine. Katz has a lot of experience as a politician and The WAVE gave her an A for her policies, along with three others. I wrote last week that experience does count in every endeavor  and politician is no different. Katz knows how to work the political ropes. What will be telling is how well, if she wins, she works the line between law and community, a necessary function of the job of a DA today. Katz has received over a $1 million in contributions, a quarter of a million from real estate developers and related interests, a red flag for me.

But not a red flag for my union, the UFT, which took out a full page ad for her in the WAVE last week. The UFT, which also endorsed Crowley, mostly takes the center position, when possible. And in the presidential race it will do what it can to tack away from the left and into the center. So don’t look for any love for Bernie or Warren. The UFT will try to sell the idea that the left can’t win, but the fundamentals are that the UFT, since its founding, has been centrist in the Democratic Party.  (The UFT and its own machine, Unity Caucus, took over the AFT in 1974 and created a state affiliate, NYSUT in 1975 and all three organizations have played a major part in centrist Democratic Party politics since then at the city, state and national levels.)

AOC proved that political newcomers can have a major impact and Katz’ major competitor, Tiffany Caban (excuse the lack of hyphen over the second a – I can’t figure how to do that),  represents the alternative inside the Democratic Party. The WAVE rated her a C for not focusing enough on law and order but on reforming the criminal justice system – I think we need to dig deeper on these issues.

Caban is backed by DSA and progressive all over Queens and is the only candidate AOC has endorsed. When I attended the Bernie Sanders rally at Brooklyn College there were loads of DSAers getting Tiffany’s petitions signed. And as a member of DSA I regularly get notices about supporting her, not just with money but with active canvassing. It takes troops to get on the ballot and loads more to run a serious race. The progressive monthly, The Indypendent, which I have been dropping off at Rockaway libraries, has devoted a lot of space to Caban with her story being featured on the front page. Caban has raised a quarter of Katz’ total from at last count 2,545 people with an average of $84 per donation, but for a newbie, significant.

Caban’s positions have forced Katz to tack left on certain positions like cash bail and on the opening of borough jails (which she initially supported). The threat to Katz is if the other candidates take votes away from her and Caban captures the bulk of progressives. It probably won’t surprise readers of this column that I’m urging people to vote for Caban.

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