Meet Tiffany Cabán, the Public Defender Who Wants to Shake up the System as Queens DA

Lead Photo: Photo courtesy of Tiffany Cabán
Photo courtesy of Tiffany Cabán
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For the first time in 28 years, Queens will have a new District Attorney, and Tiffany Cabán, 31, is just one of seven candidates who hopes to win the election. QNS reported earlier this year that the “race for Queens district attorney figures to be among most watched local storylines in 2019.”

As we inch closer to the primary race – taking place June 25, 2019 – the candidates are working to make a mark. Cabán has built a grassroots campaign and raised $256,000, which has mostly come from people outside of her borough. Though she hasn’t raised as much as some of her competitors (Gregory Lasak raised $445,000 and Mina Malik raised $397,000), she does have a lot of momentum. Recently, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed her.

“Our criminal justice system needs to change,” Ocasio-Cortez told The New York Times. “New Yorkers deserve a seat at the table, and a champion who will fight to realign our priorities toward equal treatment under the law. If Tiffany Cabán wins, things are going to change.”

People like Ingrid Gomez, the interim co-chair of Queens United Independent Progressive caucus, agree that Cabán feels like a different kind of candidate. Gomez said that others in the race are using “buzzwords” and espousing “progressive ideas,” but that when you really look at what they’re offering, it’s Tiffany who stands out.

“There are people who don’t have the courtroom experience, prosecutorial experience,” Gomez said, according to The Intercept. “And they are in this race because they’re getting term-limited. Or they want it to be the stepping stone to the next office. I want to see someone there who has the experience. I really think that we need to see the person’s experience before all else.”

Cabán believes the reason people are drawn to her campaign is because she’s seeking “transformative change” and not “incremental progress.” This means shaking up a system that has criminalized people of color and low-income communities.

“For decades, the Queens DA threw people of color in jail for minor crimes – while letting the corrupt Queens machine, wealthy real estate developers, and other predatory actors off easy,” she said. “I am an independent progressive fighting for justice, not jails. As a public defender, I have represented thousands of Black and brown New Yorkers trapped in our city’s racist criminal justice system  – and have seen, firsthand, how cops and courts unfairly punish working people and people of color. If elected on June 25, I will work to decriminalize poverty, end mass incarceration, and hold the corrupt Queens machine accountable. As District Attorney, I will fight for working families and people of color.”

Below, meet Cabán and learn more about her platform.


She's from Queens and worked as a public defender.

Cabán is a queer lawyer born in Richmond Hills, Queens to Puerto Rican parents. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in crime, law, and justice from Pennsylvania State University. She went on to earn a JD from New York Law School, which is where she became interested in criminal law and social justice. She worked at New York County Defender Services and Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice, helping vulnerable communities.

“I am a public defender,” her site reads. “I have spent my career working for people who did not have resources to defend themselves against the brutal system of mass incarceration. I am running to transform the Queens District Attorney’s office after years of witnessing its abuses on the front lines.”


Here's who she's up against.

The Queens district attorney race is crowded. Cabán is facing off against six other candidates, including Melida Katz, the borough’s president; Mina Malik, a former prosecutor, Jose Nieves, a vet who worked in the New York attorney general’s office; Betty Lugo, former assistant district attorney for Nassau County; Rory Lancman, a councilman from Queens; and Greg Lasak, a former judge.

The position was previously held by Richard A. Brown, who first became the DA in 1991. He died on May 4 from complications from Parkinson’s disease. Before he had announced that he would not seek re-election, several candidates had already announced their decision to run. Cabán is the youngest candidate in the race.


Progressives have endorsed her.

It’s not just AOC who has endorsed Tiffany. The candidate has received plenty of noteworthy endorsements this year, including from Working Families Party, Real Justice PAC, and Victory Fund.

Working Families Party’s executive director, Bill Lipton, said the group believes that Cabán will achieve real change. “As a public defender, a queer Latina, and a progressive champion, Tiffany Cabán is the leader we need as Queens District Attorney,” he said in a statement. “For too long, the criminal justice system in our city has held people of color to one standard – and wealthy, white New Yorkers to another. Cabán has charted a new path during her campaign, pledging to use the District Attorney’s office to fight for racial, social, and economic justice.”

Annise Parker, Victory Fund’s founder, said that Cabán will represent a larger number of people. “[Cabán] is a passionate advocate for fair and equitable criminal justice reform and understands that every decision made by a district attorney’s office impacts the lives of real people,” Parker said in a statement. “When she wins, Tiffany will become the first openly LGBTQ district attorney in New York City, and will help transform the lives of millions of Queens residents.”


She wants to decriminalize poverty.

If you’re poor and caught up with the law enforcement, the results can be incredibly harmful. It might mean that you cannot afford bail, so you languish in a jail cell. As part of her platform, Tiffany wants to make sure that poverty is not an extra barrier, and she plans to be as transparent as possible. “As DA, Tiffany will decline to prosecute crimes of poverty and instead go after wage theft and bad landlords,” her website reads.

She also wants to end civil asset forfeiture. “Prosecutors are incentivized to seize property, because that money goes to [their] budgets. District Attorney Cabán’s office will never receive financial benefit from a decision to prosecute; no DA Office should.”


She wants to end mass incarceration in Queens.

As DA, Tiffany vows to prosecute less. This means she won’t try cases that want to charge sex workers, recreational drug users, and others that have been affected by racist laws. She also doesn’t want to change the standard for misdemeanors from probable cause to beyond a reasonable doubt, because this end up affecting communities of color more harshly.

And she also aims to end cash bail. “Cash bail penalizes people before they are judged guilty and creates two systems of justice – one for the wealthy, one for the poor. As DA, Tiffany will pursue and invest resources in pretrial services that give people the tools they need to live and succeed.”


She wants to focus on community-oriented solutions.

Tiffany wants to help her community by being more involved. For her, this means having assistant DAs for each community, having an advisory board, and expanding survivor services unit.

“Law enforcement is supposed to protect people,” her site reads. “People should have oversight of how they are protected. District Attorney Cabán will provide data and information the community wants and needs.”