Like it or not, the endorsement of the New York Times is a big deal for politics in general, and New York City in particular. And the Times gave its endorsement for District Attorney of Queens County.
The choice is difficult. The field of candidates is big but disappointing. Tiffany Cabán, a 31-year-old public defender, is the best pick.
Ms. Cabán does not have the managerial experience of Melinda Katz, the Queens borough president, or the prosecutorial experience of Greg Lasak, a retired judge and former longtime assistant Queens district attorney. But Ms. Katz has no experience as a prosecutor nor long commitment to criminal justice reform, and despite Mr. Lasak’s tenure, he would not seem to be someone to bring change to an office where he served for years.
What does Cabán bring to the race?
Unlike those two candidates, Ms. Cabán would come into office unencumbered by ties to the borough power structure and free to pursue her commitment to serve the community by doing more than just winning convictions. Her seven years as a public defender have given her insight into how the system works, and how it ought to be changed.
She has no prosecutorial experience. She’s never managed staff, no less an office. But there’s more:
Ms. Cabán identifies as a queer Latina.* She is of Puerto Rican descent and is the first in her family to graduate from college. She would bring a perspective suited to one of the world’s most diverse communities, one where elected officials have rarely reflected that reality.
She’s a graduate of New York Law School, admitted to practice in 2013 and a staff attorney at New York County Defender Services, formerly with the Legal Aid Society. She’s earnest and passionate, and presumably an excellent lawyer. Yet, the Queens County Bar Association found her, and her alone, unqualified for the position.
Maybe the QCBA hates this progressive upstart, who hasn’t paid her dues to the lawyers who run the joint, and they spanked her with this rating. Maybe her lack of experience, either in prosecution or management, is exactly what Queens County needs if it’s to have “transformational change.” Maybe she’s the candidate who can undo the damage “Get Down” Brown did in skirting the constitutional rights of defendants for decades to achieve convictions.
Maybe not. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will become the next District Attorney of Queens, because this is New York and that’s how things work. And the Times endorsement certainly takes a person who demonstrates none of the ordinary qualifications for the office of prosecutor and elevates her over others who appear well qualified. Maybe she is.
But what’s singularly bizarre about this endorsement isn’t what’s said, but what’s not. Where is Rory Lancman? There is no mention, none, of his name in the endorsement. It’s as if he doesn’t exist. He’s a New York City councilman, a steadfast progressive and a candidate for Queens DA. He’s worked hard to establish his progressive bona fides, whether that’s your thing or not. And yet his name appears nowhere in the Times endorsement and review of Cabán’s competition.
This isn’t to endorse Lancman’s candidacy, or to challenge Cabán’s. This is to question what’s going on at the Times. Its endorsement of a candidate who has none of the competencies usually expected of a District Attorney is surprising, but not too much given the political climate and tendency to substitute passion for ability. Most lawyers would have reservations about letting a sixth-year lawyer try a case alone, no less become District Attorney, but that may just be old-man bias.
But the omission of Rory Lancman can’t be so easily ignored. He’s clearly not “awful,” in the sense that the Times felt compelled to “cancel” his existence by never uttering his name. He’s done his time in the city council, championed progressive causes with perhaps more zeal than one would prefer and earned the right to at least a passing mention by the New York Times.
What did Lancman do to deserve to be erased by the Times? Inquiring minds want to know.
*When questioned as to the propriety of raising her “identification,” as if voting for a “queer Latina” made any more sense than refusing to vote for a “queer Latina,” the response was that people could presume her racial and sexual orientation identities to reflect her ideology.
While this simplistic assumption was proven fallacious by the election of Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, the return to race, gender and other characteristics as arguments to vote for, or against, a candidate rather than qualifications or positions bodes extremely poorly for the future. If it’s an acceptable argument that people should vote for the “queer Latina,” it’s acceptable to argue to vote against her, or to vote for the “straight white man,” or the Jewish guy named Lancman.