I live in Queens, so I was paying close attention to last night’s Democratic primary (the only election that matters) for that borough’s district-attorney election, which leftist candidate Tiffany Cabán won by a razor-thin margin at about 10 percent turnout. The result continues the hot streak for left-wing outsiders in New York elections, and the race was pegged as “nationally significant” even before the tally came in. In recent weeks, Cabán earned endorsements not just from the Democratic Socialists of America and Bernie Sanders but also from Elizabeth Warren and the New York Times. Is her victory simply a sign that the DSA has upended the New York establishment and built a political apparatus that can succeed in low-turnout elections? Or could it mean the country will soon see a lot more candidates of Cabán’s persuasion holding local, state, and national offices?
I don’t have any definitive answers, but there’s reason to be skeptical about that latter possibility. As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias points out, Cabán’s support appears to be concentrated largely in whiter, gentrifying neighborhoods, while Katz’s base comprises largely black neighborhoods and older white neighborhoods:
The basic demographic pattern is familiar at this point, but it’s striking in light of how central racial justice rhetoric is to Cabán’s campaign.
They’re chanting “Black Lives Matter” at HQ but losing the black neighborhoods. https://t.co/O475hnUPFB
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) June 26, 2019
So while Katz led in Queens Village, Jamaica, and Whitestone, Cabán overperformed in hipper Astoria, Sunnyside, and Long Island City (where, if you’re commuting to Manhattan, you’ll want to live). That roughly resembles the coalitions cobbled together last year by leftists Julia Salazar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Which means the story emerging in these races may not be about a multicultural, multigenerational working-class coalition electing socialist candidates, as some would have it, but about those candidates winning on the back of enthusiastic support from left-liberal gentrifiers. It’s clear the DSA has built a machine that can turn that enthusiasm into political success in citywide elections, even for candidates who want to decriminalize sex work (like Cabán) or who fabricated their personal history (like Salazar). It’s not clear that that will scale up — or how much working-class voters in the rest of the country will be inspired by my fellow gentrifiers’ political inclinations.
Update: The election has moved to a recount.