There is much to learn from the Democratic Primary results of June 25. Before I address the district attorney’s results, there was a race for civil court judge that warrants discussion. I have been practicing law for over 30 years and I cannot recall another time when there was a primary contest for a judicial position. Queens County Democratic Committee (County) would select a judge at its convention and it was a fait accompli (done deal) that the person would become judge.
This time, not only was there a contested race, but County’s choice got trounced. I think it is good for the democratic process for there to be other candidates besides County’s choice. If the legislature has decided that judges should be elected by the voters instead of being appointed, then there should be a real choice.
County’s choice for district attorney was Borough President Melinda Katz, who also lost, but by a narrower margin than their choice for civil court judge. On paper, she had everything going for her. Melinda had name recognition, County support, and the most endorsements from influential unions, including the UFT.
With a special election, the key is getting the vote out. An enthused voter is more likely to go vote. Clearly the enthusiasm factor is with the progressives. On the other hand, County and the union’s strength is the ability to mobilize their members and make sure they go to the polls. This election showed that County and the unions are nothing but “paper tigers.” They could not get their people to the polls. I saw an example of it. On Election Day, right off Queens Boulevard there was a street full of cabs waiting to be called to take voters to the polls. It appeared that most of them were just hanging out.
Diversity has become the buzz word. Ms. Caban checked off many of the boxes for diversity. She is Hispanic and a member of the LBGTQ community. It also did not hurt with the progressive crowd that she works for Legal Aid, which represents defendants. Whether a legal aid attorney would be a good choice for being district attorney is an issue that should be addressed at another time.
It is estimated that as of July 1, 2017, there were 58.9 million Hispanic that comprise 18.1 of the United States population (Vintage 2017 Population Estimates). The Pew Research Center in a 2013 study estimated between 4.2 million and 6.7 million Jews in America. The difference depends on your definition of a Jew.
Although there are many more Hispanics in America than Jews, Hispanics – and not Jews – are considered a minority. Therefore, the borough president’s being Jewish does not fit within the idea of diversity. Diversity is the new-fangled version of what Jews have dealt with during our time in the Diaspora. When other groups feel that Jews are wielding too much power or want to gain power at our expense, they try to cut us down. There have been Jews throughout the ages who thought that if they align themselves with these groups it will save them. Unfortunately, experience has shown otherwise. Thus, Jews who align themselves with those who support diversity against other Jews in contested races will be disappointed in the ultimate outcome.
This is an issue that should concern us. If we do not have important elected officials from our community or others who are strong supporters of our community then we are at a disadvantage. We lost the Queens district attorney’s office. We must make sure that the Jewish community does not lose the next election for borough president. Melinda Katz is term limited in 2021.
The last three borough presidents were Claire Shulman who is Jewish, Helen Marshall who was not but had an affinity for our community, and Melinda Katz. We do not need for the next borough president to be Jewish. However, we need to make sure they are a friend of the Jewish community.
We must rally around one candidate and not rely on County or unions to push for that candidate. We see what happens when we rely on them.
Jews used to be one of the most politically active groups because we understood its importance. It is time to wake up. There were some rabbis and other local leaders who warned us what would happen if Caban won. Whether they may have overstated the case is not the issue, since even an understated case indicates that it was bad for our community. The turnout in our neighborhood may have been better than in some other areas such as in Bayside. That should not give us solace since there were other communities whose turnout greatly exceeded ours and were the force behind Ms. Caban’s victory.
The Jewish community has overcome anti-Semitism and our small percentage of the population by being politically active and voting in high percentages. If we continue our recent apathy and complacency and not show up in droves to vote and otherwise be politically active, we have no one else to blame but ourselves.