“It gives me comfort”: Real estate reacts to Katz’s “miraculous” Queens DA victory

The Cabán campaign was dealt a major blow on Tuesday when a judge declined to open affidavit ballots
By Georgia Kromrei and Eddie Small | August 07, 2019 03:15PM

Melinda Katz and Tiffany Cabán (Credit: Getty Images)

Melinda Katz and Tiffany Cabán (Credit: Getty Images)

Real estate is breathing a sigh of relief. After a lengthy manual recount and fending off affidavit ballot challenges, Melinda Katz eked out a victory by a razor-thin margin in the Queens District Attorney primary race over Tiffany Cabán. The race was seen as a microcosm of a larger clash between far-left socialists and a more moderate establishment seen as favorable to business interests such as the real estate industry.

“As a former DNC operative and a moderate Democrat from upstate New York, I like to see people who are moderate in nature winning elections, in particular in Queens where things have gone hard left as of late,” said Sam NeJame, the chair of Greenberg Traurig’s state government practice in Albany. “This gives me a little bit of comfort that moderate common sense still exists downstate.”

Katz is a former partner at Greenberg Traurig, a white-shoe law firm with close ties to the real estate industry. Although their tenure did not overlap at the firm, NeJame said he often hears that it’s her shoes he has to fill.

The Queens DA office has little formally to do with the real estate industry, but the race was watched closely by the industry and even prompted the Corcoran Group’s CEO Pam Liebman to email her employees, warning of the impact that Cabán would have on their business.

“There was the perception, having nothing to do with the particular office, that had the insurgent won, it would have not only emboldened the left, but it also would have said to more mainstream incumbents that they had to watch their back,” Cozen O’Connor’s Ken Fisher said.

Cabán, who was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortéz, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, shocked many when she appeared to emerge victorious at the end of June. The 32-year old public defender and political outsider campaigned on a radical platform of decriminalizing sex work, ending cash-bail and closing Rikers. She proudly said she would “prosecute bad landlords.”

But Cabán’s apparent victory was short-lived. After Katz pulled ahead with absentee ballots, a manual recount was triggered. The recount stretched on for weeks, with Katz declaring victory on July 25 after the Board of Elections certified her 60-vote lead. That margin didn’t move much, even after Cabán’s legal team challenged dozens of affidavit ballots.

While volunteer socialists inspired by a radical candidate canvassed Queens, the Katz campaign hired political consultancy Red Horse and was supported by all of the major labor unions.

According to Red Horse’s Matthew Rey, a Katz campaign advisor, Katz’ victory is a result of a coalition that included support from Chinese, Korean, Orthodox Jewish and African American voters from across the borough, particularly in Southeast Queens.

“The way that the result is seen is in the fact that she was able to gain 1,200 votes with the paper ballot recount. That was all field work that went into locking down votes for Melinda in the process of getting absentee ballots,” Rey said.

In the final days of the campaign, the real estate industry solidified their support for Katz, who pulled in sizable donations from prominent Real Estate Board of New York members, including $10,000 from Gary Barnett; $7,500 from both Stephen Ross and his wife Kara; $10,000 from A&E Real Estate through two different LLCs; and $5,000 from Blackstone Group. REBNY contributed $28,500 directly to the Katz campaign.

“I was obviously excited about it, excited that Katz at the end is the winner,” said Modern Spaces CEO Eric Benaim. “I think Tiffany Cabán made her victory speech way too soon, and I think the county of Queens will be safe with Katz at the helm.”