This story has been updated to incorporate the Katz Campaign accusation that the ad may constitute illegal coordination between the Cabán Campaign and Better Attorneys for New York.
In the race for the Queens prosecutor, Tiffany Cabán receives a lot of outside support. She got approval this week from two main presidential candidates, the Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Major out-of-state donors come to its aid, with its three largest individual funders being from Massachusetts or California. And now a group of Brooklyn progressives have launched an independent $ 35,000 spending committee to lead a pro-Cabán TV advertising the weekend before the June 25 elections.
The Better Attorneys for New York group registered with the state electoral board on Monday and airs a 30-second television commercial on more than a dozen cable channels in Queens over the weekend. The announcement will also air during the evening broadcast of a New York Mets baseball game on Monday, the day before the Democratic primary.
The ad targets Melinda Katz, the Borough President of Queens and seen as the favorite in the race. In it, two women, who describe themselves as “mothers of the queen” are seated in a living room. One of them asks the camera why Katz is posing as a district attorney when “she has no criminal justice experience.”
“Republicans and real estate interests are paying for his campaign,” the woman continues. “Can we even trust him to pursue them?” the other responds. “We vote for Tiffany Cabán,” said the first.
At the end, there is a simple title card: “This Tuesday Vote Someone Else For The Queens District Attorney”.
The committee and the announcement are the brainchild of Nick Rizzo, a Democratic district leader in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and a fixture in progressive New York politics, and Jeremy Friedman, another community and progressive organizer from Brooklyn.
Rizzo told City & State that he and the two women who appear in the ad are members of the Democratic Socialists of America, a group that has supported Cabán. But Better Attorneys for New York is not affiliated with the DSA and, as an independent spending committee, is not legally allowed to coordinate with the Cabán campaign.
Grant Fox, a spokesperson for Katz, accused the coordinating committee with the Cabán campaign. “Tiffany just needs to tell the truth. If she expects voters to believe that she is not breaking the law, she needs to explain how three of her agents, all alone, suddenly found $ 35,000, hired a shady consulting firm linked to her supporters and did a TV commercial that was fully aligned with the needs of her campaign without it being coordinating, ”Fox said in an emailed statement to City & State.
Fox clarified that the consulting firm he was referring to was Politech, which Better Attorneys for New York paid $ 19,000 on Thursday.
One of the mothers featured in the ad is Miriam Bensman, a major volunteer for Cabán who, according to the Daily News, participated in text conversations with the candidate herself. The other is Susan Kang, a DSA member who was already quoted in the media as a supporter of Cabán.
State law strictly limits the interaction between campaigns and independent spending committees, and Jerry Goldfeder, an election lawyer who previously worked for Lancman, told City & State that the ad could violate the law. “It appears that those intimately involved in the campaign are also intimately involved in so-called independent spending,” he said. “It’s a real problem.”
Likewise, State Electoral Council spokesman John Conklin said the announcement provided “a strong argument for coordination that would form the basis of a complaint to the Division of application of the electoral law “.
But Alex Camarda, senior policy adviser to good government group Reinvent Albany was not so sure, telling City & State that volunteers working for a campaign and participating in the ad would not be an illegal coordination per se. Camarda believed that it would only be illegal if there was direct planning of the ad by the campaign, or if volunteers relayed the information between the two entities.
Rizzo has denied any wrongdoing, saying no one in the Cabán campaign was aware of the announcement. “I absolutely deny coordination, and we’ve been very careful about it. The Katz campaign is desperate to cast slander, he said, “because it’s good publicity.”
The committee has reported only one donation to date, a contribution of $ 35,000 from Michael Hoffman, a software engineer from Park Slope, Brooklyn.
The announcement is just one of the ways Cabán and his supporters hope to keep their momentum going over the final weekend before the election. Cabán spokeswoman Monica Klein told City & State that the campaign had its own TV commercials that would start airing on Friday morning. And Cabán will hold a rally in Jackson Heights on Sunday with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will likely draw the crowds.
Katz, in particular, seems to be taking note. She made a lot of money last week, securing 14 donations of over $ 1,000 each between June 13 and June 18 alone. These contributions, including $ 36,000 from the United Teachers’ Federation, grossed her over $ 100,000 in total over the recent six-day period and cemented her as the candidate with the most money to spend.
But Katz’s biggest help may have come from another candidate, New York City Councilor Rory Lancman, who is expected to drop out of the race and approve Katz on Friday. This news was first reported by the Queens daily eagle on Thursday evening, although Katz refused to confirm it when asked at a York College Applicant Forum hosted by City & State and Fwd.us.
Lancman entered the race in 2018 in hopes of being the most progressive choice of voters in Queens. But he was quickly eclipsed by first-time nominee Cabán, who won the lion’s share of backing and backing from the progressive movement in Queens and, increasingly, across the country. Lancman’s name will still appear on the ballot, but his expected approval of Katz would signal his supporters to vote for Katz instead. Of course, his strategy can already backfire. One of Lancman’s most prominent supporters, Queens State Senator James Sanders, broke with Lancman and backed Cabán on Thursday night instead.
Correction: This article incorrectly stated that the best attorneys for the treasurer of New York John Bartos was involved in Politech. He is not. City & State regrets the error.