By Sheldon Ranz
For all of my adult life as a left political activist in New York City, I’ve had more than my share of high hopes – and shattered dreams. As a leader of Jewish Americans for Jackson 1988, I felt the high hopes of the 1988 Jesse Jackson presidential campaign that catapulted David Dinkins to Gracie Mansion to become NYC’s first African American mayor in 1989, only to have him serve one mediocre term and be succeeded by the horrific Rudy Giuliani; I felt the high hopes of a 1997 mayoral run by democratic socialist Ruth Messinger, a campaign betrayed by corrupt, sexist union bosses who succeeded in getting Giuliani re-elected. What preserved my sanity was getting married and raising a family in the ‘burbs. You could say I took a time-out. As my children blossomed into adulthood, I started to notice that Manhattan was still floating on the Hudson. So, I gradually began to renew my previously-abandoned pursuits.
As with all things on the Left lately, that renewal really took off with Bernie Sanders and his 2016 run for the White House. No longer did we socialists have to hide our political identity behind euphemisms like ‘economic democracy’. Bernie made it OK to be out as socialists and this part of the Cold War was now over. Then came the twin bombshells of the 2018 New York midterm elections: AOC upsetting Joe Crowley for Congress and Julia Salazar upsetting Martin Dilan for the North Brooklyn State Senate. Progressive laws have been enacted that we on the Left used to only dream about. But those changes have emanated from the federal and state levels of government. What about from the municipal level?
This June 22 offers the best chance the Big Apple has this year to serve as the site for a comparable city-wide transformation . Due to term limits and the official debut of city-wide ranked-choice voting, seats on the New York City Council are up for grabs like never before. A slew of progressives and open socialists are running, but the most impressive candidate is Tiffany Cabán.
Cabán, an openly queer Latinx woman, first drew national attention in 2019 when she nearly upset the Democratic Establishment’s pick for Queens District Attorney, Melinda Katz, finishing just 55 votes short after a recount. By trade, she is a public defender. She was part of a wave of reform-minded DA candidates that have won in Philadelphia and San Francisco; her outspoken stances on carceral reform, support for marijuana legalization and sex work decriminalization earned her the endorsement of both Berne Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Rumors put her on the short list for US Attorney General in a Sanders administration.
Instead of letting her close loss in 2019 get her down, she picked herself up and went to work as a national political organizer for the Working Families Party, making it a more effective asset of the Democratic Left. Last fall, she declared her candidacy for the City Council representing the 22nd Council district (Astoria, Queens). She is the only real progressive running for that seat. Her basic platform is the same – with a strong emphasis on defunding the police – and is needed more than ever. (cabanforqueens.com)
Of the current crop of City Council candidates overall, she is the one who best exudes leadership and a talent for coalition-building, on the one hand; and a fierce willingness to challenge the new mayor from the Council chamber, on the other hand. Of course, no one person, no matter how gifted, can do it all. It takes a movement, and few know that better than Tiffany Cabán.
Sheldon Ranz is the editor of Socialist Currents and SD USA’s Director of Special Projects.