The pitched seven-week battle for the Democratic nomination for Queens district attorney finally ended on Tuesday, when Tiffany Cabán, whose bid galvanized progressive activists nationwide and exposed deep rifts within the left, conceded to Melinda Katz, the favorite of the state party’s establishment.
The result was a vindication for the Queens Democratic Party, which was left reeling last year after the defeat of former Representative Joseph Crowley by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Party leaders, as well as powerful figures such as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, threw their full weight behind Ms. Katz, the Queens borough president, as she fended off Ms. Cabán, a democratic socialist who drew comparisons to — and an endorsement from — Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.
But the race also reinforced the new vulnerability of New York’s traditional political forces. Ms. Cabán, a first-time candidate and former public defender who had pledged to decriminalize sex work and not to prosecute low-level crimes, lost by just 55 votes — an astonishing margin in a borough that for decades was known for tough-on-crime policies.
“We terrified the Democratic establishment,” Ms Cabán said at an event with supporters on Tuesday night. “You don’t have to work and build with an entrenched establishment to build a campaign that literally changes the course of history.”
Ms. Katz will face the Republican nominee in November and is expected to win easily.
Ms. Cabán’s concession capped a tumultuous, protracted battle over the results of the seven-way June 25 primary election. Ms. Cabán had declared victory on election night, citing a 1,100-vote lead over Ms. Katz, her nearest competitor. But on July 3, a tally of thousands of outstanding affidavit and absentee ballots put Ms. Katz ahead by 20 votes.
That reversal spawned immediate recriminations from Ms. Cabán’s supporters. Prominent progressive activists and some elected officials used Twitter to accuse the county party of leveraging voter suppression and even voter fraud to help Ms. Katz, though there was no evidence of illegal behavior. Ms. Katz’s supporters, in turn, called Ms. Cabán’s backers liars, interlopers and extremists.
The slim vote margin triggered an automatic manual recount by the New York City Board of Elections, the first boroughwide recount in recent history. For two weeks, elections officials pored over every single ballot at an office in a strip mall in Queens. By the end, Ms. Katz had widened her lead to 60 votes.
But still Ms. Cabán refused to concede, her campaign filing a lawsuit to challenge dozens of ballots that the Board of Elections had invalidated for technical reasons. She said the suit would ensure that every valid vote was counted.
On Tuesday, it became clear that her pathway to victory via the courts had all but vanished, too. A judge, John G. Ingram, refused to reinstate most of the contested ballots, effectively ending any hope that Ms. Cabán could erase Ms. Katz’s lead.
Ms. Cabán, speaking to her supporters on Tuesday, said the result should be an impetus for greater voting reform statewide.
“We also need to fix the serious flaws in our election system — flaws that the last six weeks have exposed,” she said.
From the beginning of the race, it was clear that it would be a referendum on the borough’s approach to criminal justice. The former district attorney, Richard A. Brown, who died earlier this year, resisted a shift toward more limited prosecution during his nearly three decades in office. Even as his counterparts in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx began moving away from pursuing low-level crimes, such as marijuana offenses or fare evasion, Mr. Brown persisted.
Both Ms. Cabán and Ms. Katz pledged to bring change, backing proposals to review convictions and get rid of bail for low-level offenses. Ms. Cabán, though, went much further, and her positions forced Ms. Katz to shift left.
In addition to showing how much attitudes toward criminal justice had shifted in Queens, the race also quickly emerged as a barometer of political change. Many political observers considered the district attorney contest to be a greater test of the progressive wing’s strength than Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in one congressional district, given the diversity and sheer size of the borough. Queens is home to more than 2 million people.
Ms. Cabán’s presentation of her campaign as the antithesis of machine politics attracted more than 1,000 volunteers, hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and the backing of two Democratic presidential candidates, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Ultimately, it was not enough. While Ms. Cabán dominated in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods of western Queens, Ms. Katz rode to victory on the strength of her support in the borough’s eastern parts, which trend more middle class and racially diverse.