What’s in a Times endorsement?

Tiffany Cabán speaks during a Queens District Attorney candidates forum at St. John's University.
Tiffany Cabán speaks during a Queens District Attorney candidates forum at St. John's University.
Mary Altaffer/AP/Shutterstock
Tiffany Cabán speaks during a Queens District Attorney candidates forum at St. John's University.

What’s in a Times endorsement?

The New York Times editorial board endorsed insurgent newcomer Tiffany Cabán for Queens DA. But what does their stamp of approval really do for a candidate?
June 20, 2019

In the most competitive, and widely publicized, district attorney race in recent memory, career public defender and progressive insurgent Tiffany Cabán is racking up endorsements for Queens district attorney from fellow newcomer U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and out-of-state presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But while Cabán’s camp is no doubt celebrating the votes of confidence from Warren and Sanders, the endorsement Cabán picked up this week from the Gray Lady might mean more.

The New York Times editorial board endorsed Cabán on Tuesday, a move at odds with some of the page’s past support for establishment and moderate candidates – though not out of step with its recent endorsements of progressives, including its pick of now-New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor last year. Unlike Warren, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, the Times endorsement has the benefit of being more surprising and building a bridge to older mainstream Democrats.

While a stamp of approval from the Times will likely legitimize a newcomer candidate in the eyes of some of the paper’s readers, it’s not a promise of victory, especially in Queens – an extremely diverse and largely blue-collar borough. Caban is already likely the favored candidate of Queens’ younger liberal white-collar contingent, especially after receiving the backing of prominent progressives. (Those younger yuppie voters are the ones who put Ocasio-Cortez in Congress.) Can the Times give her enough of a boost among the older affluent Democrats of neighborhoods like Forest Hills? “The beauty of the Times is the way its current editorial page is moving, it clearly has a strong cachet with the younger progressive voters,” said Democratic political consultant Bruce Gyory. “But there's this residual influence and respect it's held with the older, more traditional liberals.”

But the district attorney race also encompasses Queens’ ethnic enclaves, including Asian-American and Latino strongholds such as Flushing and Corona, respectively, African-American communities like South Jamaica and more politically conservative, middle-class white neighborhoods like Bayside and Middle Village. “The Queens vote is not as fertile turf for the Times endorsement having influence as, for example, Westchester or Nassau, Manhattan or Brooklyn, because of the demographic nature of the borough,” Gyory said. “The big question is, in this race, will (the endorsement) help connect Cabán to the African-American vote in Southeast Queens? That, in the past, has not been the Times' strong suit.”

In this race, an endorsement from the Times won’t propel a candidate to victory on its own. “If you've crafted a campaign to have some momentum and to have a big sail, you're cruising along, and the Times endorsement can put wind in your sail,” Gyory said. “It can't create the momentum all on its own, but it can put it forward.”

An endorsement from the Times can help with name recognition for a race where voters may not know much about the candidates, but they know the office is an important one – like district attorney. Still, those who actually read the Times’ endorsement of Cabán may not agree with the reasoning. “We know where the intelligentsia and the progressives are, and they want to have almost revolutionary change in the DA's office,” Gyory said, referencing Cabán’s focus on alternatives to incarceration. “Do those more traditional liberal or older liberal voters have a different approach on criminal justice than the Times is recommending?”

There are a few circumstances in which an endorsement from the Times has proven effective in the past, Gyory said. “In 2010, they were crucial to Eric Schneiderman winning that hotly contested, multi-candidate field for (attorney general),” he said. “More recently, they took Jumaane Williams, who was probably going to lose by somewhere between 15% and 20% to Kathy Hochul, and by legitimizing him amongst a lot of white progressive voters, helped Williams lose by only 7 points.” Though he lost that race, the initial endorsement helped Williams win the public advocate race by a landslide.

City & State reviewed the Times editorial board’s endorsements in the past three years and noted whether its chosen candidate prevailed. In conservative districts, unsurprisingly, the paper failed to sway voters to get behind their Democratic picks. And when the Times took a chance on a newcomer, like Marjorie Velazquez in the 13th New York City Council district, voters weren’t always ready to take the same chance:

2017:

Mayor of New York

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Bill de Blasio (incumbent)

Won: Bill de Blasio

Brooklyn District Attorney

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Eric Gonzalez

Won: Eric Gonzalez

New York City Council - Fourth District

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Keith Powers

Won: Keith Powers

New York City Council - Sixth District

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Helen Rosenthal (incumbent)

Won: Helen Rosenthal 

New York City Council - 13th District

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Marjorie Velázquez

Won: Mark Gjonaj

New York City Council - 21st District

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Francisco Moya

Won: Francisco Moya

New York City Council- 38th District

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Carlos Menchaca (incumbent)

Won: Carlos Menchaca

Mayor of New York

General election

Endorsed: Bill de Blasio (incumbent)

Won: Bill de Blasio

2018:

State Senate - 37th District

Special election

Endorsed: Shelley Mayer

Won: Shelley Mayer

U.S. House of Representatives - 14th District

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Adem Bunkeddeko

Won: Yvette Clarke (incumbent)

U.S. House of Representatives - 19th District

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Gareth Rhodes

Won: Antonio Delgado

New York Attorney General

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Zephyr Teachout

Won: Letitia James

State Senate - 20th District

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Zellnor Myrie

Won: Zellnor Myrie

State Senate - 13th District

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Jessica Ramos

Won: Jessica Ramos

State Senate - 34th District

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Alessandra Biaggi

Won: Alessandra Biaggi

Governor of New York

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Andrew Cuomo (incumbent)

Won: Andrew Cuomo

Lieutenant Governor of New York

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Jumaane Williams

Won: Kathy Hochul (incumbent)

State Senate - 17th District

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Blake Morris

Won: Simcha Felder (incumbent)

U.S. House of Representatives - First District

General election

Endorsed: Perry Gershon

Won: Lee Zeldin (incumbent)

U.S. House of Representatives - Second District

General election

Endorsed: Liuba Grechen Shirley

Won: Pete King (incumbent)

U.S. House of Representatives - 19th District

General election

Endorsed: Antonio Delgado

Won: Antonio Delgado

U.S. House of Representatives - 22nd District

General election

Endorsed: Anthony Brindisi

Won: Anthony Brindisi

State Senate - Fifth District

General election

Endorsed: James Gaughran

Won: James Gaughran

State Senate - Eighth District

General election

Endorsed: John Brooks (incumbent)

Won: John Brooks

State Senate - 22nd District

General election

Endorsed: Andrew Gounardes

Won: Andrew Gounardes

Governor of New York

General election

Endorsed: Andrew Cuomo (incumbent)

Won: Andrew Cuomo

New York Attorney General

General election

Endorsed: Letitia James

Won: Letitia James

2019:

New York City Public Advocate

Special election

Endorsed: Jumaane Williams

Won: Jumaane Williams

Queens District Attorney

Democratic primary

Endorsed: Tiffany Cabán

Won: TBD

Annie McDonough
Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.
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