In recent years, the national conversation around criminal justice has shifted from the hard-nosed approach of the 1990s to avoiding wrongful convictions and creating alternatives to prosecution.
In Boston and Philadelphia, voters sided with reform-minded candidates who promised to discontinue policies that focused on minor offenses as a way to combat major crime, which, critics say, led to the prosecution and incarceration of a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic men.
Even as violent crime dropped to historic lows not seen since the 1950s, the former district attorney, Richard A. Brown had continued to prosecute minor crimes like marijuana offenses and fare evasion. This was happening at the same time as Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx was limiting prosecution of those crimes. Mr. Brown had also declined to create a conviction review unit.
The primary still showed how Democratic voters in Queens were willing to entertain major change to the borough’s criminal justice system. All six candidates in Tuesday’s primary had backed proposals to get rid of bail for low-level offenses, move away from prosecuting sex workers and form a conviction-integrity unit.
“It feels like we have already won because we have shifted the debate on not prosecuting a whole list of minor offenses and ending cash bail,” said Bill Lipton, the New York director of the Working Families Party, which helped stabilize Ms. Cabán’s campaign after a rocky launch. “We are in this thing to win it. But either way, Queens will never be the same when it comes to criminal justice.”
Greg Lasak, a former judge who worked as a senior prosecutor in the borough, placed third, with 14.5 percent of the vote. Mr. Lasak stuck most closely to the formula of Mr. Brown, the prosecutor who held the office for 27 years until his death last month, saying his experience gave him the best shot of keeping residents safe while instituting some common-sense changes.
The other candidates in the primary were Mina Malik, a former prosecutor in Queens and Brooklyn and a deputy attorney general in Washington D.C.; Betty Lugo, a former prosecutor in Nassau County now in private practice; and Jose Nieves, who worked in the New York attorney general’s office as a deputy chief in the special investigations and prosecutions unit.