Rod Townsend Exits Queens City Council Race, Endorses Tiffany Cabán

Townsend and Caban
Former Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City president Rod Townsend stands with his former opponent, Tiffany Cabán, in front of a mural paying tribute to the late Marsha P. Johnson.
Rod Townsend

Former Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City president Rod Townsend is ending his campaign for City Council in Queens and endorsing another out LGBTQ candidate in the race, Tiffany Cabán.

In a letter to his supporters, Townsend, who works as a production manager in the home furnishing business, explained that it would have been too difficult for him to juggle his full-time job with the rigors of a contentious campaign for City Council.

“This decision wasn’t easy,” Townsend wrote in the September 30 letter, which was shared exclusively with Gay City News. “As a working class gay guy, I know that my voice is unique in the New York City political world. Like so many, I navigate the burdens and the joys that come with being an everyday New Yorker and want to make New York City live up to the promise that brought me here almost 30 years ago. At the end of the day, the path to a victory in a highly competitive race would require quitting my job and somehow still paying my bills.”

He added, “Like most working class New Yorkers, I don’t have the money in the bank to live without income for a prolonged time.”

Townsend, who serves as co-chair of the Community and Economic Development Committee on Astoria’s Community Board 1, entered the race to replace term-limited Councilmember Costa Constantinides in late February — just days after he concluded his tenure as president of Stonewall. Townsend told Gay City News at the time that he made the decision to run after community members encouraged him to jump in the race. He vowed to focus on addressing issues surrounding infrastructure and housing affordability, while also committing to uplift small businesses and continue advocating for queer causes.

Specifically, he underscored the importance of continuing to push for the repeal of the state loitering law known as “Walking While Trans” due to the way in which that measure has been used to target transgender women, particularly transgender women of color.

When Townsend entered the race for District 22, which encompasses Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside, it was unclear when the seat would open up because Constantinides was running to be the next borough president of Queens. Queens Councilmember Donovan Richards eventually won the Democratic primary in that race, meaning there would be no special election for the City Council seat and candidates vying for the Democratic nomination would have to wait until June of next year to compete in the primary election.

Rod Townsend during his stint as president of Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City.Donna Aceto

The path to victory became even more challenging for Townsend in September when Cabán — whose insurgent campaign for Queens district attorney drew national attention last year — made a splash by announcing her candidacy for the same seat, immediately making her a top contender with nine months remaining until the June election.

“As for what is next for City Council District 22, I think it’s Tiffany Cabán,” Townsend said in his email to supporters. “We share a moral compass that leads us to fight for our whole community, not just a selected few. We both recognize that our city needs to tear down systems that don’t work and rebuild them so they work for everyone. And while we don’t agree on everything, we share an open ear to other points of view and an integrity to be honest with all.”

Cabán welcomed Townsend’s endorsement, saying she is “so excited to have the support of Rod Townsend, a leader for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers and working class communities in Queens.”

“Rod is a visible, tireless leader and active member of our community,” Cabán added. “I intend to be a representative for every single person in every single corner of our district here in Queens, and I am proud to have Rod joining our movement to bring radical change to this city.”

Cabán is aiming to represent her district at a time when there is increased focus on ensuring queer political representation in 2021. While all five LGBTQ city councilmembers will be leaving office due to term limits, the election year also represents a prime opportunity to expand racial and gender diversity in the LGBT caucus, which currently consists entirely of men.

Cabán, a queer Latinx public defender, fell just 60 votes short of then-Queens Borough President Melinda Katz in her bid to secure the Democratic nomination for Queens DA last year. Nonetheless, she rattled the Democratic establishment during that campaign with a progressive platform that reshaped the way many individuals perceived the role of a DA: She called for the decriminalization of poverty, brought attention to the war on drugs, and bolstered the movement to decriminalize sex work by pledging to avoid prosecuting sex workers, clients, and those who facilitate the sex trade.

Tiffany Cabán announced her campaign for City Council last month.Reuters/ Jeenah Moon

Cabán easily won her own City Council district in the race for Queens DA and she drew robust support from the local queer community, which showed out in full force for her at Queens Pride in the weeks before she narrowly lost the Democratic primary election.

Along the way, Cabán gained the endorsements of top national congressional leaders like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx and Queens, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Following that election, Cabán took a new role as national political organizer for the Working Families Party, which has since endorsed her bid for City Council.

Cabán is again bringing forth a similar platform to her campaign for City Council. She is focused on eradicating the carceral system, introducing a Green New Deal to New York City, and establishing a care economy, among other policies. She is emphasizing her desire to see the city divest from police resources and instead invest in holistic policies geared toward public health initiatives.

The former DA hopeful has already accumulated a series of critical endorsements early in her campaign for city office: Prior to receiving Townsend’s support, Cabán landed the backing of current elected officials like out gay City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens as well as Queens State Senators Jessica Ramos and Mike Gianaris. 

Cabán has also received the support of a labor coalition called Road to Justice NYC, which features Make the Road Action, 1199SEIU, and Community Voices Heard.

Others who have filed to run in District 22 include Jaime-Faye Bean, Leonardo Bullaro, Jesse A. Cerrotti, Edwin DeJesus, Evie Hantzopoulos, Felicia Kalan, and Nicholas Roloson, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

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