Democrats make up roughly 65 percent of the registered voters in the borough of Queens. According to our exclusive poll, many of them are fired up to vote this election cycle. Turnout is usually light in these September primaries. And with the primary held on a Thursday this year (because September 11 falls on the Tuesday that would normally be primary day), you’d expect even fewer people turning out at the polls — if we weren’t living in the time of Trump, when Democrats appear more energized than ever in recent memory.
While there are a few Republican primaries in the borough, the vast majority of voters next week will be casting ballots for a host of competitive races to be the Democratic nominee. Here’s a cheat sheet for you:
Governor’s Race: Andrew Cuomo vs. Cynthia Nixon
Incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo is seeking his third term in office, and as was the case four years ago, he is trying to fend off a challenge from his left. Actor and activist Cynthia Nixon has run a laser-focused campaign targeting Cuomo’s perceived weaknesses, hammering him on the corruption scandals surrounding his staff, the lack of education funding for New York City, and the decline of the subway system, which is managed by the state.
Cuomo’s strategy has been less about defending himself against attacks from Nixon and more about ignoring her attacks, touting his progressive accomplishments and focusing on standing up to President Donald Trump. Cuomo’s campaign has taken advantage of his huge fundraising edge by peppering the airwaves with ads touting his successes in challenging the Trump administration on women’s health and gun control, as well as his passage of several bills including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, paid family leave and tuition-free college education for working-class families.
Cuomo and Nixon squared off in one contentious hour-long television debate moderated by CBS2 and carried on partner channels throughout the state. The debate was marked by the two calling each other a liar. When pressed on policy differences by Nixon, Cuomo often pivoted to explaining how he generally agreed with her ideas, but experience has shown him that they are not easy to implement.
The majority of elected officials have endorsed Andrew Cuomo in the race, including several prominent party figures from outside the state like former Vice President Joe Biden, who cut a television ad for Cuomo. Nixon has been bolstered by progressive groups including the Working Families Party, which has already tapped her to be its candidate on the November ballot.
Polling on the race has been limited, with the most respected poll coming from Siena College Research Institute. That poll gives Cuomo a 31-point lead over Nixon among likely Democratic voters across the state — 60 percent to 29 percent. The poll was conducted at the end of July, and likely there will be a follow-up poll ahead of the Sept. 13 primary.
Our exclusive Queens Tribune poll has Cuomo leading Nixon in the borough 60 percent to 15 percent, with 25 percent of likely Democratic voters in Queens undecided.
Lieutenant Governor’s Race: Williams Challenges Hochul
Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) is hoping to unseat Acting Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary.
Hochul, who was previously a member of Congress from Upstate New York, became Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s running mate in 2014 after Robert Duffy did not seek a second term for the office as Cuomo ran for his second term.
Hochul has touted her record with Cuomo, citing a law to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in many parts of the state as well as job creation and a paid–family-leave law. She has identified economic initiatives and higher wages as campaign priorities.
Williams — who has represented Brooklyn on the City Council since 2010 — is challenging Hochul from the left. His platform includes making healthcare more accessible, protecting women’s rights, providing more affordable housing, improving the state’s education system and strengthening labor organizations.
Much like actress Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo from the left in the gubernatorial race, Williams has positioned himself as a progressive alternative. However, Hochul has criticized Williams for his stances on abortion and same-sex marriage. Williams has said that while he is personally opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, he supports the legal right to both.
Williams has stated that he believes the lieutenant governor must stand up to the governor, but Hochul has argued that the role must also include working with the governor to get things done.
Hochul has been endorsed by the governor, the state Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood and a number of labor unions. Williams has drawn the support of Nixon, the Working Families Party and the New York Progressive Action Network.
The governor and lieutenant governor are nominated separately during party primaries, but run on the same ticket during the November general election.
Attorney General’s Race: Four-way Battle
The resignation of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in May, following allegations that he physically abused girlfriends, set up a competitive battle to replace him among Democrats. Even before the primary election shaped up, there was behind-the-scenes political maneuvering that ended with state lawmakers agreeing to keep interim Attorney General Barbara Underwood in the seat until the end of the year, in part because Underwood was not going to run in the election. By elevating Underwood, none of the four candidates for the office was able to get the advantage of incumbency.
The candidates on the ballot next Thursday are New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Fordham professor and 2014 candidate for governor Zephyr Teachout, and former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and current Verizon executive Leecia Eve.
Letitia James is the perceived frontrunner in the race, in part because she has been backed by almost all of the elected officials in the state, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, most state lawmakers and several dozen City Council members. She has also been bolstered by significant union support in the race. One group whose backing James shunned was the Working Families Party (WFP), which famously got her elected to the City Council in 2003 running only on the WFP line — the first time the party was able to win a council seat without cross-endorsing with the Democratic party. As public advocate, James has been an advocate for equality in the city. Her platform for attorney general has, like her challengers’, focused on standing up to President Donald Trump’s agenda on the environment, immigration and women’s health. She has also pledged to be an advocate for student-loan borrowers and gender equity as part of her platform.
Fordham professor Zephyr Teachout appears to pose the biggest challenge to James, based on polling and the interactions the four candidates had on a recent debate on NY1, where Teachout was repeatedly attacked by all three challengers. Teachout lacks government experience, but she has touted her long career standing up against corruption — from her book on the subject to her work with national organizations to lay the foundation for suing Trump for violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents the president from accepting any gifts from foreign governments. Teachout has been endorsed by The New York Times, the New York Daily News and such progressives as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Sean Patrick Maloney, former Clinton aide and current congressman representing the Hudson Valley, has focused his campaign on standing up against Donald Trump. He has outraised his opponents and spent large amounts of that money on television ads talking openly about his family, including one ad featuring his husband and their black adopted daughter. Because of the state’s separate primaries for federal elections and state elections, Maloney is on the ballot for re-election to Congress as well as running for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general, which has opened him up to criticism.
Leecia Eve, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and current Verizon executive, is the candidate who appears to have been getting the least traction. The daughter of legendary Buffalo-area Assemblyman Arthur Eve, Leecia Eve has been campaigning on a platform of criminal-justice reform and combating inequity. Her campaign has also highlighted her experience — as a courtroom lawyer, as the manager of the state’s economic development efforts, and in the corporate world. Eve has been endorsed by the Queens Tribune.
Senate District 11: Democrats Avella and Liu in a Rematch
For the second time in four years, State Sen. Tony Avella (D- Bayside) is facing off against former city Comptroller John Liu in the 11th Senate District.
Liu threw his hat in the ring at the beginning of July, after realizing that Avella would otherwise not face a challenger.
“The IDC betrayal is not a small thing,” Liu said.
He believes that the aftermath of the 2016 election and the anti-Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) movement could play to his own favor.
Avella, on the other hand, believes that his IDC membership doesn’t matter.
“The IDC doesn’t exist anymore. There’s no issue. Voters are sophisticated. They didn’t buy it four years ago. He [Liu] has based a whole campaign on nothing,” Avella told the Queens Tribune in a phone interview.
Liu contends that the IDC prevented the passage of policies that conservatives would not allow on the Senate floor. Liu’s priorities include the protection of a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, in the wake of concerns that the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade.
Liu said he found it to be “repulsive” that “turncoat Avella” and other IDC members prevented such bills from getting passed in the state Senate.
Liu also chided Avella for his proliferation of press conferences, calling it a “doubling down of responsibility.”
“That is why we have community boards and council members,” Liu said. “There’s a reason our founding fathers created a division of power.”
In response, Avella said that he doesn’t believe in turning constituents away.
“Any problem my constituents have, if it’s important to them, it’s important to me,” he said. “I don’t believe in throwing people off. Anyone who calls gets my help. In the last three years, I got the most bills passed of any other Democratic senator. I’m proud of what I have gotten done.”
In regard to the MTA crisis, Liu said he believes that the issue is treated like a “hacky sack” by the mayor and governor. He blames years of compounded mismanagement, and believes that future generations will rely more on public transit and have less interest in owning cars.
Avella called his district a “transit desert” that needs more bus service, and noted that it is too expensive for many of his constituents to take the Long Island Rail Road. He believes that some of the money to fund the MTA should come from the legalization of sports betting.
“I’ve actually been one of the loudest proponents of sports betting. It’s finally gonna happen, and we could advocate millions that could go towards the MTA,” he said. “We may have to change the Constitution. I’m happy after 15 years that it could finally happen — more revenue for New York.”
Avella faults the mayor for the stalled funding of the MTA.
“The governor wants to do the right thing, but he wants the city to have an equal footing. The last I heard before the end of session, the mayor didn’t want to pay half,” Avella said.
Senate District 11: Two Republicans Vie For Avella’s Seat
Whitestone’s Vickie Paladino and Douglaston’s Simon Minching will square off in the Sept. 13 Republican primary for the District 11 seat currently held by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside).
Paladino — who ran a landscaping business for years with her husband — has referenced taxes and quality-of-life issues on her Facebook page as top campaign priorities. She drew attention last year when she confronted Mayor Bill de Blasio about his joining G20 protesters in Hamburg, Germany.
Minching, who describes himself as a center-right Republican, works at private software and service company Palantir Technologies in Manhattan. He has cited his opposition to de Blasio’s proposal to eliminate the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) as a priority of his election campaign. Other priorities include reducing overcrowding in borough schools and ethics reform, such as instituting term limits for state legislators. He has been endorsed by the Queens Republican Party.
Avella, who will face off against former city Comptroller John Liu in the Democratic primary, has been District 11’s state senator since 2011. The district includes Bayside, College Point, Whitestone, Little Neck, Douglaston and Floral Park.
Senate District 13: Democrats Peralta And Ramos Face Off
On Sept. 13, two decades-long neighbors and former friends, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Elmhurst) and Jessica Ramos, will face off in the Democratic primary.
Peralta, the first Dominican-American to be elected to the state Senate, has been in public office for 15 years. Before being elected to the Senate, Peralta served in the Assembly from 2003 to 2010.
Peralta has advocated for working families, public education, gun control, economic development, job creation, immigrant rights, affordable housing, senior equality and child safety.
Although a number of Peralta’s bills have been passed and he has pushed for such legislation as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), he faced backlash following his decision in January 2017 to join the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) on the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated. Peralta defended his decision by stating that it helped him to bring the district’s issues to the table.
Regardless, Peralta feels confident that he is going to win the race on his track record.
“It’s about who has been there, who has existing relationships with the Senate, Assembly, governor’s office, and who can navigate the system,” Peralta said in July. “I have served for eight years. I’ve got the relationships that will help push back against the Trump administration.”
But Ramos, a Colombian-American born and raised in Elmhurst by immigrant parents, said that Peralta has not stood by his district.
Ramos plans to focus heavily on funding for public schools in the district, which she — as the parent of two public elementary school boys — said is owed more than $2 million in state funding.
Her platform also focuses on rent control, affordable housing and housing reform. She has also drawn attention to the LeFrak City housing development, where she said the landlord raises the rent every time a renovation is underway, and continues to charge that amount when the renovation is completed.
Ramos, who relies heavily on public transportation, said that she’d also push for additional buses in her “transit desert” district.
One of her top transportation priorities is to make the Metropolitan Transportation Authority an agency, so that the state could control how it uses its money.
Ramos said that she is confident she will win the race.
“Traditionally, we seek to elect people for whom the system has worked, and then we were frustrated because they can’t figure out how to fix it,” Ramos said. “We can’t keep sending people who have been able to thrive. We have to send people for whom the system has not worked because they understand what it will take to fix it. For a long time, [women] felt like we could trust certain men to have our backs, but then after eight years, they haven’t been able to step up to the plate to protect us. At some point, as a woman, you have to say, ‘I can do it myself, thank you.’”
Senate District 15: GOP-Backed Candidate Challenged by Polish Lawyer
Polish-born lawyer Slawomir Platta will go up against Tom Sullivan in the Republican primary on Sept. 13. The winner of the primary will challenge incumbent state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) in the November 6 general election.
Platta’s platform revolves around his opposition to building homeless shelters in hotels amid residential neighborhoods. His platform also includes the reformation of unemployment assistance programs and opposition to the closure of Rikers Island. Platta has said that Polish Americans — who have a large presence in the district — deserve representation in the state Senate.
Sullivan, a Breezy Point resident who has been backed by the Queens Republican Party, is a member of the Army Reserve and previously worked in the financial sector. He also owned a restaurant on Long Island.
Sullivan also opposes closing Rikers Island and replacing it with smaller community jails, and his campaign has focused on the borough’s overdevelopment. He is also against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to eliminate the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT).
District 15 covers Ridgewood, Maspeth, Ozone Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Howard Beach and parts of the Rockaways. Addabbo has been the district’s senator since 2009.
Assembly District 30: Democrat Incumbent Barnwell Faces Off Against Newcomer Sklarz
Two years after making history by defeating 17-year incumbent former Assemblywoman Margaret Markey in the Democratic primary, Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth) is facing a challenger this September in longtime LGBTQ and civic activist Melissa Sklarz.
In an interview with the Queens Tribune, Sklarz said that she has heard Barnwell’s talking points, and believes she has more to offer.
A Queens native, Sklarz said that she is a shy person, but has been forced to overcome her shyness to engage people. “Baby steps,” she said about starting her campaign, which is still headquartered in the kitchen of her Woodside apartment, where she has lived for 12 years. She said that she had considered opening a campaign headquarters, but will wait until after the primary.
Although she has worked on campaigns for former state Sen. Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan) and former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), she finds it different to be in the spotlight.
Her first foray into politics was in 1999, when she became a judicial delegate in the 66th Assembly District. In her nearly two decades of civic and LGBTQ activism, she has been the director of development for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and co-chairwoman of the Empire State Pride Agenda.
“It was only the election of Donald Trump, with his reactionary, childish ideas of who we are as a nation, that demanded I get involved,” Sklarz said.
Sklarz, who is transgender, transitioned years ago.
She pointed out, “My medical history is nowhere near as important as housing and taxes.”
She believes that congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise win in June is a sign that Queens Democrats are ready for change.
“As you can see, women all over the country are getting involved. It looks like I’m going to be part of a blue female wave that’s going to, hopefully, take over America,” she said.
Before sitting down for the interview, Sklarz had just been talking to voters at the N train in Woodside. She said that she’d had approximately 10 seconds to establish who she was, give out a palm card, and relay where voters can get in touch with her before they disappeared on the train for their workday.
Regarding the MTA’s subway woes, Sklarz noted that the Assembly and state Senate vote money into the budget, but when the new fiscal year comes along, that money is rerouted elsewhere.
“Seventy-five percent of New Yorkers live in New York City. The subway is the lifeline of New York City,” she said.
Sklarz believes that in Albany, New York City is viewed as the bad guy. She speculates that this originated in the 1970s, when the city went broke and the state capital had to take over the education and subway system.
“I am confident that my presence could help in Albany,” she said.
Sklarz wants to create more opportunities for young people. She noted that in 1976 when she was 25 years old, there were more opportunities for youths. When she finished college, she only had $6,000 in student-loan debt. Sklarz said that at the time, there were thousands more corporate jobs that paid a living wage. She was able to live with a friend in Manhattan on her $11,000 annual salary and pay off her student loans in six years.
The Queens Tribune also interviewed Barnwell, who, as the incumbent, has not stopped running since he was first elected. He said that the biggest issue in Assembly District 30 is housing.
“It doesn’t matter whether you rent or own,” he said.
He recently introduced a bill in Albany, with state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D- Astoria) co-sponsoring in the Senate, that would abolish the major capital improvements (MCI) program. The bill is an effort to keep people in their homes when landlords raise the rent for necessary maintenance of the building.
“We’ve seen it,” Barnwell said. “Landlords charging for fixing things that should have been fixed anyway.”
He added that if the bill passes, landlords would be fined if they refused to maintain the building. He noted that the bill would provide a tax credit for the landlords so they could afford to pay for the building maintenance, and tenants, in turn, could continue to afford to live in their homes.
As far as keeping his seat in the Assembly, Barnwell said that he would continue “to do the same thing we’ve always been doing, which is being the most accessible we can be.”
Barnwell has consistently shown up at local civic and community board meetings, handing out his cell phone number and imploring constituents to call him at any time. Barnwell said that he answers constituents’ concerns on the phone, via text or through social media until 3 a.m.
He also credits the staff of his “diverse and successful office,” where he has employees who together speak more than 30 languages.
“What we learned is that we can never do enough outreach,” he said. “That’s what we won on two years ago.”
Barnwell boasted that his office has solved more than 2,000 constituent concerns in the past two years.
Barnwell has also authored a bill to keep owners and renters in their homes that could potentially force the city and state to judge a community’s average median income (AMI) by zip code. Currently, Queens’ AMI is averaged with those of Westchester and Manhattan. The bill has 22 co-sponsors, but has not made it out of committee in the Assembly. Gianaris is the sponsor in the state Senate.
Regarding the MTA crisis, Barnwell believes that the transit system needs a dedicated revenue source.
“This money has to go directly to the MTA; so often, it gets put in the budget and then it pays for other things,” he said.
He added that it would be nice if the city paid more, but believes the real problem is that money allocated to the MTA is not reaching the agency.
Barnwell said that he intends to introduce a bill to curb overdevelopment in his district. “Everything has a breaking point,” Barnwell said.
He noted that the two community education councils in his district have some of the most overcrowded schools in the city, yet the city approves projects that the community boards vote against.
“Enough is enough. We’re working on that legislation right now. That’s something we will focus on going forward,” he said, adding that “affordable” housing in his community is often misleading. “It’s misleading because the AMI is so skewed. Very few units are actually affordable. The word ‘affordable’ is a misnomer. It’s not affordable for people who need affordable housing.”
Barnwell said that another bill he introduced that would create a lower tax base for senior citizens has bipartisan support, but is without a sponsor in the state Senate.
Assembly District 39: Espinal Faces Two Democratic Challengers
After Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Corona) was elected to take the seat of former Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland in 2016, Moya’s seat was one of eight vacant Assembly seats, leading Gov. Andrew Cuomo to call for a special election.
In April, Ari Espinal, Moya’s former director of constituent services and deputy director of his district office, was elected as assemblywoman for District 39.
Next week, Espinal will face off against Yonel Letellier Sosa and Catalina Cruz.
Sosa, whose mother is Dominican and father is Peruvian, was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to Queens at age 1 with his parents.
During his 10 years as the president of the New Visions Democratic Club, Sosa founded the Association of Latin American Leaders, which he still leads. Sosa also worked as state Sen. Jose Peralta’s (D-Elmhurst) chief of staff, first when he was in the Assembly and then again when he became a state senator.
Sosa’s campaign has focused on such issues as affordable housing, immigration, transportation and healthcare. However, his priority is to change how local elections operate.
Sosa announced that he was running for the special election earlier this year. However, he failed to make the ballot because he didn’t announce the district or office for which he would be running. He then sued Espinal and Moya, stating that their petition challenge was the cause of his not making the ballot. The Supreme Court dismissed his suit. Sosa said that he intends to challenge the way the Democratic machine works in Queens.
Another goal is to push for an amusement park at Willets Point. He told the Queens Tribune that the borough currently does not have such a place for children and families, and he thinks it would bring revenue and tourist traffic to Queens.
Cruz was born in Colombia and moved to the district with her parents at age 9, at a time when Colombia was plagued by drug wars and violence.
When her family settled in Corona, her mother — an immigrant — struggled to find work, so she handed out fliers along Roosevelt Avenue and sold tamales until she landed a job as a housekeeper.
As a result of her experience settling in the United States and witnessing her parents’ struggle, Cruz was motivated to become a lawyer and help other immigrant families.
She became a housing attorney before landing a gig in the Department of Labor. Cruz also worked for the City Council and as the chief of staff for Ferreras-Copeland.
Although she never intended to go into politics, Cruz said that she spent much of her life as a public servant. But it wasn’t until Donald Trump became president that she realized she had to do something to help her community.
“When he was elected, I felt a sense of guilt,” Cruz said.
Cruz’s platform focuses on immigrant rights, education, women’s rights, senior services, healthcare and criminal justice reform.
Although the other candidates in the race are focusing on similar issues, Cruz said that what makes her campaign different from Espinal’s and Sosa’s is that she isn’t just listing the concerns of the district, but has come up with ways to address those concerns.
“My campaign is about uplifting our community, not tearing anyone down,” said Cruz.
Cruz said that she realized the importance of running for the seat when she knocked on a woman’s door, and the woman was hesitant to open the door until Cruz told her her name.
“She told me it’s because of people like me that’s the reason why she brought her daughter to this country,” said Cruz. “My story, the things I did and the struggles I went through is reflective of who they are.”
Although the other candidates’ campaigns touch on issues that she currently touches on, Espinal said she doesn’t believe that she has an “advantage” over the other candidates, but believes that she “outworks” them.
Espinal said that she works closely with Moya — her mentor — and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, with whom she speaks daily.
Since becoming an assemblywoman, Espinal said that she has allocated funding for the district and focused on such issues as immigration, women’s rights, the rights of union laborers, education, increasing public safety in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, protecting affordable housing and fighting overdevelopment, creating jobs and assisting small businesses, LGBTQ rights, reforming the criminal justice system, and strengthening protections for victims of sexual misconduct.