Latinos Battle over Queens’ District 39 Assembly Seat

From the left, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Catalina Cruz and Julissa Ferreras-Copeland at the La Estrella del Caribe restaurant. (Photo by Javier Castaño via Queens Latino)

On Tuesday, Ari Espinal – a sole candidate handpicked by the Democratic Party – won the election to the District 39 Assembly seat. “However, the real election is in November. This Tuesday is just a ceremony,” said former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Viverito and former Council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland went to the La Estrella del Caribe restaurant in Corona, Queens, on Monday to support [Democratic primary] candidate Catalina Cruz.

Nearly 30 people attended the event to listen to Cruz and donate to her campaign.

“We need to end mediocrity, the lack of integrity and absence,” said Ferreras-Copeland, referring to Francisco Moya, who left the District 39 Assembly seat vacant to become a council member and gave the seat to Espinal, and who rarely interacts with the community.

A distinguished member of the Democratic Party in Queens said that the problem is that Espinal has done nothing for the community and Moya – “who has not done much either” – is overshadowing her.

“Ari is nice, but she is not qualified for that position,” said Ferreras-Copeland. “Catalina is a Dreamer who is fighting on the battlefront,” added Mark-Viverito.

“I support Catalina because competent youths are the ones who must end this mediocrity in politics,” said Angel Gil Orrios, artistic director of the Thalia Theater. “Catalina is passionate and honest,” said a New York attorney who chose to remain anonymous.

Alexandra Owens said that she supports Cruz because “she is special, qualified and has political charisma.”

For her part, Angela Pérez, the president of the Queens Women’s Chamber of Commerce, also attended the event but chose not to take sides, saying: “I support all women, both Ari and Catalina.”

Jackeline Sandoval sat next to Catalina, and said that she supports Cruz because she is “humble and an excellent human being.” Catalina’s mother, Rosa Agudelo, added: “She was born under a lucky star. She is a determined woman with a clear vision, and I respect her decision to get into politics.”

Valeria Reyes and Benita Netzáhualtl, from the organization Women in Action, said that they will vote for Cruz because she is an immigrant woman “we can identify with.”

Candidate Cruz greeted those in attendance, praised her mother and spoke of her humble origins – they sold empanadas and tamales and collected cans to make a living in New York. She also mentioned her law degree and her work with Gov. Cuomo, Mark-Viverito and Ferreras-Copeland. “I am ready to get to work, and I need all of your votes on Sept. 13 because I cannot do it alone,” she said, moved to tears.

The third candidate

Espinal, Cruz and Yonel Letellier Sosa, the third candidate hoping for the District 39 Assembly seat on Nov. 6, will start collecting signatures on June 5. The district includes the neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.

Letellier Sosa was at El Mordisco restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue on Monday night, launching his political campaign. Some 20 people accompanied him.

The candidate first showed a long and repetitive video and then went on about the details of his political campaign. He spoke in English and Spanish in front of an almost exclusively Latino audience.

He addressed such issues as lack of housing, displacement of families and businesses due to new developments, the need to create more jobs and better schools, excess of trash in the streets, lack of safety on Roosevelt Avenue, and the decay of the 7 train. He blamed all of those problems on the Democratic Party, to which he has belonged for decades. In the last few weeks, the candidate has been promoting abstaining from voting in Tuesday’s election.

“The community does not need any more political puppets,” said Letellier Sosa, alluding to Council member Moya and his protégée, Espinal. “The Democratic Party is arrogant and it manipulates voters. I want peace, although I have my plan B of attack,” added the candidate in a threatening tone, but he refrained from explaining his plan.

“This time around I am going to win, because I am better prepared than last year. I thank you for your support,” concluded Letellier Sosa at El Mordisco at 9:41 p.m.

Both Letellier Sosa and Cruz want to hold a debate in front of the community. QueensLatino will promote it in the next few weeks. It remains to be seen whether Espinal chooses to participate or follow in the footsteps of Moya, who has failed to ever face the community in a public forum.

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