Four Democratic candidates running for New York State Assembly in District 37 – representing parts of central and western Queens – answered questions about crime, tax and eviction laws at a forum organized by the Civic Association and Owners of Ridgewood Thursday, June 9.
In the basement of Ridgewood Presbyterian Church, the four candidates had the chance to introduce themselves and present their positions on many key issues for the city.
The four candidates are Sunnyside resident and self-proclaimed FDR Democrat Brent O’Leary; James Magee, a private attorney from Sunnyside; Juan Ardila, a first-generation American running to improve schools and housing policies; and Johanna Carmona, who current MP Cathy Nolan has endorsed.
Nolan is retiring after 38 years in office due to an ongoing battle with cancer. Nolan endorsed Carmona, a 32-year-old attorney and Sunnyside resident, in February. The primary election will take place on June 28.
Here are some of the questions asked of candidates and their answers. Some answers have been condensed for length and clarity:
Q: We have an almost 60% increase in overall crime over last year. How does each candidate plan to combat this crime spike and address public safety issues in your district and the city at large?
Carmona: Crime in this neighborhood has increased by 300%. I believe that at the moment with Hochul’s map change the bail reform and reduced the number of guns to commit a crime. We have to see how it works; it is a step in the right direction. On top of that, we need to be able to fund specific mental health and addictions programs—that’s lacking.
Ardila: I believe the most important function of government is to make sure people are safe. That’s why I’ve released a five-point plan to tackle the root causes of crime, invest in social services and mental health services, explain why we face so much homelessness and, more importantly, combating armed violence. We could be the first state in the entire country to push for a gun insurance policy to hold those who are financially responsible for purchasing firearms.
O’Leary: A lot of people will talk about bail reform and I don’t believe in cash bail. We shouldn’t be in jail or out, depending on whether we have money or not. But if you are a danger to society, you should stay in prison. We know this woman who fractured her skull in Queens Plaza, are you going to let this person out? We want to give people a speedy trial, but keep violent offenders in jail before their trial.
Magee: Before the Bail Reform Act, I was subjecting 200 people a month to court-mandated treatment; I haven’t put a single person in two years. All of my clients have gotten outright adjournments or dismissals because of the bail reform act. And they’re all on the streets and none of them are getting the help they need. What I would do is reform the law and put it back to where it was when crime was down.
Q: The eviction for cause bill will make eviction of non-paying tenants take months or even years. This will have a huge impact on modest income homeowners, especially here in Ridgewood. Small landlords, like us, will be homeless if tenants don’t have to pay rent for years. What do you propose to prevent this law from coming into force?
O’Leary: I think, especially as small landowners, you have to be careful about your rights and I will. But we will also ensure that there is affordable housing for everyone. I have a very good affordable housing plan with a good path to home ownership.
Ardila: I support the eviction bill for just cause because I believe housing is a human right that every New York City deserves. The number one reason for homelessness in our state is deportation. I don’t support deportation because it causes so much displacement and suffering for working class people, for immigrant populations. I will be a champion for tenants. I will also be a smallholder champion because no one is immune to New York’s housing crisis.
Magee: I am against the law. I had a client in this neighborhood who had multiple tenants and two weren’t paying. It is impossible to remove anyone and this law would make deportation even more difficult.
Carmona: I’m in favor up to a point. But, more specifically, I’m thinking of small landowners, and the language itself wasn’t clear enough, and trying to evict someone in court is going to be very difficult to do. It’s about listening to everyone in the neighborhood. I also want to make sure that tenants are protected. We are not talking about tenants who do not pay their rent.
Q: We understand that the New York City Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform has released its final report on the proposal to overhaul the New York City property tax system. This would significantly increase property taxes on single-family homes to three-family homes. The Wall Street Journal estimates that Ridgewood’s property taxes for one to four units would double, again hurting our small homeowners. What is the candidate proposing to prevent this change from taking effect?
Magee: The numbers are astronomical if it takes effect here, but also where I live in Sunnyside, there are a lot of converted two-family houses. I oppose it.
O’Leary: I will fight. It’s wrong. It’s a stupid law. I’m sick of the government considering you its piggy bank. As an FDR Democrat, I believe in progressive taxation. I will tax the billionaires. I’m going to look for other ways to raise funds than going over to you. What really makes America strong is the middle class.
Carmona: It’s absolutely disgusting that this falls on the middle class. He should try to tax the rich because we don’t want New Yorkers to leave town.
Ardila: We want to promote a Housing First model in New York. Owners can rent cellars, attics and garages. As tenants pay for truly affordable housing, this income goes to small landlords which they can then use to pay property taxes.