By Sarina Trangle
“District leader” is hardly a household title, but two women vying for the Queens Democratic Party post in western Queens are relying on the hallmark of typical elections by registering campaign committees, turning to unions and brandishing endorsements.
The race for district leader, an unpaid liaison between the county party and Democratic voters, may distance Jackson Heights’ progressive-leaning elected officials from a part of their union base.
The two men and women elected district leaders in each Assembly district by registered Democrats contribute to the party’s platform, help select its leader and participate in the nomination of civil and surrogate judges. The Republicans also have a similar process.
Jessica Ramos, currently a female district leader in state Assemblyman Francisco Moya’s (D-Jackson Heights) district, said she found out at the last minute that the Queens party would not support her in this election cycle.
The Jackson Heights resident said county Democrats turned against her because she was the only non-legislator to back City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) early in the progressive’s race for the position — an assertion disputed by Moya.
Ramos, communications director for a coalition of unions called Build Up NYC, said building service workers union 32BJ, where she has worked; United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, where her husband is employed; and Amalgamated Lithographers of America Local One have backed her bid.
“It seems to me that I’m being penalized for having supported the Council speaker before they had a deal with the Queens County Democratic Party,” Ramos said, noting that the machine supported Councilman Daniel Garodnick (D-Manhattan) when she came out for Mark-Viverito. “I did not find out for certain that they wouldn’t be supporting my re-election that year until the day before the party call.”
Her opponent, Yanna Henriquez, a Corona resident and program director of the Dominico-American Society of Queens, and Moya said the county Democrats’ endorsement decision was motivated solely by redistricting that brought more of Elmhurst and Corona into the 39th Assembly District.
They said the party sought more geographic diversity in its slate of district leaders.
“As it currently stands, three out of the four district leaders in the 39th Assembly District live on the same block, leaving large swaths of Corona unrepresented at this level,” Moya said in a statement that praised Henriquez as a community advocate. “Our decision to support Yanna Henriquez was based on these metrics alone.”
When TimesLedger Newspapers approached Henriquez for an interview, a campaign volunteer named Meghan Tadio fielded inquiries on her behalf.
Tadio, who also works as Moya’s chief of staff, said Henriquez was in the process of registering a campaign committee with the state. She said Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) were carrying petitions for Henriquez. Both are also district leaders in Moya’s territory.
The trio hail from the New Visions Democratic Club, which Ramos said was slated to take up the Sept. 9 district leader election this week.
The Queens Democratic Party referred inquiries to Executive Secretary Michael Reich, who did not respond to requests for comment.
The party pick for a district leader vacancy in the 24th Assembly District, which stretches from Glen Oaks to Richmond Hill, has also raised eyebrows.
County Democrats seek to replace Rebecca Lynch, who left her post when joining Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, with Susan Seinfeld, district manager of Community Board 11 in northeast Queens.
Some have grumbled about the move, noting that county Democrats missed an opportunity to promote South Asian Democrats in a district where Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) nearly faced a primary challenge from Ali Najmi, an attorney who has been involved with the South Asian and West Indian advocacy group, SEVA NY.
“If there was a South Asian person that was respected and was appointed, I think that would make waves,” Gurpal Singh, co-founder of SEVA NY, said while not speaking on behalf of the organization. “It’s just business as usual.”
Weprin said he was confident Seinfeld would excel at representing Democrats of all backgrounds.
And state Sen. James Sanders’ (D-South Ozone Park) relationship with the party has grown sour enough that he has been interviewing prospective candidates to run as district leaders in the 39th Assembly District, which includes South Ozone Park, Springfield Gardens, Rosedale, Far Rockaway and Laurelton.
Sanders said he was open to endorsing the county’s district leaders, which include Assemblywoman Michele Titus (D-Far Rockaway), Valerie West, Robert Simmons and Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), but he was also considering newcomers. The party petitions do not bear his name.
He characterized his impasse with the Queens Democratic Party as the result of his bucking its “top-down leadership style.”
“We are all ears,” Sanders said. “We want to see change in southeast Queens and want to see clean government.”
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at stran[email protected]nglocal.com.