By Mark Hallum
State Assemblywoman Ari Espinal (D-Jackson Heights) is touting her presence in the communities within her district as an activist and her track record providing constituent services in a bid for re-election.
But Espinal said the effort to solidify her standing in the district has been the “longest job interview” in her life, having been elected in an April special election as the only candidate on the ballot but now facing two other opponents in the Democratic primary alone.
Both in the state Assembly and prior to her election, the Corona native has advocated for better labor laws and measures to address school overcrowding in her district as well as ways to preserve the affordability of the communities she serves.
“Constituent services is something that I’m always focused on because that’s how I started as director of constituent services” in then Assemblyman Franciso Moya’s office, Espinal said in an interview with the TimesLedger staff. “If you don’t get your hands dirty, how do you know what kind of quality-of-life issues are going on in your district?”
Her district includes Corona, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.
Espinal is a champion of Carlos’ Law, which was sponsored in by Moya — her predecessor in the Assembly and now the city councilman for the Jackson Heights area. It pays tribute to undocumented Ecuadorian Carlos Mancayo, a Queens resident who died at a Manhattan construction site at the age of 22.
The bill, which is not currently active on the floor but was passed by the state Assembly in June 2017, would increase the penalty for accidental deaths on construction sites.
“In the past decade, 500 workers have died on construction sites, and that’s not fair at all. When you have legislation like Carlos’ Law that protects the workers… it holds the developers accountable for them,” Espinal said.
Espinal said schools in her district are some of the most overcrowded in the city and funding must be allocated to upgrade facilities and do away with classroom trailers, some of which date back to the 1970s and lack air conditioning.
“I have already brought back $217,000 to schools in the district for PS 14, PS 89, PS 69. There are certain schools that need the funding,” Espinal said. “With the trailers at PS 19, when I worked for [Moya], we got rid of the trailers and that was a huge project and I was happy to be a part of that because what we did was we brought funding back to this specific school.”
Espinal claims funding programs alone is not enough to address educational issues since expansion projects at schools need funding as well.
Rental reform such as scrapping MCIs, the system that allows landlords to raise the rent on even rent-controlled units to cover the cost of repairs and improvements to the building, is an issue Espinal plans to tackle in the Assembly.
Espinal is facing activist Yonel Letellier Sosa and Catalina Cruz, who served as chief-of-staff for former City Councilwoman Julissa Ferarras Copeland, who preceded Moya, in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall