By Carlotta Mohamed
Challenger Catalina Cruz bested state Assemblywoman Ari Espinal (D-Jackson Heights) and held back fellow challenger Yonel Letellier Sosa in Thursday’s Democratic primary.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Cruz secured 51.7 percent of the votes, while Espinal obtained 45 percent and Sosa tallied just 3.3 percent, according to unofficial results from NY1.
Espinal, a Corona native, ran unopposed and won an April special election to fill the vacated District 39 Assembly seat previously held by City Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) before he was elected to the City Council last year. Espinal had served as an aide on Moya’s staff.
The 39th District covers parts of Corona, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.
Cruz, a Colombian-born “Dreamer,” was undocumented for the first 13 years she lived in the United States before becoming a legal citizen in 2009. She has worked as an attorney representing immigrants who face deportation and served as chief of staff to former City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.
Cruz centered her campaign on a promise to help resolve community issues such as affordable housing, school overcrowding, and providing health care for poorer residents.
“I think that the top issue is affordable housing. Anything from Major Capital Improvements — and we need to do away with that — to preferential rent [is driving inaffordability],” Cruz said in an August interview with the TimesLedger editorial staff. “With that comes the conversation of here’s our needs and how do we resolve them, and one of the things our campaign has done successfully is engage the voice of the community.”
Both Espinal and Cruz ran grassroots campaigns to achieve their goals of making change by bringing more resources to their communities.
Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic-born Sosa has worked politically throughout the district, from founding the Association of Latin American Leaders to working for state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) as chief-of-staff when Peralta served in the state Assembly. He aimed to tackle community issues such as overcrowding in schools and housing laws.
Cruz noted that she has been a constant presence in the community and has built her platform around conversations with the district’s constituents.
However, throughout her campaign, Espinal said that, unlike Cruz — who moved to Bayside and relocated to Jackson Heights — she is from the district, which she believes is important to voters.
In her bid for re-election, Espinal relied on her experience as a longtime community organizer and former Democratic district leader working on behalf of her constituents.
“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,” Espinal said.
Espinal 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.
“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 in an August interview with the TimesLedger editorial staff. “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 has also been a champion of Carlos’ Law, that protects construction workers from employers who don’t comply with the required safety protocols.
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.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha