By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech
Democratic candidate Catalina Cruz has become the first DREAMer ever elected to the New York state Assembly after beating incumbent Ari Espinal and Reform Party candidate Bobby Kalotee in Tuesday’s Midterm elections.
Cruz tallied 87.6 percent of the votes in Tuesday’s election, while Espinal garnered 10.4 percent and Kalotee secured 1.7 percent, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting according to unofficial results from the city Board of Elections.
“We were always waiting for the other shoe to drop — for the numbers to change,” Cruz told the crowd of cheering supporters at her victory party held at La Gran Uruguaya in Jackson Heights. “But no, it didn’t happen.”
During her speech, Cruz said that the real winners were the residents of Jackson Heights.
“You knocked on doors, you made phone calls, you made donations, you helped us make it happen,” said Cruz. “ This is about you, this isn’t about me.”
Cruz previously bested Espinal and challenger Yonel Letellier Sosa in September’s Democratic primary, taking 53.4 percent of the votes according to the city Board of Elections.
At age 9, Cruz’s mother brought her daughter to Jackson Heights in order ‘to give her a better life’ and worked selling tamales and empanadas in the neighborhood to support herself, Catalina and her three other children. Cruz remained undocumented until she married her high school sweetheart 10 years later and received pro bono legal help in applying for citizenship.
Cruz fought for tenant, immigrant and workers’ rights in her years as a lawyer and civil servant in both the Cuomo administration and office of City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.
Immigration defense had been a huge part of Cruz’s campaign. Queens is known for its diverse make up with nearly half of the borough’s population being made up of immigrants. Of New York City’s 643,000 undocumented immigrants 246,000 live in Queens. In Elmhurst, a part of Assembly District 39, 71 percent of residents are new Americans.
“Tonight is about celebrating, celebrating the work that you did and the fact that we came out as a community and we decided what we wanted to see in our community,” Cruz said.
After her victory during the primaries, many of Cruz’s supporters felt that the end of the Queens political machine was coming to an end. It seems even more likely with last night’s victory.
“We wanted real leadership that wasn’t appointed, that was elected,” Cruz said.
Her words were met with an explosion of horns, shouts and chants of “Catalina!”
“We decided that we wanted someone to represented our community, that had a vision, that had a real plan and who was driven by the power of people not corporations and not special interests,” Cruz added. “That is how politics should always be, driven by people, because that’s what makes it public work. Not like some sort of corporation, special interest down the block on 82nd Street, if you all know what I’m talking about.”
With the victory in hand, Cruz will represent the 39th Assembly District — consisting of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona — in Albany.
“The hard work begins now,” Cruz said.