Challenger González-Rojas holds early lead in crowded Jackson Heights Assembly race

Jessica González-Rojas and Michael DenDekker

Jessica González-Rojas holds an early lead in the crowded race for New York State Assembly District 34, with an almost 18 percent advantage (or 2,514 votes) over six-term incumbent, Michael DenDekker, with 99 percent of scanners reported.

Although we won’t officially know who won any electoral race for some time as thousands of absentee ballots must be counted, González-Rojas’ lead is significant given the competitive race to represent Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst, and parts of Woodside and Corona.

Along with DenDekker (who currently holds 22 percent of the votes), there were three other candidates on the ballot: Uber driver and transit organizer Joy Chowdhury (15 percent), former Manhattan prosecutor and community leader Nuala O’Doherty-Naranjo (13 percent), and Angel Cruz (8 percent).

But González-Rojas, a longtime Jackson Heights resident and former executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, isn’t ready to declare victory just yet.

“I’m someone who’s really committed to democracy, so I feel like unless every vote is counted, I don’t want to declare victory,” González-Rojas told QNS.

DenDekker has yet to make a statement regarding the primary results. He did not respond to QNS’ requests for comment.

Part of the reason why González-Rojas prefers to wait is because her campaign encouraged many people to vote by mail.

In District 34, there were 12,953 absentee ballots distributed and 1,901 returned as of Wednesday, June 23, according to the Board of Elections records.

Following election day, González-Rojas thanked community members for their votes, volunteers, and her supporters, including Make the Road Action, the Working Families Party, Councilman Danny Dromm and former Queens district attorney candidate Tiffany Cabán.

“I’m just so humbled and grateful. I feel incredibly proud. I kept it positive and about the issues that impact our community,” she said.

District 34 has more than 36,000 registered democrats. For this primary, a little over 6,000 residents cast a vote in-person, or almost 17 percent of registered Democrats in the district.

González-Rojas, who ran on a platform for immigrant benefits, LGBTQ+ issues and health care for all, said she’s studied the district’s voter turnout in the past, and considering that this is a primary — in the middle of a pandemic — she’s encouraged to see how many people went out to vote.

During the last few months of campaigning, in which candidates had to rely on creativity and non-traditional forms of outreach due to the virus, González-Rojas and her team transitioned to hosting mutual aid phone banks, hosting informative webinars and volunteering in food pantries.

“The numbers trend on the higher end, so that’s promising,” she said. “Part of my vision was to expand the electorate. Expanding democracy and finding ways to make voting easier is something I’m committed to.”

Even though González-Rojas is hopeful, she knows there’s still another general election in November. “While I feel good now, I’m still a candidate. The job’s not mine until every vote is counted,” she said.

She said the BOE informed her that absentee ballots won’t be counted until June 30, and they shouldn’t expect final results until after the July 4 holiday weekend.

When asked what her next steps are, she said she’ll be “getting back out into the community and staying involved.”

“I want to keep up with the momentum. Not asking people to vote, just making sure people are well,” she said. “We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, so I’ll be volunteering for food pantries and helping the community however way that I can.”

She is also recruiting volunteers to observe the ballot count process.

González-Rojas ran what she called a grassroots campaign, raising $125,000 in contributions with about $27,000 cash on hand by the end of May, according to BOE records. On the other hand, DenDekker raised approximately $179,500 with about $65,000 on hand.

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