BY MATT TRACY
The call of the City Council is being heard again in Jackson Heights.
That, at least, is the case for Queens community activist Alfonso Quiroz, who is running to replace term-limited Councilman Daniel Dromm in Elmhurst and Jackson Heights more than a decade after he first ran for that same seat.
Quiroz, who works as a spokesperson for Con Edison, is one of six candidates running in next year’s election to represent District 25, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Quiroz’s first bid for that seat ended when he dropped out ahead of the 2009 Democratic primary competition, which Dromm went on to win.
Nonetheless, Quiroz’s previous run for office is paying off this time around: According to the New York City Campaign Finance Board, Quiroz has $41,446 in his campaign chest, including $35,860 that was transferred over from his previous campaign. During this new campaign, he has pulled in 121 contributions totaling $5,712.
In an interview with Gay City News, Quiroz described his current campaign as an opportunity to provide “a fresh start” and a “change in leadership” in a district that has been occupied by Dromm for nearly three terms after he unseated Quiroz’s old boss, Helen Sears.
“I really believe I can provide” that fresh start, said Quiroz, who had once served as Sears’ deputy chief of staff.
Until next June’s primary election — and long after that, if he is indeed elected in November 2021 — Quiroz will have his work cut out for him in his quest to prove he can bring such a change in leadership. The city is in the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic that has no end in sight and city residents have spent months voicing their collective disdain toward racial injustice and police brutality — issues that will undoubtedly remain at the fore throughout the 2021 election campaigns.
“We’re going to be running into a $9 billion budget cut and that will touch each and every one of us,” Quiroz said. “I think I can provide a different type of leadership that would be able to bridge this year to the next year.”
Quiroz appears to envision a measured approach to police accountability, saying he “stands with peaceful protesters” while also refraining from calling for more drastic reforms that have been touted by many progressives running for city office in the wake of a summertime protest movement and a budget battle that did not result in the cuts to the NYPD’s budget many demanded.
“I don’t have a problem with looking at the police budget and trying to figure out where funds can be allocated to community groups,” Quiroz said. “There should really be a good opportunity for us to re-look at the police department and re-look at public safety and start from a blank page and say this is what we want: a police force that protects us, that is going to be able to respond quickly.”
Quiroz did not mince words as the conversation shifted to his own district. He discussed the way Elmhurst was disproportionately slammed when the virus first gripped New York City — especially in communities of color — and he vowed to play a role as a Council member in addressing underlying health issues that have made individuals more vulnerable to serious complications of COVID.
Quiroz believes re-opening the shuttered St. John’s Hospital, which has not been in operation since 2009, would go a long way toward bolstering healthcare options in the area.
“It is sitting on Queens Boulevard right now and it is vacant,” Quiroz said. “God forbid anything like [the coronavirus pandemic] happens again, we need to make sure there are enough healthcare facilities that can handle the population. Who knows how all of this would have turned out if there were adequate hospitals and if St. John’s wasn’t closed?”
Among other local issues, Quiroz cited a need to preserve areas of Elmhurst that he said are “slowly being gobbled up by developers,” and he has an eye on the plight of small businesses in the district. He noted, for example, that the issue of navigating outdoor dining was one that predated the pandemic in his neighborhood.
“One restaurant I talked to said it would take $16,000 for an architect to come and draw up a sidewalk café for them,” Quiroz explained.
On a broader level, Quiroz underscored the hardships facing small businesses as he called for swift action to assist them.
“These people are counting every straw they give out,” he said. “They do not want to close. They are trying to employ people who live in this neighborhood. It’s really important we try to help these small businesses succeed.”
Quiroz’s involvement in his local community has included stints on Queens Community Board 3, the board of Queens Theatre, and as a Democratic Party district leader. He also has led the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Queens.
Quiroz also emphasized the experience he has gained in his current gig with Con Edison, saying that the job has equipped him with the kind of skills that are not typically seen among city lawmakers.
“The understanding of the electric grid and how we can become more environmentally friendly is a positive,” he said. “Having knowledge about the city and how the city operates is probably something that will help me out. You want a City Council and Council member to come from a very wide array of different experiences. There really is no one there that has that kind of experience on the City Council now.”
Quiroz, who is out as gay, did not go into detail about how he would navigate queer issues as a city lawmaker, but he is running for office during an election cycle that includes numerous LGBTQ candidates vying for city office across the five boroughs, including transgender and non-binary contenders as well as Black women.
The candidates, if successful, could help bring more diversity to an LGBT Caucus that is currently made up entirely of men, but the future of that caucus hangs in the balance because all five of its current members — including Dromm — are on their way out of office due to term limits.
Quiroz, who was born and raised in Chicago, is married to Jeff Simmons, a former NY1 reporter and a longtime communications professional who currently serves as executive vice president of the public relations firm Anat Gerstein, Inc. Quiroz and Simmons live in Jackson Heights.
This story originally appeared on gaycitynews.com.