Campaigning for City Council in the midst of a pandemic has admittedly been difficult for Adriana Aviles, a self-proclaimed “people person.”
But extenuating circumstances haven’t stopped the longtime Douglaston resident from getting out into District 19 and hearing residents’ concerns.
“[Campaigning during COVID] is very difficult for me because I feel that people really need to see you and to feel your ‘aura’ to really get a sense of you,” Aviles said. “In these Zooms, everyone is so detached and you don’t really feel the same energy as you do in real life interactions.”
On the campaign trail, Aviles has talked to small business owners, parents and administrators at local schools and everyday voters among many others in the community.
“I’ve been out there talking to people individually, with a mask on, but it just feels really different,” she said. “People are more apprehensive with everything that’s going on but it’s going fine. It’s going a little at a time.”
Planting the seed
Prior to throwing her hat into the political ring, Aviles was an NYPD police officer but has since retired from the force. The wife and mother of three is now the president of Community Education Council 26.
Aviles recalled that she had been ruminating over the idea of running for office during the past few years. It first happened after a conversation with Councilman Paul Vallone when she became the CEC president.
Vallone has been the District 19 representative since 2014 but is stepping down due to term limits. The district includes the Queens neighborhoods of Alley Pond Park, Bay Terrace, Bayside, College Point, Douglaston, East Elmhurst, Flushing, Fresh Meadows, Little Neck and Whitestone.
“I had gone to Paul Vallone’s office and whether or not he does this to everyone he meets, when I walked in there to talk to him, he says ‘Mrs. Aviles, congratulations. You know my spot is up, you thinking of running?'” Aviles said. “But he planted that seed in my brain.”
Another deciding factor for Aviles was seeing local elected officials make promises to local entities that they were not able to keep, including promising funds to schools and other establishments but not making good on raising the money.
But the final push came when she attended a community board meeting in a neighboring community and got to talking with someone who had “been in the political circle” for a long time.
“I was on the edge, ready to jump off, I really needed a little push and someone reached out to me,” said Aviles.
She recalled that the person asked her if she had thought about running for office and said she would be an “incredible asset and candidate.”
“That was the green light for making me decide; that was the push over the edge,” Aviles said.
As a resident and community leader, Aviles has become intimately familiar with issues important to District 19. According to the CEC 26 president, improving education in the district is one of top priorities if elected to office.
Since March and even prior to the pandemic, Aviles noticed a decline in the quality of DOE schools and in the agency itself.
“I feel like they haven’t gotten better, they’ve gotten worse. Especially with the remote [learning] and all the faults they’ve had this year like the lack of communication with the families [and] the lack of planning,” she said.
She shared that more than 40 families have left each of the CEC 26 schools and moved out east to Long Island.
“That’s really bad. I think that we need to really realize the impact of what’s going on to our local families and give them support,” Aviles said. “I feel like no one’s really supporting them, giving them information”
In addition to education, Aviles also emphasized the need for improved transportation, public safety and support for small businesses in District 19.
“I just feel like there needs to be more groundwork from our local government to help the families. Whatever it is — education, small businesses — we need more help on the ground for these families and I think that’s where they should be focusing on,” she said. “I’ve been focusing on [it] to try and do the outreach, but I’m one person. I rely a lot on my moms [in the community], the families to put the word out. That’s what I hope that the government will do more of a focus on.”
New to politics
Aviles said she has learned a lot as someone new to politics.
“Not being in the political circle [and] having no idea what I’m doing, I have to get support from other people who have been in the circles,” she said.
The candidate has found great support in seasoned politicians, fellow City Council candidates and her family.
“I talk to my husband a lot, take time with my kids [and] reach out to people who I know support me,” Aviles said. “When you talk to someone who supports you, they just give you positive feedback, so that makes me feel better and then you move on. You move on to the next step and it’s ok.”
Her goal as a councilwoman is to use her position as a fellow resident, not a career politician, to relate to constituents.
“I think that’s what we need for people to really appreciate that they have someone that’s gonna be genuine and talk to their points and not be evasive,” said Aviles. “I think that I’m reaching to a lot of people that way. That [as] a regular person…I can do it, be elected, be genuine and really talk to them on their level.”
She hopes to see even more women and mothers step up to the plate and run for office, especially at a local level.
“I would so appreciate having more moms put their hats in the ring and hopefully get elected because I really think that’s a voice that’s lacking in our government, especially locally,” she said.