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2021 Elections: Who’s running for City Council in the 22nd District?

The candidates running for City Council in District 22. (Photos courtesy of campaigns)

There are eight candidates, including six Democrats, one Republican and one Independent, vying to represent District 22 in the City Council.

The western Queens district, which encompasses Astoria, Rikers Island, parts of Jackson Heights, Woodside and East Elmhurst, has been represented by term-limited Costa Constantinides, a Democrat, since 2013.

The winner of the election will have to address several issues that have been compounded by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, such as a lack of affordable housing, calls for small business relief, more equitable education resources, an evolving streets landscape and every day impacts of climate change.

QNS sent five questions to each candidate running for the District 22 City Council seat to get a sense of their priorities, including Democratic candidates Leonardo Bullaro, Tiffany Cabán, Catherina Gioino, Evie Hantzopoulos, Nicholas Velkov and John Ciafone, Republican candidate Felicia Kalan and Independent candidate Edwin DeJesus Jr.

See their responses, listed alphabetically, below. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

This story was updated with response from candidate John Ciafone on Friday, April 23 at 5:30 p.m.

Leonardo Bullaro

Leonardo Bullaro, candidate for City Council 22. (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Bullaro’s campaign)

QNS: What, in your opinion, are the top three most pressing issues in your district?

Leaonardo Bullaro: Economic recovery and resilience: Investing in skill-building programs so all people get the training they need for living wage jobs. In recovering, create equitable sharing in the prosperity that creates resilience to future disruptions. Housing affordability: We need more safe and affordable housing for low-income residents and address the “rent burden” of middle-income residents. My platform addresses these issues by creating more housing units. Education: Provide all of our young people access to a high-quality, rigorous and engaging learning experience that prepares them for the demands in their work and as active participants in our democracy.

QNS: What aspect of your background speaks best to your abilities as a City Council member?

Bullaro: I am a problem-solver that has led multiple million-dollar projects. With degrees in finance and public administration, I have devised and implemented innovative solutions to meet challenges throughout my career, whether in educational, governmental or small business settings.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Bullaro: My district has been home to my immigrant family since 1959 and has been a place where immigrants, laborers and middle-class people have always found ways to come together as a community, care for one another, and support opportunity and prosperity for its residents. I want to ensure that our sense of caring for everyone’s well-being continues as we work to overcome the challenges we currently face.

QNS: Which one of your opponents will you be ranking second on your ballot and why?

Bullaro: I have not yet made a final decision. While I have examined the positions of some of the other candidates, I want to hear more from them about the issues facing the district before making that determination.

QNS: District 22 has high asthma rates, is particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding and is home to several peaker plants. What work would you do, if elected, to address climate change in the district?

Bullaro: In the Council, I will work directly with communities, and harness the capabilities of government, universities and industries to build a cleaner future for our city. My platform includes: 1) Enforcing Local Law 97 to drastically reduce pollution; 2) Redeveloping Rikers Island as a clean energy location; 3) Developing a citywide coastal resiliency plan and ensure the federal Sandy money gets spent; 4) Restarting and expanding Sanitation’s organics recycling program; 5) Replacing the city’s transportation fleet with clean energy vehicles; 6) Funding alternative transportation methods, dedicated bus lanes, and support congestion pricing; and 7) Creating thousands of jobs and small businesses to develop the new Clean Energy Economy.

Tiffany Cabán

Tiffany Cabán, candidate for City Council 22. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Cabán’s campaign)

QNS: What, in your opinion, are the top three most pressing issues in your district?

Tiffany Cabán: We must provide relief for our small businesses and establish a caring economy that prioritizes our neighborhood’s working families over the wealthy and large corporations. In the midst of a pandemic, we must create a robust public health infrastructure to keep our communities safe and healthy — we can do that by defunding the bloated NYPD budget and fully funding housing, healthcare and education. We have to fight for climate justice and combat the climate crisis by expanding access to public transportation, and championing green initiatives — like the Renewable Rikers plan — that create good union jobs for our community members.

QNS: What aspect of your background speaks best to your abilities as a City Council member?

Cabán: My lived experiences as a queer Latina from a working-class family. My professional experiences as a public defender. My roots in my community and love for the people in it. My organizing background, skill in coalition-building and demonstrated commitment to co-governance are all suited to this work and this moment. My political imagination — I’m unapologetically bold — and my ability to run the inside/outside game. I have spent the past two years shaping policy and whipping the votes of electeds on legislation at the city and state levels, while helping community-based organizations run more targeted, effective issue-based campaigns.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Cabán: Growing up, I loved playing in the Astoria Youth Baseball League, trips to Astoria pool, and back to school shopping on Steinway. As an adult, I love going to the park with my dogs, and my pre-pandemic weekend ritual of grabbing a coffee and browsing Astoria Bookshop. I love how hopeful, vibrant, and scrappy we are. This district is where we slay giants and make the impossible possible, from defeating the [Independent Democratic Conference] with Jessica Ramos, to shocking the Queens machine with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and stopping Amazon HQ2. We have proven we are unafraid to fight for our future.

QNS: Which one of your opponents will you be ranking second on your ballot and why?

Cabán: I am excited that New York City is implementing ranked-choice voting this cycle. The traditional system of politics is designed to keep out working class and first-time candidates — especially people of color and LGBTQ folks. Ranked choice voting gives candidates with both bold ideas and the shared lived experiences of marginalized communities the space to run. It gives us the opportunity to transform our political possibilities. Right now, I am very focused on my own campaign, talking to my neighbors here in District 22, and building a broad coalition to fight for a more equitable city.

QNS: District 22 has high asthma rates, is particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding and is home to several peaker plants. What work would you do, if elected, to address climate change in the district?

Cabán: I am running for City Council to champion the Renewable Rikers transition while ensuring that the communities who have been most directly impacted by mass incarceration and environmental racism, are the same communities who most directly benefit. We must also address the climate crisis by increasing open, public green spaces, creating more bus and bike lanes, making infrastructure more clean and resilient, expanding composting, and investing in sustainable, deeply affordable housing, and implementing resiliency plans for our buildings in the district that sit in flood zones.

John Ciafone

John Ciafone, candidate for City Council 22. (Photo courtesy of John Ciafone)

QNS: What, in your opinion, are the top three most pressing issues in your district?

Ciafone: Crime is the most important issue in our district. The city is falling apart and recently, three innocent bystanders were shot and killed in our community. We can not afford to defund the police and handcuff their ability to protect us. We can not demonize them and call them racists. Our children have been abused by keeping them out of school, there are parents who can’t afford the luxury of a computer or internet service. Our small businesses and homeowners are being pushed out of our community — the never-ending assault on them from the city with taxes, fines and fees is causing businesses to close and homeowners to leave.   

QNS: What aspect of your background speaks best to your abilities as a City Council member?

Ciafone: I was born, raised and educated in the public schools in our neighborhood. I raised a family and worked here all my life. I’m a trial attorney for over 25 years with an office on Steinway Street. I’ve served thousands of people and families in our neighborhood. I served as president of Community Education Council District 30, fighting for the interests of children and parents in Astoria, LIC, East Elmhurst and Woodside. I provide free seminars and webinars to senior citizens. I’m a first responder EMT/EMS who was awarded the Healthcare Heroes Award for service during COVID-19. I’m an administrative law judge and hearing officer who has served in the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Ciafone: Our district is a melting pot, diverse and rich with culture. We have amazing restaurants, cafes and bars, with wonderful outdoor dining and ethnic Latino, Middle Eastern, Irish, Greek, Italian and European eateries. We have spectacular parks and great shopping areas. We’re a stone’s throw away from Manhattan and as such, attract outstanding residents in our community. We have the Kaufman Arts Museum and are in a famous film and movie community. We’re within walking and bicycle distance from these great attractions. 

QNS: Which one of your opponents will you be ranking second on your ballot and why?

Ciafone: I am a common sense Democrat running for District 22. I’m appalled at the other Democratic candidates who have supported defunding and disbanding the police. I’m disturbed that all the candidates opposed Amazon’s interest to move into Long Island City and develop our community. One candidate wants to de-commodify real estate and promotes a radical, socialist, communist agenda. Our community will be destroyed.

QNS: District 22 has high asthma rates, is particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding and is home to several peaker plants. What work would you do, if elected, to address climate change in the district?

Ciafone: I first ran for City Council in 2001, and the hot button issue was the polluting power plants in Astoria and Long Island City. There have been two council members since and the pollution and asthma rates have only increased since that time. Our elected officials have not given the power plant companies an ultimatum to improve the health and safety in our community. The only benefit received is that the Astoria power plant sponsors the July 4th fireworks presentation in Astoria Park. This is not acceptable. Our children suffer the highest rates of asthma and pulmonary disease, our residents suffer from numerous pulmonary conditions.

Edwin DeJesus Jr.

Edwin DeJesus Jr., candidate for City Council 22. (Photo courtesy of Edwin DeJesus Jr.’s campaign)

QNS: What, in your opinion, are the top three most pressing issues in your district?

DeJesus: The top three most pressing issues in Astoria are climate change, civil liberties and constitutional freedoms against Big Tech censorship, and funding excluded workers. Restaurants and hospitality companies are going out of business due to COVID-19 and gentrification. Our government is controlled by special interest money and career politicians who simply don’t care about us. We must Defund CNN, Big Pharma and Wall Street. We shall make Amazon pay to balance our city budget! We pledge to refund all New Yorkers with weekly stimulus checks ($600 a week) aka [universal basic income]. I propose to cut taxes for the working class.

QNS: What aspect of your background speaks best to your abilities as a City Council member?

DeJesus: I’m the youngest Boricua, at age 24, to ever run for New York City Council. I have lived in Astoria my entire life and was the first in my family to graduate college. I’m an ordinary person who is tired of the same old B.S. in politics. As a film industry worker and former Bernie 2020 National Advance hire, I understand the struggle of having to owe money on my taxes despite losing my job due to a pandemic. Our campaign is going to start a real third party revolution and defeat the NYC establishment. I’m not a career politician.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

DeJesus: Astoria is an escape from the noise of the city. It’s the most diverse neighborhood in the United States — our community is represented by all ethnicities and famous for authentic Greek and Italian restaurants. I remember trick-or-treating in the 11105 ZIP code near St. Francis of Assisi. I am a product of the public school system including P.S. 2, I.S. 141 and the Academy for Careers in Television & Film. I spent my teenage years attending the fairs on Ditmars and eating sandwiches from Sal, Kris and Charlie’s Deli. I say “BaconEggN’Cheese” as one word when ordering it because that’s the Queens way of life, only $3.50 a roll.

QNS: Which one of your opponents will you be ranking second on your ballot and why?

DeJesus: I am an independent candidate running to revive Green Party ballot status in New York (Gov. Cuomo and the Democrats recently eliminated our ballot status so there is no official Green petition). That being said, we need ranked-choice voting in ALL elections, not just “closed” primaries and special elections. This is an illusion of choice. Third-party candidates only have non-ranked-choice voting in the general election on Nov. 2. The majority of Americans do not feel represented by the two-party duopoly. We must have fairness in our Democracy. Not a Democrat. Not a Republican. A New Yorker.

QNS: District 22 has high asthma rates, is particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding and is home to several peaker plants. What work would you do, if elected, to address climate change in the district?

DeJesus: My elderly father is asthmatic and a longtime resident of Astoria. Unfortunately, his respiratory illness puts him at a greater risk of COVID-19. My dad’s suffering is a result of corporate greed and decades of living near Con Edison. We must stop the NRG power plant and create a public power grid without relying on carbon emissions. I won’t accept illegal bribes from the fossil fuel industry. We must get our act together and use the Renewable Rikers Act to create good, union-paying jobs with green infrastructure. We must expand our bike lane system according to community-approved safety standards.

Catherina Gioino

Catherina Gioino, candidate for City Council 22. (Photo courtesy of Catherina Gioino’s campaign)

QNS: What, in your opinion, are the top three most pressing issues in your district?

Catherina Gioino: Our next Council member will be dealing with the effects of COVID. District 22’s public spaces must be our top priority during and post COVID. There’s so little public space in the city, let alone our district, and that’s why I’m pushing to bring more usable space and improve our streetscape. Secondly, we must address our sustainability in a ever-changing environment. Our district will gain 400 acres for green energy use, which will bring new jobs to the area. Lastly, we must use that opportunity to bring more jobs to our neighbors and increase capital development in our community.

QNS: What aspect of your background speaks best to your abilities as a City Council member?

Gioino: As a daughter of immigrants who came here in the ’90s, as a kid who went to the same schools you and your children attended, as someone with no political ambitions other than to make my hometown better, I have the passion and skills needed to make our neighborhoods the best possible. I spent years interviewing fellow New Yorkers as a reporter for the Daily News and Queens Gazette, serving you at diners and studying NYC policy at Columbia University’s undergraduate and graduate schools. I love our community, and will do everything possible to make it even better.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Gioino: Why limit me to 100 words? We’re the most multilingual area in the entire world, a fact I tout having been on Nat Geo’s “Human Family Tree” documentary in middle school. You can visit any country on earth in the span of blocks; you can stop someone on the street and they will tell you their life story in minutes; you can never feel alone when everyone around is so loving and compassionate. We have so much historical significance in our streets, even better people, and we’re the small town in a big city everyone wants to live in.

QNS: Which one of your opponents will you be ranking second on your ballot and why?

Gioino: Still trying to decide between the two ladies who would have the biggest impact in terms of the three issues I outlined above. I know both Evie and Tiffany have great policies and would be excellent leaders for our district, but I will urge all candidates, regardless of district or office, to place a larger emphasis on our physical environment — every city in the world except ours has made tremendous strides in changing how residents interact with public spaces. We must improve our environment to ensure we continue to grow and flourish post-pandemic.

QNS: District 22 has high asthma rates, is particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding and is home to several peaker plants. What work would you do, if elected, to address climate change in the district?

Gioino: Very proud to have helped address asthma rates when I and other seventh-graders at P.S. 122 helped create the two-minute idling law outside city schools. Again, our district’s vulnerability to a changing climate is a priority for me, as are the many health impacts we have dealt with living so close to harmful power plants, particularly affecting our vulnerable immigrant population. I will fight tirelessly to prevent a proposed plant from being built in the district; increase coastal resilience; achieve zero waste goals; and of course, implement Renewable Rikers and bring new green jobs to our district.

Evie Hantzopoulos

Evie Hantzopoulos candidate for City Council 22. (Photo courtesy of Evie Hantzopoulos’s campaign)

QNS: What, in your opinion, are the top three most pressing issues in your district?

Evie Hantzopoulos: Affordable housing: When I moved here 22 years ago, working-class people could find a decent, affordable apartment or purchase a home. We need to build truly affordable housing, repair and modernize NYCHA, and ensure everyone has a dignified home. Education: As a lifelong educator who has worked in public schools across the city and served for years as a PTA president, I have seen firsthand how our public schools are underfunded and inequitable. Small business and the arts: Our small businesses need support in order to survive and the arts economy plays a critical role in our city.

QNS: What aspect of your background speaks best to your abilities as a City Council member?

Hantzopoulos: I am the daughter of working-class immigrants, the first in my family to graduate high school and college, a lifelong educator, and an inclusive community activist. I’m a public school parent and serve on Community Board 1. For two decades, I’ve served our communities with a vision for equity and community care. I’ve stepped in time and again to organize with people of all backgrounds around housing, food access, education, climate change and government transparency. I co-founded Frontline Foods Queens, organize with Astoria Mutual Aid, run a non-profit with 100 staff, and know how to get things done collaboratively.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Hantzopoulos: I love the diversity of the people in this district and how it’s reflected in all aspects of our community. We must ensure that our district is a welcoming, affordable and inclusive place for everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, ability or age. It’s critical that everyone who lives here has a voice, whether they are new to the area or lifelong residents, and I have credibility and experience working with people of all backgrounds in this district.

QNS: Which one of your opponents will you be ranking second on your ballot and why?

Hantzopoulos: I am undecided at this time because some candidates have recently joined the race and I need to learn more about them. I’m excited about ranked-choice voting and we have great candidates.

QNS: District 22 has high asthma rates, is particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding and is home to several peaker plants. What work would you do, if elected, to address climate change in the district?

Hantzopoulos: I’d revive our economy and environment through Renewable Rikers and a Green New Deal; work to replace peaker plants with green energy and battery storage; support Public Power; expand infrastructure and access for public and alternative transportation to reduce cars and build “complete streets”; champion composting expansion and protect the Big Reuse facility; expand community gardens, public spaces, Open Streets and the tree canopy; restore our shoreline and waterfront for resiliency as well as public access; enforce strict waterfront resiliency guidelines and require as of right developers to post Coastal Flood Bonds; and mandate climate education in schools.

Felicia Kalan

Felicia Kalan, candidate for City Council 22. (Photo courtesy of Felicia Kalan’s campaign)

QNS: What, in your opinion, are the top three most pressing issues in your district?

Felicia Kalan: The three most pressing issues in my district are 1) Bringing good paying jobs to NYC and vocational training as well as fighting for our small businesses, 2) Better quality education and getting kids back in the classroom and 3) Safe and clean streets.

QNS: What aspect of your background speaks best to your abilities as a City Council member?

Kalan: I have experience in government, nonprofit and corporate sectors that has prepared me to be a well-rounded candidate for City Council, along with being a mom of two. I have experience in working in government as a former legislative aide, I’m the co-founder of a national anti-human trafficking organization that used artistic expression like fashion shows to raise awareness about human trafficking and domestic violence, and worked directly with survivors by giving scholarship and guidance on going back to college or receiving vocational training. Moreover, I’m the former V.P. at COhatch, a coworking and social enterprise incubator space, with experience helping to grow local start-ups and revitalize local economies. 

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Kalan: I love the diversity, creative energy and family-friendliness of our district. I lived in Egypt for seven months studying at the American University in Cairo, and Steinway Street feels very much like home. It really feels like a small town in a lot of ways, and to see incredible organizations and groups of people step up to serve during the pandemic [has] been humbling to watch and exciting to be a part of.

QNS: Which one of your opponents will you be ranking second on your ballot and why?

Kalan: I’m running as an Independent and Republican, so I will not be a part of the ranking process for the Democratic primary.

QNS: District 22 has high asthma rates, is particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding and is home to several peaker plants. What work would you do, if elected, to address climate change in the district?

Kalan: I actually suffer from asthma myself and for far too long, our district has been the ashtray of our city — and I will fight any new power plants coming to our district. We need to work with existing plants and push sustainability goals. We also need to revolutionize the way we do sanitation in our city and push for more composting and recycling. We need to update our stormwater management system, and create new green spaces.

Nicholas Velkov

Nicholas Velkov, candidate for City Council 22. (Photo courtesy of Nicholas Velkov’s campaign)

QNS: What, in your opinion, are the top three most pressing issues in your district?

Nicholas Velkov: The three most pressing issues in our district all fall under the umbrella of public health: physical health, mental health and social health. We must improve our physical health in District 22 by passing a Green New Deal for Queens and building more bike lanes and green space to ensure easy access to exercise. We must also promote better mental health by using mindfulness exercises in schools and for first responders and essential workers. And we must develop better social health by protecting the small businesses where we gather as a community.

QNS: What aspect of your background speaks best to your abilities as a City Council member?

Velkov: My experience practicing yoga and running a small business have made me uniquely qualified for City Council.  Yoga has taught me to cultivate compassion and focus. Running a small business has taught me to build from scratch and get things done. These combined experiences have made me a good manager and an active listener, which are essential tools for any public official.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Velkov: My favorite characteristic of our district is the diversity.  We have authentic culture from all over the world within just a few blocks. This culture enriches our minds and spirits to make us a more tolerant community.

QNS: Which one of your opponents will you be ranking second on your ballot and why?

Velkov: I will rank Evie Hantzopoulos as my number 2. She has been active in the community for a long time and has proven her genuine care for the district.

QNS: District 22 has high asthma rates, is particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding and is home to several peaker plants. What work would you do, if elected, to address climate change in the district?

Velkov: I will invest in renewable energy, starting with a Green New Deal for NYCHA. I will also lean in on alternative transportation options to improve air quality. More bicycles and fewer cars will have an immediate impact on curbing climate change. And the most important thing we must do as humans is reassess our consumption of meat. Admittedly, I am a meat eater. But I know that every time I consume meat, I am contributing to the most complicit industry in climate change. I will look for ways to advocate for plant-based diets wherever possible.

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