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2021 Elections: Who’s running for City Council in the 32nd District?

The ten candidates running to represent District 32 in the City Council. (Photos courtesy of campaigns/Facebook)

While not nearly the most crowded primary race in Queens, District 32 has nine Democrats and one Republican running to represent the southeast Queens district in the June primaries.

Comprised of parts of Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Neponsit, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Rockaway Park, Roxbury, South Ozone Park, West Hamilton Beach and Woodhaven, the district has been represented by Republican Eric Ulrich since 2009. 

The winner of the council seat will contend with a health crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged parts of the district during both the city’s first and second wave – as well as a district in constant threat of damaging weather events. 

QNS sent five questions to each candidate running for the District 32 City Council seat including Democrats Kaled Alamarie, Ruben Cruz, Raimondo Graziano, Balla Matias, Michael Scala, Shaeleigh Severino, Helal Sheikh, Felicia Singh and Kenichi Wilson and Republican Joann Ariola.

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

Kaled Alamarie

Kaled Alamarie (Courtesy of campaign)

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

Alamarie: My priority is to save our small businesses and work on making our district resilient to storm surge. My dad owned the Dairy Mill in Cross Bay Boulevard for almost 30 years and sold it in 2007 due to retirement. I know how important small businesses are. Now, they face the greatest crisis ever and one-third of them have closed. As shops close, jobs disappear, income tax shrivels up, and the city raises property taxes to compensate. We lost over one million jobs last year, we need them back. With the jobs, we can rebuild our district to protect our land and restore the American Dream to our neighbors.

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

Alamarie: While with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, I worked on the Jamaica Bay Watershed protection plan, the Green Infrastructure, NYC Harbor water Quality, Climate Change adaptation and mitigation plan and the ecological restoration of Pennsylvania & Fountain Avenue landfills, one of the largest closures ever undertaken in the State of New York. I know how our government works, I know how to get things done, and I am 100 percent funded by the people. Out of the other 11 candidates, I have the most donations with the lowest average dollar amount.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Alamarie: My parents immigrated to Ozone Park 38 years ago and I have lived here ever since. I went to P.S. 63, J.H.S 210, and Franklin K. Lane High school, and raised my own kids here. My oldest son just got accepted to Penn State School of Medicine. My siblings were raised here in Ozone Park and went on to have successful careers – two are public school assistance principles, one is a sergeant with the NYPD’s strategic planning office and one is a medical doctor. We all went to public schools here in the neighborhood and are giving back to the place that welcomed us.

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

Alamarie: I think they are all fine people and I’ve had a one-to-one interview with three of them. Since I am a moderate Democrat, my plan is closer to Mike Scala. I think that if I don’t win, he can be a fine City Council member.

QNS: District 32 is one of the most vulnerable districts to storms and extreme weather events. What work would you do, if elected, to make the district more resilient?

Alamarie:  I will work on making sure that the city updates the General Plan, which provides the foundation for land-use decisions in the city and the Zoning Code. The General Plan must incorporate climate adaptation, hazard mitigation and recovery, and efforts to increase equity and leverage long-range capital planning for infrastructure investment. I will also work on promoting resilience by incorporating a guiding principle into the General Plan to encourage land-use decisions that improve the ability of individuals, neighborhoods, economic systems, and the environment to recover from disasters, climate change and economic shifts.

Joann Ariola

Joann Ariola (Photo via NYCCFB)

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

Ariola: Public safety: Without public safety, you don’t have anything. I’ve been working with our NYPD for many years to help rebuild relationships and show support. We need more police with more funding. I will always support our first responders; Homelessness: We face a homelessness crisis and our city fails to treat those suffering with mental illness; Small businesses: Our small businesses are dying while the city uses them as cash machines with draconian fines and inconsistent regulations. They need access to  grants and incentives to help them survive. 

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

Ariola: I’ve been living and leading in this district for years. I was born in Ozone Park and raised in Howard Beach. I’m the President of the Howard Beach Lindenwood Civic. I have worked in city government and currently work in the healthcare industry. I know what it’s like to raise a family here because I have and still am. I have the local experience we need to find common sense solutions to our problems, fight for our fair share from City Hall and give all of us the quality of life we deserve, so our children and  grandchildren can raise their families here too.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Ariola: What I love most about my district is its resiliency. No matter what challenges we have  faced, we have come back stronger, together. I love the diversity of District 32. We are a melting pot of families from all over the world. We have excellent schools that must and will reopen safely, residents who are actively engaged in their local community  civics’ and organizations, the finest multi-cultural restaurants and the absolutely most beautiful shoreline.

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

Ariola is running unopposed in the Republican primary. There will be no second candidate to rank. 

QNS: District 32 is one of the most vulnerable districts to storms and extreme weather events. What work would you do, if elected, to make the district more resilient?

Ariola: Our district continues to face our own unique challenges that need to be fixed once and  for all. We are still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. I have been part of multiple resiliency and recovery task forces and will continue to work to build us back up, stronger than ever so that we never suffer that kind of destruction again. 

Ruben Cruz

Ruben Cruz. (Photo via Facebook)

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

Cruz: Our businesses need to open so we can work. But our train system is not up to the task of getting us to work safely or on time. We need to significantly increase bus service in our district to get us to work safely and on time, and back to our families. De Blasio plans to eliminate car lanes on the Brooklyn and Queensborough bridge and make them bike lanes. It’s ridiculous to expect our moms and dads to ride bicycles over the bridge to get to and from work on a daily basis. Dedicated bus lanes just make more sense. We are one of the hardest hit districts in COVID-19 cases. We need the vaccine for our residents in D32 now, not this “duck, duck, goose” approach to distributing the vaccine.

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

Cruz: You can’t come from wealth and say you speak for the blue collar worker., I’ve done the hard work, I paid my own way through school. I brought myself out of poverty. I created my own successful business providing health, wellness and arts programs benefiting seniors and children throughout the city, I’ve given back to the community. For the past 15 years I’ve worked with and sometimes got in the face of council members, public officials and city agencies to help fund programs in our senior centers, public schools and parks. I’ve organized unique programs for Women & Immigrant Rights, and Mental Health seminars. I lead from the front and actively look for solutions. When COVID-19 first hit us, food pantries came to the rescue of our residents. I saw that there were no services for pet owners affected by COVID -19. So I created the first Queens Pet Pantry distributing pet supplies to residents in our district.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Cruz: I love our food and our many shopping areas. We also have more senior centers in our district than almost any other district. We have an incredible sense of humor. We live in Richmond Hill now. My next door neighbor is a C.P.A. and progressive Democrat. My neighbor across the street is a Steel Workers Union Member and a conservative Republican. The last big snow we had, my neighbor across the street plowed both mine and my next door neighbor’s sidewalk and driveway. My next door neighbor helped me figure out a business taxes and redid them for free. For my part, I’ve helped repair both my neighbor’s front doors. The truth is that here, where I grew up, on my block, in our district, neighbors come before politics.

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

Cruz: Ranked-choice voting is a fix, just like Cuomo’s change in the law to cut out competing parties from the ballot. RCV is meant to give voters a false sense of winning when in fact their candidate of choice did not win. Many voters may check off boxes of names they recognize which only benefits the candidates wealthy enough to flood us with ads. The only difference between RCV and the lottery is you need six numbers with the lottery, with ranked-choice voting, you only need five.

QNS: District 32 is one of the most vulnerable districts to storms and extreme weather events. What work would you do, if elected, to make the district more resilient?

Cruz: I support residential resiliency and capacity building efforts for businesses. OneNYC and the NYC Department of City Planning have developed a plan to provide envelope flexibility for retrofitting in our vulnerable areas. This would entail creating dry flood-proofed areas at ground and below ground areas which may allow for a flood pass through and allow rezoning to relocate accessory use to the roof of the existing building. Keeping a cap on insurance premium increases is also key.

Raimondo Graziano

Raimondo Graziano. (Photo via Facebook)

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

Graziano: In my opinion, the top three issues for the district are simple. 1) Greater access to economic opportunity, which I address through specific policies. Tax credits for businesses who hire locally and give economic opportunities to New Yorkers. Small business property tax abatements for landlords who agree to reduce small business rent, and in dire situations, tax freezes. 2) Increased resilience efforts on the peninsula and the outlying neighborhoods of Howard Beach, Broad Channel, and Hamilton. 3) Education. I am proposing a number of initiatives for public and private schools to help give our students a real chance for once when it comes to “the real world.”

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

Graziano: My leadership and my tolerance. I currently lead a team of dedicated organizers throughout the country in pursuing governmental reforms. I coordinate between people of differing opinions and beliefs to come to a measured response to the campaigns we face. I can bring my advocacy and organizing experience to the council to advocate for our district. As a moderate, I bring a degree of tolerance sorely needed now. We need people willing to debate and compromise with those who share differing opinions, at the end of the day, we all want what is best for the district and the city.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Graziano: The park that I spent the most time at as a child, and still to this day – Charles Park. It is a welcome reprieve from the day-to-day and offers a space to think and gain perspective. It has been a god-send for me through the years. I want to continue efforts to maintain these parks through greater coordination with state and federal agencies. A park is a hallmark of  a good community and a great neighborhood. It’s something we give to our children so they can pass along the memories of that place and make memories of their own. 

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

Graziano: I will be ranking Community Board 9 Chair, Kenny Wilson, second. I find that he is a man who has government experience, knows the value of taking a moderate tone and stance when it comes to issues as well as being a person who understands the community. Like myself, I am certain he is a man who can bridge divides and build broad coalitions. 

QNS: District 32 is one of the most vulnerable districts to storms and extreme weather events. What work would you do, if elected, to make the district more resilient?

Graziano: I would continue efforts that have been undertaken over the years in order to offer continuity in planning and continued coordination with the proper channels. This would, of course, include working closely with the state senator and assemblywoman. However, I would like to go further in certain regards. The communities of Howard Beach and Hamilton are especially vulnerable to flooding, and in order to increase resilience we must increase access to these areas. Right now, in the event of a major storm there is only one major road out of Old Howard. Hamilton is only accessible via one road and two walking bridges. I want to extend the Hawtree Basin Bridge for vehicle traffic as a way to expand exits for the residents. Secondly, I would like to reconnect Charles Park and Cross Bay Boulevard by rebuilding the bridge. This will be a small but significant way to increase resilience.

Bella Matias

Bella Matias. (Photo courtesy of campaign)

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

Matias: First: Economic recovery through assistance and grants for small businesses, prevailing wages, pushing for local hire union jobs. Second: Improving education through teaching youth financial literacy, teaching youth civic engagement, technology and Programming courses and ensuring access to Wi-Fi and Devices necessary for all students K-12. Third: Helping homeowners through, opposing property tax increases on 1-3 family homes and protecting and helping homeowners who are behind on their mortgage due to COVID-19 related arrears with city backed interest free loans.

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

Matias: I have always been involved as a leader in any community I step into, from being in student government in college, to starting my own self-funded nonprofit and doing community organizing, to running campaigns for other political candidates. The bottom line is I always lead from a place of love and take the actions necessary that get results.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Matias: I love the sense of pride and respect our community has. You see this sense of pride and respect every day in the way this community is taken care of. We keep our streets clean, we work to ensure we keep it free of vandalism. The residents here hold on to their culture and traditions. It’s a beautiful place to live and grow up and raise a family.

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

Matias: I will not be ranking anyone second on my ballot, with this pandemic there are urgent problems to address and I would not entrust anyone else to attack those problems. We need a strong leader, with a genuine heart who cares for all the residents in the community, with a strong team as well; that’s what I am and that’s what I have.

QNS: District 32 is one of the most vulnerable districts to storms and extreme weather events. What work would you do, if elected, to make the district more resilient?

Matias: If elected as City Councilwoman for District 32 I would reinforce flood zones, and advocate to provide tax breaks for homeowners whose homes are properly insured and protected.

Michael Scala

Michael Scala. (Photo courtesy of campaign)

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

Scala: We find ourselves in a tremendously challenging time in our history and the most important step we can take is to promote unity. There is more that unites us than divides us, and working together we can build consensus around shared issues. In our district, access to high quality education must be a priority. This includes infrastructure upgrades such as municipal broadband to ensure every family can participate in remote learning. Environmental protection is of utmost importance given our coastal location. Economic opportunity must be created to help us recover from the pandemic, including building the QueensRail to stimulate business.

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

Scala: I’m an attorney with experience in both the public and private sectors. As counsel and legislative director in the New York State Senate, I’ve drafted language that is seen in our current law and worked on the state budget. As a civil litigator in solo practice, I’ve successfully taken on the city in court on behalf of district residents. I also have first hand experience with the challenges small business owners face. Additionally, I’ve worked to bring people together throughout our district. A food pantry started by organizations I represent serves over 800 local families of all backgrounds weekly.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Scala: There is no place I’d rather be. My parents met on the sands of Rockaway Beach, so it should come as no surprise I consider our beaches the best in the city. After a dip in the ocean, visit any of the multitude of delicious restaurants throughout our district. If you enjoy seafood, you can’t go wrong with the clams on Cross Bay Boulevard. More than anything, I love how beautifully diverse the district is, both in terms of geography and population. It exemplifies the very best our borough has to offer.

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

Scala: I have not yet decided which candidate I will rank second, but I am considering a few choices. Shaeleigh Severino is an inspiring young voice in our community and has some exciting ideas for the future. Kaled Alamarie has an impressive background and possesses qualifications I believe are important in a leader.

QNS: District 32 is one of the most vulnerable districts to storms and extreme weather events. What work would you do, if elected, to make the district more resilient?

Scala: Superstorm Sandy devastated us deeply. In some ways, we’re still recovering from it. I’ve been an advocate for increased resiliency and will use my platform in the City Council to fulfill that need. The beach isn’t only about recreation – it’s supposed to be a line of defense against the weather. The erosion we’re now seeing is alarming. I will work with local leaders and partners in government to ensure protective measures like jetties are in place. Simultaneously, we must reduce the likelihood of further disaster by combating climate change.

Shaeleigh Severino

Shaeleigh Severino. (Courtesy of campaign)

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

Severino: Firstly, education. I have witnessed firsthand the effects of cuts to school funding and the threats of closures. We need to find a consensus where our children don’t suffer the consequences of economic inequality. We lack community equity. That means that for years we have been forgotten and pushed aside. Or small businesses facing bankruptcy and closures as a result of inflated commercial rent, our youth suffering academically because of the huge digital divide, our LGBTQIA+ community facing homelessness alone because of the discrimination that consumes our country – I can go on. Lastly, lack of reliable transportation options. Four words: late-night bus service. 

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

Severino: I grew up in a home that thrived on organizing and advocacy. My mom at a young age taught me that while challenging the status quo, we must also find power in assembling and that is what I‘ve been doing. I found my passion for helping others and started finding ways to better my high school as well as my college campus later on. I started my paralegal career to provide guidance and support to my community while using my knowledge in law. Each of my earlier endeavors has inspired me to confront the masses and create the space my community so desperately needed. 

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Severino: Our resilience. Every time we are struck by disaster whether it be Hurricane Sandy, extreme coastal flooding, lack of COVID-19 response, hard-hit small business, or lack of resources, we unite as a community. We fight and protect one another. That’s why I’m running for office and that’s why I love and am so proud to be a member of my community.

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

Severino: I am still weighing my options and watching the field in my district.

QNS: District 32 is one of the most vulnerable districts to storms and extreme weather events. What work would you do, if elected, to make the district more resilient?

Severino: Our district is no stranger to the threat of climate change. Superstorm Sandy still shows its mark all these years after. As City Councilwoman, I will fight to protect our beaches and homes from coastal flooding and reasonably and safely expand more green modes of transportation towards vital employment opportunities and support preventative measures to combat climate change. 

Helal Sheikh

Helal Sheikh. (Photo courtesy of campaign)

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

Sheikh: The top three most pressing issues in my district are fast and fair vaccine distribution, supporting small businesses, and improving Queens’ transportation. 

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

Sheikh: Queens needs real leadership now more than ever. When the pandemic hit, I provided free medical assistance to the community. In the City Council, I will work to save the Queens I love by fighting for a fair vaccine rollout and providing support for small businesses. I want to build a Queens that works for everybody by improving transportation and lowering property taxes. I’ll protect the Queens that welcomed me as an immigrant at 17 and gave me opportunities to succeed.

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Sheikh: I’m running for City Council in District 32 to give everyone in Queens the same opportunities to succeed that I had. New York welcomed me as an immigrant at 17 years old, taught me English, and led me to become a public school teacher. I worked hard—nothing comes easy here—but New York gave me the chance to thrive. 

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

Sheikh: I look forward to learning more about the other candidates but I have not decided at this time as I am focused on my own campaign.

QNS: District 32 is one of the most vulnerable districts to storms and extreme weather events. What work would you do, if elected, to make the district more resilient?

Sheikh: It seems like nearly every day we are reminded that climate change is making extreme weather events more frequent. The city must be planning – and investing – to protect our coastal neighborhoods from rising sea levels, the next superstorm, and other risks posed by abnormal weather. City Hall wants to spend billions protecting Manhattan, but isn’t doing enough for communities like mine in Queens. We need to be investing in natural and manmade drainage systems and other infrastructure to protect against catastrophic flooding. We need to revisit zoning to make sure it makes sense for the changes and risks ahead. And we need to make sure the process is equitable for the most economically vulnerable, who are also among the most physically vulnerable to climate risk.

Felicia Singh

Felicia Singh. (Photo courtesy of campaign)

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

Singh: It is important to acknowledge that many of the pressing issues in District 32 are interconnected and an intersectional approach is essential to solving these deeply rooted issues that impact our quality of life. Three major parts of my platform are fully funding and integrating schools, climate and environmental resilience, and safe and equitable transportation. All of these issues, and more, intersect with the resources and plans we need in our community to live a dignified life. Visit my website felicia2021.com to learn more about my platform.

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

Singh: I am a lifelong resident of Ozone Park, graduate of NYC Public schools, and a teacher. I’ve served our community through voter registration, cleanups, and I’ve been an advocate of more testing and vaccination centers in the district. I’m running because the city’s systems don’t work for our communities. My family is currently experiencing a housing crisis as a result of failed leadership during the taxi medallion crisis. Housing is an important issue in our district and across this city. We need people like me in the City Council who experienced these systems and have the courage to change them. 

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Singh: This community raised me to be the person I am today. When my sister was 8, she was diagnosed with leukemia and our family needed support. Our community rallied together with our neighborhood schools: P.S. 64, M.S. 202 and 210 to fundraise for my family. I was 12 years old and so moved by my community. My family stayed in Ozone Park because of the kindness and love we received. I am inspired by the power of this district coming together to support their neighbors and that’s why I love my district.

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

Singh: Our district has experienced Republican leadership for the last 11 years, despite Democrats far outnumbering them here. I think it is important that District 32 is more accurately represented, and specifically by a working-class woman of color or person of color to reflect our diverse community. This is the type of person I would rank second on my ballot. 

QNS: District 32 is one of the most vulnerable districts to storms and extreme weather events. What work would you do, if elected, to make the district more resilient?

Singh: Our district is one of the most vulnerable and we need to start teaching, innovating, and creating policy today. A resilience plan at the most local level is a just and fair transition towards climate adaptation, mitigation, and aligns with NYC’s 2050 climate goals. Currently, our city does not create integrated plans for resilience. The first thing I would do is write legislation that requires an integrated plan. This would mandate city agencies, scientists, community leaders and our youth to build a plan together. Each coastal district is different and specific plans for our neighborhoods is how we build resilience.

Kenichi Wilson

Kenichi Wilson. (Photo courtesy of campaign)

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

Wilson: First – quality of life. I will work tirelessly on quality-of-life issues such as public safety, trash collection, graffiti and various other nuisance complaints. I believe in The Broken Windows Theory which targets minor crimes to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes. Second – small businesses. As a business owner, I understand that small businesses are the backbone and life-blood of our local economy. Therefore, I will advocate to create and fund programs to lessen the burdens of conducting business here in New York City. Third – education. As a City Council member, I will continue to work with our local schools on behalf of students, parents and teachers.

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

Wilson: As a result of my involvement in many community-based organizations and local neighborhood projects, I was appointed to Community Board 9. My many years of volunteering provided me with the skills to be an effective member of this grassroots New York City government agency. One year after my appointment I was given the opportunity to chair the community board’s important Transportation Committee. With the support and confidence of my fellow board members I was elected twice as chairman of the board. I have the honor to represent and serve approximately 160,000 individuals on behalf of CB 9. I am confident that I have the dedication, commitment and governmental experience to effectively represent the 32nd Council District. 

QNS: What do you love most about your district?

Wilson: The diversity. This is an enriching component of this district, which allows us to learn and appreciate, not only what makes us different but most importantly, which similar qualities that allow us to come together as a community. 

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

Wilson: We are still early in the petition process, and unaware of who will be on the ballot. Therefore, whoever appears on the ballot, we look forward to an honest and respectable race. 

QNS: District 32 is one of the most vulnerable districts to storms and extreme weather events. What work would you do, if elected, to make the district more resilient?

Wilson: As Chair of Community Board 9 I supported the NYC City Department of City Planning’s Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency. This plan would strengthen coastal defense against flooding, ensure building designs can withstand and recover from flooding, protect the community’s infrastructure from damage caused by flooding and continue to promote emergency preparedness.

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