Julia Forman, a city council candidate for western Queens’ District 26, is expecting her first child while on the campaign trail and says her pregnancy has helped her shape a platform that will cater to the needs of young parents.
“A lot of issues that affect parents were always issues I cared about and were important to me, but when I became pregnant, a lot of these things became more personal,” Forman said. “I really started thinking about them from a different perspective: ‘What are parents going to do versus what I’m going to do.’”
Forman, a 33-year-old resident of Dutch Kills, said she recently met with birthing workers and parents of different backgrounds in District 26 — which encompasses the western Queens neighborhoods of Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Astoria and Dutch Kills — to come up with a plan that would address some of the issues they face.
One of Forman’s main points is to develop a comprehensive and equitable prenatal care plan by bringing a hospital to the district so that birthing centers can open.
Forman noted that although Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorized midwife-led birthing centers to open in the state last year, the law also requires birthing centers to be within 15 minutes of an emergency hospital, making it difficult for centers to be constructed in underserved areas of Queens.
“With all the hospital closures that Queens has seen, we really don’t have close access to that sort of health care in a district that’s pretty well-populated and definitely full of young families,” she said.
Forman said that while some residents in the eastern end of the district can go to Elmhurst Hospital for labor and delivery needs, their nearest hospital, Mount Sinai Queens in Astoria, doesn’t offer those services.
“Pregnant people are most often going over the bridge into Manhattan,” Forman said, which is what she plans to do.
But Forman acknowledged that not everyone has that option nor access to adequate healthcare.
Forman wants to work with birthing workers and activists to develop an actionable plan to combat the Black maternal mortality rate, as Black women are 12 times more likely to die during childbirth in the city.
She said some ways to combat that is by recruiting and funding training of doulas from the Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities to be employed by NYC Health and Hospitals as well as fully funding Manhattan City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal’s “Access to Doulas Act” in order to provide free or low-cost access to doulas for all pregnant people who want one at any point of their pregnancy.
“It’s proven that it helps save lives,” Forman said.
Another aspect of her platform involves investment in early childhood by building more public community centers; using parks, libraries and other open space to help community members connect; and guaranteeing all children in the district have access to Universal 3K.
Forman, a former Bronx assistant district attorney, also wants to see paid family leave extended to 24 weeks (currently, New York employees are guaranteed up to 12 weeks), with a guarantee that new parents can return to their jobs within 12 months of birth or adoption. She believes the city should create a fund with these benefits for freelancers and other gig workers.
“So many people — especially during, and I think it’ll probably continue post-COVID — have moved into the gig economy,” she said. “I think it has a chilling effect on people’s ability to start a family when you’re not sure how you’ll be able to support yourself without having some sort of guaranteed leave.”
Because Forman comes from a family of educators and understands how critical education is, she’s pushing even more so for schools to be fully funded so as to reduce class sizes, offer more after-school programing and ensure they’re all staffed with social workers and mental health professionals.
To help fund schools equitably, she believes schools in each district should contribute 5 percent of PTA fundraising to a district-wide pool that’s then redistributed inversely.
“It’s not a lot and they’ll know the schools that it’ll end up going to, their kids might actually have gone to preschool with some of those kids or played soccer after school with some of them,” Forman said. “But I think even just a little bit from some schools can mean a world of a difference to another school in terms of what they’re able to offer their students.”
Forman, who serves as treasurer of the Western Queens Community Land Trust, also added to her affordable housing platform — one of the main issues in the district, she says.
She wants to restructure the current Area Median Income formula to reflect what people in a household can actually afford and alter income requirements to account for children, elderly and disabled dependents. Additionally, she’s advocating for a residential and commercial vacancy tax to not only improve affordability but also offset new tax incentives for opening childcare centers.
“We need to have universal childcare,” Forman said, adding that it can help close the wage gap and address the disproportionate amount of women of color who lost their jobs during COVID.
Forman is one of more than a dozen candidates vying to replace term-limited Jimmy Van Bramer. She said her pregnancy has only added to her drive to represent the community where she plans to raise her family.
“Starting a family is something I wanted to do, always,” Forman said. “It’s awesome and it’s terrifying and I’m also incredibly lucky that I have this village. When they say it takes a village, I’m really banking on that. I’m going to keep having the community around me to help guide me, and I like to think that, hopefully, that’s something that both I’ll benefit from, but also be able to contribute to going forward.”
Forman believes it’s ultimately important to have the perspective of young mothers in office, as women in general are underrepresented in New York City Council. This year, though, more than 150 women are running for City Council and are leading in fundraising, according to THE CITY. Forman is one of the top fundraisers in District 26.
“Thinking about my future child, being able to say to them, ‘I was pregnant with you when I was doing this,’ and using that as, hopefully, something that they find inspiring, that it’ll show them that … if they feel really passionately about something, no matter your circumstance, you have to do it,” Forman said. “Running for office started well before I got pregnant. This is a community that I love, and when I say I want to fight for a future designed for us, I really do mean it.”