NYS Assembly candidates for District 37 talk crime, taxes, eviction law

NYS Assembly District 37 candidate forum
Assembly District 37 Candidates Forum, June 9 (Photo by Julia Moro)

Four democratic candidates running for the New York State Assembly in District 37 — representing parts of central and western Queens — answered questions regarding crime, taxes and eviction laws during a forum hosted by the Ridgewood Property Owners & Civic Association Thursday, June 9. 

In the basement of the Ridgewood Presbyterian Church, the four candidates got a chance to introduce themselves and present their positions on many key issues for the city. 

The four candidates include Brent O’Leary, Sunnyside resident and self-proclaimed FDR Democrat; James Magee, a private-practice lawyer from Sunnyside; Juan Ardila, a first-generation American running to improve schools and housing policies; and Johanna Carmona, whom current Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan has endorsed. 

Nolan is retiring after 38 years in office due to an ongoing battle with cancer. Nolan endorsed Carmona, a 32-year-old lawyer and resident of Sunnyside, in February. The primary election will take place on June 28. 

Here are some of the questions the candidates were asked and their answers. Some answers have been condensed for length and clarity:

Q: We have a nearly 60% increase in overall crime compared to last year. How does each candidate plan to tackle this spike in crime and address the public safety issues in your district and the city in general?

Carmona: The crime in this district has increased by 300%. I believe that right now with Hochul’s plan to change bail reform and lowered the amount of firearms in order to have a felony. We have to see how that works out; it’s a step in the right direction. In addition to that, we need to be able to fund specific programs in mental health and substance abuse — there is a lack of that.

Ardila: I believe the most important function of government is making sure that people are safe. That is why I released a five-point plan to address the root causes of crime, to invest in social services and mental health services, address why we’re facing so much homelessness and most importantly, address gun violence. We could be the first state in the entire country to push for a firearm insurance policy to hold those financially accountable for purchasing guns.

O’Leary: A lot of people will talk about bail reform and I do not believe in cash bail. We should not be in jail or out of jail, depending on whether you have money or don’t. But if you are a danger to society, you must be kept in jail. We know that woman who got her skull fractured in Queens Plaza, are you going to let that person out? We want to give people a speedy trial but keep violent offenders in jail before trial.

Magee: Prior to the bail reform law, I was putting two or three clients a month through court-mandated treatment; I haven’t put one person in in two years. All my clients have gotten adjournments or straight-out dismissals because of the bail reform law. And they’re all out on the street and none of them are getting the help that they need. What I would do is reform the law and put it back to what it was when crime was down.

Q: The Good Cause Eviction Bill will make eviction of non-paying tenants take many months or even years to evict. This will have a huge impact on landlords on a modest income, especially here in Ridgewood. Small landlords, like us, will be homeless if tenants do not have to pay rent for years on end. What do you propose to prevent this law from coming to effect?

O’Leary: I think especially as small landowners, you have to watch out for your rights and I will do that. But we will also make sure there will be affordable housing for everybody. I have a very good affordable housing plan with a good pathway to ownership.

Ardila: I do support the Good Cause Eviction bill because I believe that housing is a human right that every New York deserves. The number one reason for homelessness across our state is eviction. I do not support eviction because it causes so much displacement and suffering for working-class people, for immigrant populations. I will be a champion for tenants. I will also be a champion for people who are small homeowners because no one is exempt from the housing crisis in New York.

Magee: I’m opposed to the law. I had a client in this neighborhood who had several tenants and two were not paying. It’s impossible to get anybody out and this law would make it that much harder to evict.

Carmona: I am supportive to a point. But, specifically, I’m thinking about the small property owners, and the language itself was not clear enough, and trying to evict someone in a court it’s going to be very hard to do. It’s about listening to everyone in the district. I also want to make sure tenants are protected. We’re not talking about tenants who don’t pay their rent.

Q: We understand that the NYC Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform has issued its final report on the proposal to overhaul New York City’s property tax system. This would dramatically raise property taxes on one- to three-family homes. The Wall Street Journal estimates Ridgewood one- to four-unit property taxes would double, again hurting our small landlords. What does the candidate propose to prevent this change from coming into effect?

Magee: The figures are astronomical if this takes effect here, but also where I live in Sunnyside, there are a lot of converted two-family homes. I’m opposed to it.

O’Leary: I’m going to fight it. It’s wrong. It’s a dumb law. I’m tired of the government looking to you as their piggy bank. As an FDR Democrat, I do believe in progressive taxation. I am going to tax the billionaires. I’m going to look for other ways to find funds than to go on you. What really makes America strong is the middle class.

Carmona: It is absolutely disgusting for this to fall on the middle class. It should be working toward taxing the wealthy because we don’t want New Yorkers leaving the city.

Ardila: We want to push a housing first model in New York. Homeowners can rent out basements, attics and garages. As tenants are paying for truly affordable housing units, that revenue goes to small homeowners that therefore they can use to pay property taxes.