Top political stories to watch for in Queens in 2023

Juan Ardila (l.) and Kristen Gonzalez are poised to take office in western Queens in 2023. (QNS file photos)

As the calendar flips to 2023, there are several political stories to follow in Queens.

The borough will see new electeds take office, while the Queens DA race is heating up and several City Council members are up for reelection.

Here are the top political stories to follow in 2023.

Three new legislators from western Queens take their seats in Albany

There are three first-year lawmakers representing western Queens as the 2023 legislative session gets underway in Albany.

Maspeth progressive Juan Ardila succeeds longtime Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who retired after nearly three decades representing District 37, which includes Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Long Island City, Maspeth and Woodside.

Maspeth’s Juan Ardila succeeds longtime Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who retired after nearly three decades. (Courtesy of Ardila’s campaign)

Another newcomer, Woodside’s Steven Raga, is set to replace Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, who stepped down from his District 30 seat that includes the neighborhoods of Woodside, Elmhurst, Maspeth and parts of Jackson Heights. Raga made history by becoming the first Filipino American elected to the New York state Assembly.

Steven Raga with Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas (Photo by Carlotta Mohamed)

In the upper chamber, Long Island City progressive Kristen González takes her seat representing the newly drawn Senate District 59, which includes Long Island City, Sunnyside, Maspeth, Glendale and parts of Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood, Woodhaven and Woodside as well as Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Long Island City’s Kristen Gonzalez will represent the newly drawn Senate District 59. (Photo courtesy of Gonzalez’s campaign)

The political newcomer was backed by the Democratic Socialists of America and defeated moderate former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley in the Democratic primary before running unopposed in the general election.

González becomes the 12th Democratic Socialist elected in New York, and she joins Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán, Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as DSA-backed office holders representing Astoria.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz will face challenger in June Democratic primary

Retired Judge George Grasso is running against Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz in June’s Democratic primary in his quest to be the borough’s top law official.

In a pre-New Year’s message to her supporters, Katz touted her accomplishments during her first term in office, including the fight against gun violence by holding illegal weapons traffickers accountable by taking down multi-state smuggling rings. She also created the borough’s first-ever Human Trafficking Bureau to fight crime in one of America’s busiest international gateways, as well as her newly created Conviction Integrity Unit that overturned a number of wrongful convictions.

Katz acknowledged that she has an opponent for her re-election in the June primary, but did not name Grasso.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz (QNS file photo)

“I don’t keep my eye on the political winds every day. As district attorney, I’m a public servant first,” Katz concluded. “But I do know that to continue our work, we need to organize early to win re-election.”

Katz and Grasso got their degrees at St. John’s Law School just six years apart and pursued careers in public service.

Katz was elected to the state Assembly, City Council and the Queens borough president’s office before she becoming district attorney in 2020.

Grasso took a different path. He was a beat cop in Queens when he pursued his law degree during night school at SJU and rose through the NYPD ranks to the executive level, where he would become first deputy police commissioner during the Giuliani administration. Grasso was the liaison to the FBI at Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center.

During a recent walking tour of downtown Flushing, where he discussed the impact of retail crime with the merchants who have to deal with it on a daily basis, Grasso said the DA’s office had to develop a better plan to combat rising crime rates in precincts like the 109th.

George Grasso (Courtesy of Grasso’s campaign)

“We need the district attorney, the chief law enforcement officer of the county, to take proactive measures where they’re needed,” Grasso said. “You’ve got to deal with what’s actually happening on the street and is undermining people’s quality of life. You have to get after the people who don’t obey the law and let them know that there are gonna be consequences, there is going to be accountability, then you can start to get crime down again.”

Ten women members of Queens delegation to City Council seek re-election in 2023

The historic first-ever woman majority in the City Council would not have been possible without the 10 women who represent Queens, including Speaker Adrienne Adams and Councilwomen Tiffany Cabán, Linda Lee, Nantasha Williams, Vickie Paladino, Selvena Brooks-Powers, Lynn Schulman, Joann Ariola, Sandra Ung and Julie Won. All 10 are seeking re-election in 2023, as their terms were shortened to two years as part of the decennial redistricting process.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams is among the 10 women from the Queens delegation facing re-election in 2023. (Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller)

Won is facing a challenge from a familiar face. When she emerged as the winner in the 2021 Democratic primary, Won was in a field of candidates that was so crowded it was featured in a documentary that premiered at the Queens World Film Festival. “District 26: A New York Election Story” chronicled the race that featured 15 candidates in the race to replace Jimmy Van Bramer.

Won became a citywide figure during the prolonged public review process for the controversial Innovation QNS megaproject in Astoria, in which she held out for more affordability before supporting the project despite pressure from Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Mayor Eric Adams.

Sunnyside resident Hailie Kim finished sixth in the District 26 primary and she recently stepped down as an organizer and staff member at MinKwon and as a professor at Hunter College in order to campaign full-time. When Kim announced she would challenge Won at Woodside’s Doughboy Park, she called out Won for voting to approve Mayor Adams’ education cuts, which slashed citywide funding by more than $400 million, and $33 million in District 26.

“This is a difficult time for Queens families, especially immigrant students, and I am running to serve our community because we deserve so much more than this,” Kim said. “We need to set our expectations higher. This is our home and we will fight for us.”

Won’s husband and campaign manager Eugene Noh dismissed Kim’s math.

“The $33 million cut for our district is a total fabrication. Either our opponent has terrible information or she is being intentionally deceptive to our neighbors,” Noh said. Kim’s campaign spokeswoman said the data is from the Galaxy Budget Allocation and that the cuts have led to teacher layoffs and program cancellations. Noh countered by saying Won has restored $11.4 million in capital funding, discretionary funding and other streams specifically for schools in District 26.

Avella launches political comeback in northeast Queens

Tony Avella announced he would run against Councilwoman Vickie Paladino in 2023. (QNS file photo)

Tony Avella launched his campaign to challenge Republican Councilwoman Vickie Paladino in 2023. In 2021, Paladino defeated Avella by 387 votes in a race that was too close to call until two weeks after election day.

Avella’s campaign is the only one citywide that has been approved for public funds by the Campaign Finance Board so far in the 2023 election cycle.