Queens Assemblymember Juan Ardila runs for re-election amid sexual assault allegations and widespread criticism

Juan Ardila
Photo via Twitter

Assemblymember Juan Ardila, a western Queens Democrat whose time in office has been mired by two sexual assault allegations, is running for re-election despite being shunned by progressives and his electorate at large.

Ardila, who won the vacant Assembly District 37 seat in 2022 that covers Ridgewood, Sunnyside and portions of surrounding neighborhoods, was hit by scandal just three months after taking office when he was accused of sexually assaulting two women at a party in November 2015. Since the allegations surfaced, he has become a party pariah, with elected leaders such as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Gov. Kathy Hochul calling for him to step down.

The embattled incumbent now faces two female candidates challenging him in this year’s Democratic primary. Both are racking up endorsements and campaign contributions and have foot soldiers spreading their policy platforms in the field. 

Meanwhile, Ardila, who filed to run for re-election in November, is bereft of endorsements, and the campaign money has been barely trickling in. 

Ardila won office in 2022 after being backed by high-profile progressives such as Ocasio-Cortez, City Comptroller Brad Lander, State Sen. Jessica Ramos, Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, City Council Member Tiffany Cabán and the Working Families Party.

But now, most of these elected officials and organizations have either iced Ardila out or told him in no uncertain terms to step down. Many were stunned when he filed to run again, although he had refused to answer questions about seeking reelection when the sexual allegations first became public.

Claire Valdez, a union organizer and Democratic Socialist from Ridgewood who is running to take his seat, has repeatedly said that Ardila is not up to the job and should not represent the district.

“Juan Ardila has been too distracted by sexual harassment scandals to do his job,” she said in a statement earlier this year. She followed it up with a statement to QNS this week: “It’s a shame the Assembly member doesn’t step aside for the good of the district.”

Meanwhile, Sunnyside attorney and community leader Johanna Carmona, who is also seeking to replace Ardila as the next assembly member, said: “It’s evident that the serious allegations against him and his subsequent actions—or lack thereof—have deeply impacted his credibility and effectiveness as a leader.”

Carmona, who unsuccessfully ran for the seat against Ardila in 2022, told QNS that her campaign is more about her platform and what’s next for the district than about the embattled incumbent. “Our campaign is committed to turning the page on this type of leadership.”

Meanwhile, Ardila did not respond for comment.

Ardila’s competitors

Valdez has won the coveted backing of the Working Families Party, which helped Ardila win office in 2022 through its door-knocking and outreach campaigns. The group is viewed as influential in western Queens. For instance, Council Member Jennifer Gutierrez, who represents parts of Ridgewood, garnered 28% of her vote on the WFP line when she was elected to the city council in 2023.

Valdez has also garnered most of the progressives that Ardila previously had, such as Cabán, Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani and State Sen. Kristen Gonzalez.

Furthermore, in September, Valdez was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America. 

Claire Valdez. Photo by Kara McCurdy

“I’ve been a proud member– and elected leader–in DSA for years, and we’re ready to work together to make sure our neighbors in AD-37 have the unbought, socialist, feminist representative they deserve in Albany,” she said at the time.

Last week, Valdez recognized that the primary is not just about competing against Ardila– but is very much a three-person race.

“We believe we’re running a winning campaign, but of course, we take everyone in the race seriously because our community needs a representative who can deliver what working families desperately need: permanently affordable housing, universal childcare, a renewable energy economy, and safe and reliable transit.”

Meanwhile, Carmona, who launched her campaign in January, has built her campaign around her life-long ties to the community and her neighborhood work. 

Sunnyside Carmona
Johanna Carmona. Photo courtesy of Carmona campaign

Carmona has gained the support of Democrats such as Assembly Members David Weprin and Andrew Hevesi, State Sen. John Liu, and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks. Council Member Bob Holden, who has long been at odds with Ardila, has also contributed to her campaign, and she has the backing of former District 37 Assembly Member Cathy Nolan.

“I am running to fix things with real, pragmatic solutions,” Carmona told QNS last week. “We are working towards transformative change that respects and uplifts the voices and needs of our constituents. Our primary concern is not just to address the shortcomings of one past community leader but to uplift the entire community with proactive, accountable leadership. The real ‘rival’ in this race is complacency—the idea that we can settle for the status quo when our district has such untapped potential for progress.”

Ardila launches campaign

Ardila, who is low on funds and has not garnered any recognizable endorsements, has conveyed that he has felt misunderstood since the March 2023 allegations.

His first response to the accusations clearly hurt him, since he initially acknowledged his “behavior” and then, weeks later, denied the specifics of the allegations.

The accusations stemmed from an anonymous call made in March 2023 by one of the women to several Queens publications–including QNS and Queens Post, with the story first published by the Queens Chroncile.

The woman alleged that Ardila “got handsy” with her on a couch at a party in 2015 attended by Fordham University students and alumni while she was intoxicated. Ardila, she said, allegedly tried to lead her down a hallway, but a friend intervened.

That same woman said that there was a second victim at the party who claimed that Ardila pulled her into the bathroom and started kissing her. He then allegedly exposed himself and started touching himself before she ran out. 

Ardila issued a statement just days later: “I apologize for my behavior. I have spent time reflecting, and I hope to prove that I have matured since college.” 

He then didn’t address the issue for months, during which time the local community board, Community Board 2, issued a statement of no confidence, and his colleagues in Albany rebuked him.

Three months later, after calling in an outside legal firm to conduct an investigation, he denied the accusations, saying that he made his initial statement based on bad political advice since he did not want to be seen as “attacking women.” 

Ardila told the Queens Post last year that he was surprised and disappointed that his friends and other elected officials were not interested in his explanations. He said that acknowledging his behavior didn’t necessarily mean that he sexually assaulted the women.

“They were uninterested in hearing me explain what had happened or even just ignored my requests to talk altogether,” he said. “I was already guilty in their mind…and falsely claimed that I admitted to it.”

Ardila, at the time, said he was committed to regaining the trust of his constituents.

Trust not regained

Despite his plea of innocence and desire to regain the trust of his constituents, he remains a political outcast. None of his colleagues who initially denounced him have embraced him since.

In fact, the Assembly Democrats took away his control over funding the district last year, with Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry in the neighboring district in charge of distributing roughly $250,000.

But Ardila’s biggest issue right now is in raising campaign coffers. He has struggled to raise funds since the sexual assault allegations.

In his January and March filings, he raised a total of $12,941, most of which came from himself and two donors. He contributed $1,500 to his campaign and made a $2,000 loan to himself, while he received a $1,000 donation from a Sunnyside veterinarian on Skillman Avenue and $3,000 from a union. Outside of these sources, he has raised approximately $5,400.

The numbers are meager compared to his rivals. Valdez has raised almost $95,000 since she announced her run last year. Meanwhile, Carmona, who only announced her election bid in January, has raised over $28,000.