Candidate forums held for Assembly District 37 candidates; Incumbent Ardila a no-show at both events

Johanna Carmona speaks to Ridgewood Property Owners on Thursday, June 6.
Photo courtesy AngSnaps Photography

Two candidate forums were recently held for candidates vying for the New York State Assembly District 37 seat.

The Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association held its candidate forum on Thursday, June 6, in Ridgewood. Days later, on Tuesday, June 11, the Western Queens Independent Democratic Club welcomed the candidates at its forum in Sunnyside.

Candidates Claire Valdez and Johanna Carmona, running in the Democratic primary, made their stances on key civil and political issues known and addressed questions from the audience.

Incumbent Juan Ardila did not show up at both forums. Already facing scrutiny for sexual assault accusations shortly after being elected in 2022 and claims of being ostracized by fellow lawmakers, Ardila faces fierce competition from the two candidates, eager to prove their commitment to the district.

The organizers for the June 6 debate reported that Ardila was unable to attend due to commitments in Albany. Moderators from the Queens Eagle and Queens Chronicle at the June 11 debate said Ardila was invited to the forum multiple times but has opted not to attend.

Despite his absence, participants in the dueling forums focused on learning the two new candidates’ views on key issues facing their neighborhoods, including Ridgewood, Maspeth, Sunnyside, Woodside and Long Island City. Discussions mostly encompassed workers’ rights, affordable housing and climate change.

For an audience of mostly Ridgewood property owners, both candidates emphasized the importance of prioritizing community needs and remaining independent in political decision-making.

One of the more property-owner-focused questions in the forum involved the impact of the Good Cause Eviction Law, which lays out the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants regarding evictions, leases and rent increases.

Valdez, a democratic socialist and union organizer, has lived in Ridgewood for the past five years. Her ties with the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) Region 9A bolster her mission to fight for workers’ rights and pro-union backing.

Her views on the Good Cause Eviction Law differed from those of her contender. Valdez said she believes the law has been watered down and moved away from its original intent. She continued by saying the law gives neighborhoods one way to keep predatory big corporate landlords from pushing out residents with higher rents.

“We don’t want to see big LLCs come into the neighborhood and buy out buildings, flip apartments and charge $4,000, $5,000 or $6,000 a month for rent that changes the character of our neighborhood,” Valdez said, vowing to fight for the spirit of the original version of the law.

Candidates at the June 11th forum held at Bajeko Sekuwa in Sunnyside.Photo by Christopher Leon Johnson

Carmona backed the impact of the Good Cause Eviction laws, adding that significant changes were made to reflect community concerns among landlords and tenants.

A Democrat and experienced attorney, Carmona is a lifelong Sunnyside resident. Her experience representing the public on the Housing and Civil Court’s Equal Justice Initiative Committee and 108th Precinct Community Council emphasizes her commitment to providing the community with steadfast advocacy.

“Being someone that worked at Queens County Civil, I saw a lot of tenants being taken advantage of, I did see landlords being taken advantage of,” Carmona said, adding it is community input that will determine added changes to the law.

Questions throughout the course of both forums, in Ridgewood and Sunnyside, also focused on varying quality-of-life concerns. Cannabis and the proliferation of weed shops throughout the city generated a unified response from the two candidates, with an emphasis on continuing to close the illegal smoke shops.

Valdez spoke more specifically on how the illegal shops take away from the main intentions of the legal cannabis rollout, causing further frustration in the effort to decriminalize its use.

“It does a detriment to this project as a whole. We have to make sure that these jobs remain closed,” Valdez said. “We have to make sure that the process is supposed to be rolled out actually happens, and that’s exactly how we make sure this is implemented in a safe way for our communities.”

Carmona spoke directly on the harmful products circulating through illegal smoke shops and how the aftermath of legalized recreational cannabis use has not been fully addressed. She also commented that the rollout of legal cannabis was rushed.

“It’s been one of the most frustrating things that I’ve seen with law enforcement, as well as other elected officials, and I hear their frustration,” Carmona said. “But if we’re going to pass something and we’re requiring licensing, we have to follow the law.”

The discussions later moved to public safety issues surrounding bail reform, the potential reinstatement of the death penalty in New York and criminal punishments.

Both candidates took a similar stance on bail reform and the death penalty, adding that bail reform has unseen benefits often exploited by others. The two also made clear they are not in favor of the death penalty.

Unfortunately for some, other topics at the forums were more federal or national rather than within the purview of the State. Regardless, the candidates were put on the spot in an effort to help some attendees learn more about the candidates’ personal views.

A question on congestion pricing was raised during the June 11 forum, and both candidates expressed their disappointment in the Governor’s last-minute decision to pause it.

One of the stand-out questions for the candidates during the June 6 debate involved the Israel-Hamas War.

Carmona took a reserved approach to her response to the conflict overseas, reminding forum attendees that it reaches outside the purview of the Assembly. However, she still condemned the violence taking place.

“What’s happening in Palestine is horrific. What happened on Oct. 7 was horrific,” said Carmona. “I think that seeing senseless deaths is so painful for all of us here in this community to watch. But in addition to that, to also see what happened on Oct. 7, and something like sexual violence, I will never stand for the use of a weapon, especially as a special victims prosecutor.”

After one forum participant clarified their question, the conversation then shifted to the passage of the Not On Our Dime Act. The proposed legislation in the NY State Assembly seeks to prohibit and punish New York charities engaging in unauthorized support of Israeli settlement activity.

Valdez confirmed her steadfast support for the Not On My Dime Bill, also clarifying that both the Hamas Oct. 7 attacks and the genocide of Palestinians that followed were an atrocity.

“What happened on Oct. 7 was an atrocity. It was an atrocity. What followed has been eight months, a genocide that has leveled Gaza, has displaced millions of Palestinians, over a million people are on the brink of famine and we’re witnessing 2,000 pound bombs dropped on refugee camps every day,” Valdez said, adding that there needs to be an immediate ceasefire.

New York State Primary Election Day is Tuesday, June 25, and the general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 5.