FOREST HILLS, QUEENS — Democrats in central and northeastern Queens will get to cast a ballot this month in a collection of local, state and federal primary races — including the 6th Congressional District, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Grace Meng will defend her seat against challengers Melquiades (Mel) Gagarin and Sandra Choi.
Gagarin is a community organizer. He previously worked as a congressional aide for U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose district included south central Queens, and a communications liaison for state Sen. Jose Serrano Jr. of The Bronx. He is a member of the Queens branch of the Democratic Socialists of America and received a master's degree in public administration and policy from American University. In 2009, he competed against five other candidates for a City Council seat representing Kew Gardens, which is now held by Karen Koslowitz.
The 6th Congressional District includes parts of Auburndale, Bayside, Elmhurst, Flushing, Forest Hills, Glendale, Kew Gardens, Maspeth, Middle Village, Murray Hill and Rego Park.
The primary election, slated for June 23, is open to registered Democratic voters. All New York voters may request a mail-in ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ballots must be postmarked by the date of the election for the vote to get counted.
For those who want to head to the polls, click here to find your poll site. Early voting is available from June 13 to June 21.
Patch reached out to all candidates in the primary election to create these profiles. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Melquiades R Gagarin
Age as of Election Day (Nov. 3)
NYC neighborhood of residence
Married to Aleda Gagarin, with three young children
Does anyone in your family work in politics or government?
Masters in Public Administration and Policy, American University
Bachelor of Arts, American University
Public Policy Advocate 15 years, Stay at home dad and Community Organizer
Previous or Current Elected or Appointed Office
Why are you seeking elective office?
Policies such as Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and a Homes Guarantee should have always been non-negotiable starting points in New York’s Sixth Congressional District. Instead of supporting solutions, incumbent electeds have continuously chosen to bail out corporate donors, landlords, and Wall Street — even in the face of COVID-19. I’m running for Congress because I want to fight for a just future for all of my neighbors and solve the challenges facing our country today. We’re championing a policy platform that aims to reduce suffering for all communities and achieves justice across all aspects of life.
In order to save our democracy and reduce economic inequality, it’s critical to build a base in Congress that isn’t beholden to corporate interests. I’m refusing contributions from corporate PACs, real estate developers, and the fossil fuel industry. I’m the only candidate to sign CODEPINK’s pledge to divest from war and to refuse contributions from weapons manufacturers.
The single most pressing issue facing our nation/state/community is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.
Covid-19 brought to the fore the need for true universal single-payer healthcare. Medicare for All is my top legislative priority. In the 1970s, when other countries around the world had long implemented or were implementing national health insurance plans, we put our health in the hands of private enterprise. Decades and billions of lobbying dollars later, the results are clear: the United States spends far more on healthcare than any other nation, with significantly worse outcomes — including the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.
With a single-payer program, all residents of the United States will be covered for their medical services, including, preventive, long-term care, mental health, reproductive health care, prescription drug, and medical supply costs. Eliminating co-pays, premiums, and deductibles mean that everyday Americans will no longer have to weigh the cost of paying for life-saving medicine against feeding their families. Reproductive justice policies must also be included in Medicare for All, ensuring that no-cost services of contraception, STI prevention, abortion, pre-natal and post-natal care are offered to all communities.
Solving the COVID-19 crisis requires the coordinated implementation of several federal programs, including a single-payer national program. Until we can elect enough candidates to lead on these issues, healthcare for everyday Americans will continue to be an unaffordable privilege.
What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?
Income inequality is at the root of our country’s issues of healthcare, climate, housing, and more. My platform — whether it is Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, or a Homes Guarantee — aims to address this root cause. Unlike the incumbent, I’m refusing contributions from corporate PACs, real estate developers, and the fossil fuel industry. I’m the only candidate to sign CODEPINK’s pledge to divest from war and to refuse contributions from weapons manufacturers.
The incumbent voted to weaken Dodd-Frank in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. In the face of another economic crisis, that lack of regulation will be exploited by Wall Street. The incumbent continues to take money from the military-industrial complex, voted against the Iran Deal during the Obama years, and recently partnered with Republican Rep. Joe Wilson to deploy an Iron Dome missile defense against Iran, which will only worsen tensions created by President Trump. If we want to protect our troops in Iraq, we have to fight to get the Iran Deal back and bring our troops home. Finally, my opponent is a staunch supporter of the real estate industry, having accepted $379,344 while representing the district, all the while watching overdevelopment and housing costs displace constituents and small, local businesses.
If you are a challenger, in what way has the current board or officeholder failed the community (or district or constituency)
As a sitting American President tears apart families and our democracy, we need our elected officials to fight on the frontlines against authoritarianism. Yet what we have is a four-term incumbent who repeatedly fails to show moral and political courage, choosing corporate donors over people every time. When I see my opponent vote for bills with Republicans, that even Nancy Pelosi has voted against, it tells me that a Democrat by name isn’t good enough. The legislation she supports in the name of bipartisanship presents ulterior motives and real harm to our communities.
Some may see these votes as necessary compromises to “get things done,” but it’s this way of thinking that got us here: the midst of a national healthcare crisis, corporate bailouts, and the possibility of another recession. National leaders still continue to oppose universal single-payer healthcare, but enthusiastically support corporate bailouts to the tunes of billions while the people get a one time check that can barely cover rent for most Queens residents. Rank-and-file members of the Democratic Party, especially the incumbent, are comfortable doing the bare minimum to get to the next election cycle, rather than actually fighting for real policies that meet desired policy outcomes.
Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform
Growing up in Queens, I’ve seen firsthand how elders are robbed of their respect and dignity in their golden years because of their or their family’s circumstances. Elders who are retired should not be priced out of their homes or be unable to afford long-term quality healthcare. In Congress, I’ll introduce a “Golden Years Security” Act. Golden Years will make sure that the basic needs of our elders are met: from preventing discrimination of LGBTQIA+ elders in nursing facilities to addressing the specialized medical needs that our current infrastructure fails to. The Golden Years Security Act will also subsidize and expand home care services, increase the number of union nurses and caretakers, provide resources to train caretakers, meet the challenges of end-of-life care, and help families that must choose assisted living facilities.
I will make sure Green New Deal projects are introduced in the district as well as the creation of millions of new social housing units. I also support tuition-free public colleges, universities and trade schools, investing in UBI experiments, and ensuring a path to citizenship for our DREAMer friends and neighbors.
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
My entire career has been dedicated to advancing the causes of social justice and addressing inequity, particularly those faced by marginalized communities. Before becoming a stay at home dad, I led the policy department at College and Community Fellowship working to eliminate barriers to higher education for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals. There, I worked alongside impacted individuals, activists and other stakeholders to eliminate the box on SUNY admissions forms, get the Obama DOE to roll out the Pell Pilot Program for incarcerated students, and see the issuance of national guidance to eliminate the box from the college admissions process. We also saw the introduction of the REAL Act in both houses of Congress that would undo the harm of the 1994 Crime Bill which restricted incarcerated students from Pell Grants.
Additionally, I have worked as a Congressional aide representing parts of this district and have helped advance gender, racial, and economic justice at organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Planned Parenthood of New York City.
The best advice ever shared with me was:
Your ego is not your amigo.
What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?
I’m a stay-at-home dad, a renter, a community advocate and a progressive candidate who was born in Elmhurst to a Puerto Rican mother and a Filipino immigrant father. I was raised by my mom — a single parent and 1199 SEIU nurse — and my abuela in a one-bedroom apartment. My lived experiences here inspire me to fight for working people, families and immigrants across the district.