NYC Primary Election 2020: Zohran Mamdani Vies For Simotas' Seat

Maya Kaufman

ASTORIA, QUEENS — Democrats in western Queens will get to cast a ballot this month in a collection of local, state and federal primary races — including the 36th Assembly District, where state Assembly Member Aravella Simotas will defend her seat against challenger Zohran Mamdani.

Mamdani, a first-time candidate for elected office, is a foreclosure prevention counselor for the nonprofit Chhaya CDC and a member of the Queens branch of the Democratic Socialists of America. He was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda, and received a degree in Africana studies from Bowdoin College.

The 36th Assembly District covers a swath of Astoria.

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.

Zohran Mamdani

Age as of Election Day (Nov. 3)

28

NYC neighborhood of residence

Astoria

Position Sought

State Assembly

Party Affiliation

Democrat

Family

N/A

Does anyone in your family work in politics or government?

No

Education

BA, Africana Studies - Bowdoin College

Occupation

Foreclosure Prevention Counselor

Previous or Current Elected or Appointed Office

N/A

Campaign website

zohranforassembly.com

Why are you seeking elective office?

As a foreclosure prevention counselor, my job is to help families on the brink of homelessness stay in the homes they worked their whole lives to earn.

Every day, I come face to face with the human consequences of decades of pro-corporate and pro-landlord politics in Albany.

Every day, I'm reminded that all this suffering isn't inevitable - it's a choice that our representatives make to put the interests of their campaign donors over the well-being over their constituents.

I'm running to give Astoria a different choice. I'm not taking a dime of corporate money so that I can fight for policies that bought-and-paid-for politicians never can: housing as a human right for all, publicly owned utilities, and an end to mass incarceration.

The single most pressing issue facing our nation/state/community is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.

Housing for All.

Rent in Astoria is out of control: 24 percent of our neighbors spend half their income on rent. Why? Investors are buying up our community, and the only new housing that gets built are luxury buildings for the rich. We need to take back control of our housing market so that it works for everyone, not just big landlords and developers. That means passing Good Cause eviction protections and passing a flip tax to ease the upward pressure on rents that have been spiking for years.

What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?

Our opponents has taken more than $230,000 in corporate and special interest money over the past 10 years. In her last financial disclosure, she received twice as much money from Albany lobbyists as she did from people living in Astoria.

Our campaign is funded by the people, for the people, and that's why I'll be able to fight for our community in Albany.

If you are a challenger, in what way has the current board or officeholder failed the community (or district or constituency)

In 2005, 5 percent of homes on the market in Astoria were bought by investors. In 2019, it was 26 percent, after spiking at 41 percent in 2015. Rents have gone up 30 percent in just 10 years. Lifelong residents of the district are being priced out by runaway gentrification and hardly any resources are invested in helping people stay in their homes.

The entire time this was happening, Aravella Simotas was raking in huge campaign contributions from the landlords and developers making Astoria unliveable for working families. And even after she made a promise to stop taking real estate money, she broke it, and took more than $10,000 from wealthy developers and landlords just a few months ago.

I will never accept a dime from big developers or landlords so that I can fight to guarantee housing as a human right for every New Yorker.

Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform

Justice for All: Our police and prison systems are inhumane. They don’t solve the problems that people had going in, in fact they often make them worse – or create ones that weren't there to begin with. When we lock people up for years at a time, we make it impossible for them to support themselves and their families. All of this makes us less safe, not more. We need to roll back the power and presence of police and prisons, and invest in housing, jobs, education, and social services, and the stable communities those create.

Energy for All: We don't let private companies own roads and bridges, so why should they own essential services like heat and electricity? Right now, our utility companies are allowed to jack up rates so they can pay their executives and shareholders a lot more money. We need to take over these companies and start running them for the benefit of our community, not corporate CEOs.

What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?

I'm most proud of all I've been able to do to help Queens families stay in their homes when they were on the brink of homelessness. Last year, I worked with a couple facing eviction from their apartment of 20 years. The wife got sick and couldn’t work. The husband, a doorman, couldn’t support them on his own. I got them a cash grant to clear their debt. Another family I worked with used electric heaters after their boiler broke and they couldn’t afford to fix it. But they couldn’t afford the huge Con Ed bills either. Con Ed was threatening to cut their power, so I got them help to settle the bill.

Every day I go to work and fight for the people of Queens County. I know I can keep doing that as a member of the legislature, and fight for people all across New York.

The best advice ever shared with me was:

Not so much advice, but Arundhati Roy said: “There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless'. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

My goal is to make the voices of the preferably unheard ring load and clear in Albany.

What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions? (No response)

This article originally appeared on the Astoria-Long Island City Patch