I have been posting useful information on this [jhfamilies] listserv for a decade and have tried to keep politics to a minimum. However, several posters have made wild assumptions about my legal career, community service, and activism, so I wanted to respond.
For almost 20 years, I have worked daily to make this a better community, by being present, attending countless local meetings about our schools, parks, green spaces, immigration, transportation, and politics. It is important to show up and pitch in, and I have always rolled up my sleeves and gotten the job done.
I have fought for and worked hard alongside many of you. I have spent thousands of hours at local school meetings, working to improve our great local public schools. I have fought for dual language programs and to end overcrowding. I am so proud to have helped open and zone our newest school, PS 398.
As the past president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, I helped organize over 100 community-building events last year. Community is like a marriage that you have to work at and maintain. In a diverse neighborhood like ours, I have worked to make spaces and places for people to come together to share experiences to build a strong community.
I have fought for our streets and transportation. I am the co-chair of the Fix Northern Blvd campaign. When the bus redesign was announced, which would have eliminated the Q49, Q53, Q33 and Q32 bus lines, I hit the ground running. In January and February, I went to senior centers, as well as local mom-and-pop businesses. I was out every morning at bus stops and on buses talking about the Queens Bus Redesign. I helped mobilize hundreds of people to come out to meeting after meeting until the MTA relented, admitting that they had gotten it wrong.
When COVID-19 hit, I gathered a network of locals, many of whom had originally signed up for my campaign, to join together to help our neighbors in need. We put our campaign aside to start the COVID Care Neighbor Network, which has thus far fed over 1,800 families, seniors, and day laborers, most of whom are undocumented. Our undocumented neighbors have been abandoned by the government during this pandemic and I have vociferously fought to have them included in local government aid.
This spring, when we all started bouncing off the walls in our apartments, I worked with local advocates to push the city to open 34th Avenue from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard. I helped form a coalition of over 10 groups to back that partnership and then recruited volunteers to put up and take down the barricades daily. When people complained about trash, we organized an all-volunteer weekly clean up on Saturday mornings at 11 a.m.
As a working mother of five, I always made time to volunteer because I learned from my day job the importance of community.
When I went to law school, I knew I would always be a public-interest lawyer. In the early 1990s, my first internship was in the homicide bureau at the Bronx DA’s office. On the very first day, I was asked to work on a case in which a person had killed two children and left their little bodies in trash bags. While truly horrifying, that experience showed me the importance of speaking for the victims.
In the 1990s, the largely Dominican immigrant community of Washington Heights was terrorized by drug and gang violence. There was a generation who grew up afraid to leave their homes because a few powerful drug dealers resolved their disputes with violence.
As an Assistant District Attorney, I saw my job as representing the victims. Not the city, not the DA’s office, not the police department, but the victims. I often met people on the worst days of their lives. Women traumatized by domestic violence would come in with their faces caked with makeup to cover up bruises. I met with transgender sex workers who were beaten and robbed at gunpoint, picked by their attackers thinking that they would not call for help. I met with mothers on the days they learned their sons had been killed.
In the early 1990s, there were over 10,000 major crimes in Washington Heights per year. When I left in 2018, there were fewer than 2,000.
Local middle schools served as recruitment centers for gangs, so I targeted the gang leaders and worked with parents to inform them about how their children were being recruited in the destruction of their own neighborhood.
For too long, the criminal justice system had ignored Washington Heights because it was an immigrant community of color. I spent my career working with the community fighting to make it a safer place where victims received justice and defendants were treated fairly.
Being a witness to a violent crime is scary. My job was to make sure that witnesses testified truthfully. To do that, I had to earn their trust and ensure their safety. At times maintaining their safety became impossible, requiring me to dismiss some serious cases. But I always kept my promises to my witnesses despite the effect on my career.
I’ve seen too many times how inequality exacerbates systemic injustice. We need a community-rooted justice system. Our focus must change from exacting punishment to building communities. Our correctional system should actually correct, heal and provide opportunities.
In 2018, I quit my job because I know that the criminal justice system is broken and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. I’ve realized I can do more by working from outside of the system, having tried to do this from the inside, where the metrics are wrong. We have to make broad, fundamental changes, which is why I worked tirelessly for the most progressive candidate in the Queens DA race. Recent events have highlighted how we have a need for increased accountability and to fundamentally change the NYPD. For details see my blog on this issue.
Since leaving the DA’s office, I’ve been serving as a pro-bono immigration attorney. I have offered my space at no charge to progressive causes and candidates at the county, state, and federal levels.
There have been ugly online attacks about my career, my community activism, and even my family. My blended family is very typical of families here in Jackson Heights. My husband, from Ecuador, crossed the border in his 30s. My two stepdaughters obtained their green cards when they were teenagers. My three youngest are half-Irish, half-Ecuadorian, and 100% Jackson Heights.
I think the best predictor of future performance is past performance. I would put my personal and professional record up against anyone’s in this race. I’ve been here for almost two decades, working and advocating alongside you.
My goal has always been to build community. That is what we did when we fought school overcrowding, greened our neighborhood, pushed back against MTA bus redesign and got 34th Ave open. Now with COVID Care Neighbor Network, we are feeding our neighbors in need.
We have achieved incredible results together, but we have hit a wall. That wall is entrenched special interests, machine politics and the status quo. Let’s take our fight to Albany where the funding is, where the laws are made, and where our community needs an independent voice. I have a documented history of rolling up my sleeves and getting the job done. Now, I need your help. I am asking for your vote.
Candidate, 34th District
New York State Assembly