As New Yorkers become antsy to reopen the city and begin rebuilding from the COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, pandemic, local politicians and candidates have to incorporate their ideas about reopening into their campaigns.
One such instance is the primary race for state assembly district 38 between six-term incumbent Michael Miller (D- Woodhaven, Ridgewood, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, Glendale), former New York Department of State Director of Immigration Affairs and Special Counsel Jenifer Rajkumar and poet Joseph “Joey” de Jesus.
The three Democrats bring very different views to the race, with de Jesus falling into the niche of the progressive candidate and Rajkumar acting as a representative for the South Asian community.
The incumbent, who has served in the role since 2009, has legislated on education, veterans’ affairs and alcoholism and drug abuse, among other topics. Miller currently sits on the banks, judiciary, racing and wagering, labor, ways and means and veterans’ affairs committees.
“When I came in, I guaranteed people that I would be working for them seven days a week, 24 hours a day and we’ve been doing that for 10 years,” Miller told Queens County Politics. “My phone is on 24 hours a day, my office is accessible, I’m accessible. My doors are open, I don’t hide behind a closed door — they’re open.”
Rajkumar, who would be the first South Asian woman to be elected to the State Assembly in Queens if she won, has policy ideas and solutions laid out on a range of topics on her campaign website. However, she did not get back to QCP inquires at the time of this post.
For example, the site’s education section explains that, if elected, she would work to expand the Excelsior Scholarship for CUNY and SUNY schools, fight to bring control of the city’s public K-12 schools back into the city’s hands and “secure more funding for crossing guards and cameras at dangerous intersections.”
“To honor the promise of a country that gave her family so much opportunity, Jenifer decided to dedicate her life to public service,” her campaign site biography reads in part. “Jenifer has been dynamic, passionate and persistent in her efforts to make a difference in the lives of others. For Jenifer, service is a way of life. She served for years as the people’s lawyer, fighting corporate fraud and excess, and advocating for workers, women, and families in vulnerable situations.”
Public education is also important to de Jesus, who teaches at CUNY’s Borough of Manhattan Community College as an adjunct professor teaching English.
De Jesus’s campaign website also displays a range of ideals, including fighting gentrification and homelessness, getting CUNY fully-funded and tuition-free and decriminalizing recreational marijuana use and sex work.
Additionally, de Jesus’s site offers a long list of actual policies that they would support or sponsor if elected to office along with explanations on each.
“Our beloved District-38 was suffering before this crisis,” de Jesus said in an email interview. “People here have suffered from political disenfranchisement, rent-burden, wage theft, gentrification and displacement, as a result, our communities and our people live on the edge of obliteration. We need a #NYHomesGuarantee to protect New Yorkers in their homes, guarantee every New Yorker safe and dignified housing effectively ending homelessness with Housing First policies, rental assistance, Good Cause Eviction and further protections for tenants and homeowners.”
Similar to the difference between the three candidate’s campaigns, they each have differing thoughts on reopening the city.
New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo separated the state into 10 regions, and each region will reopen their economy independently of the others when it meets all seven safety requirements he has set out for them. New York City has only reached four of these requirements so far.
Miller said that he feels that the city is ready to be reopened and that it’s what his constituents really want.
“I think it’s time that we start to reopen the city a little bit at a time,” he said. “I think we still need to be very careful. We still need to wear masks. I still think we need to do social distancing when outside and in public, but I think we need to start opening up some of the businesses, because if we don’t we’re going to be in trouble. A lot of them won’t be able to open up again.”
He then went on to suggest that possibly restaurants could do 50% or 35% capacity seating or take other measures for them to stay safe but also still in business.
On the other hand, his opponent de Jesus, who actually had the coronavirus, told Queens County Politics that he thinks it is too soon to talk reopening and that doing so won’t actually help the people of New York or their district.
“I think it is foolish to entertain the fantasy of reopening the economy,” de Jesus said. “Make no mistake, the economy is currently open. This fantasy that it is suddenly closed because of the pandemic is a ruse, it is propagandist spin to delude us into thinking capitalism will save us in the time to come. Entertaining the fantasy erases the deep wounds and trauma the people of our city currently endure. There is no return to normalcy in the foreseeable future. Therefore, we need to enact essential life-affirming measures immediately.”