When Governor Andrew Cuomo recently called for a special election in Queens’ 39th Assembly District, Catalina Cruz didn’t think too much about it. That is until she received a phone call.
“One of my greater mentors and supporters came to me and said, ‘This is something you should consider. I’ll love to support you, and I think you’ll be fantastic for this. How do we get you to do this?’” Cruz said.
She weighed the stress of running as a candidate and consulted her family for guidance. After some thought, she made the decision to run as a potential Democratic nominee. The district covers neighborhoods such as Corona, Jackson Heights, and Elmhurst.
Cruz, a lawyer, is one of two women, the other being Ari Espinal, running for the seat last held by Francisco Moya, who vacated the seat after his successful run for the city council.
While Cruz never held public office before, she does have government experience. She advised the New York City Council on immigration issues from 2014 to 2015. She worked under Andrew Cuomo to address labor and immigrant issues in the state. Cruz also served as chief of staff for former City Councilmember Julissa Ferreras-Copeland until last year.
If elected as a State Assemblymember, Cruz is eager to address problems in the district, including immigration. The issue is important to her as she came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant.
In 1992, Cruz, and her mother, arrived from Colombia to the United States. While growing up in New York, she saw the consequences of living undocumented, such as avoiding the police and constant wage theft.
While she secured her status through a partner, she never forgot the experiences in her upbringing. That’s why she wants to address immigration—especially with Donald Trump in the White House.
“There’s so much more that is needed,” she said. “Especially with more attacks coming from Washington DC. As [the federal government] takes away the rights of immigrants, New York needs to step up and say, ‘we’re going to protect immigrants.’”
She proposed driver’s licenses for every immigrant to help undocumented immigrants as one example lawmakers can advocate. Cruz also favors making New York a sanctuary state, which would ensure all Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are denied the ability to detain immigrants.
Cruz elaborated on other issues she wants addressed in the district, including better transportation for residents and access to affordable housing. She favored creating more STEM programs for children to ensure economic success.
While the special election date for the seat will happen in April, the choice of the Democratic nominee is not up to the voters. Instead the candidate is chosen by party leaders.
Ari Espinal received key endorsements from party officials this week, she will get the Democratic Party line in the special election. Despite this, Cruz said she would continue her campaign to pitch voters she can help represent them.
“It unfortunately creates a situation where the voter cannot pick. I am going to go for the primary in September. I am going to make sure voters see my vision, see my accomplishments, see my love for our districts, and they get to choose,” said Cruz.
She recalled how Ferreras-Copeland always listened to her constitutes whether in the supermarket or hair salon. She admired that quality and wanted residents to know she would be as open as Ferreras-Copeland.
Cruz noted she did not want her campaign to focus on a party or even herself. Rather, she wanted her campaign as a symbol on the community.
“I want to make sure everyone who steps into that polling site has heard from me and that I listened to them. So when they choose me, they’re making the right choice,” Cruz said.