Ari Espinal can remember the lesson she learned at age 13 after she first attended a political club in Corona: “the local issues matter.”
“Being on frontline with [those issues], you can make a change.” she said.
Years later, Espinal is the leading candidate for a special election to fill an open seat in the 39th Assembly District that covers Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst. The last official to represent the district was her previous boss City Councilmember Francisco Moya (D-East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Corona).
Governor Andrew Cuomo called for special election to take place April 24, and Espinal already nabbed the Democratic Party, Working Families Party, and Women’s Equality Party endorsements. This all but guarantees a victory for her. Meanwhile, in the regular Democratic primary set for September, she is facing Catalina Cruz for the party nomination.
Espinal, a district leader for four years, understands Albany well as she worked as a staffer for Moya when he was a State Assemblymember. Moya endorsed his former aide as someone that “is a true champion for all working families, immigrants and New Yorkers.”
She hasn’t just received an endorsement from her former boss. U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Sunnyside, Astoria, College Point, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Corona, Woodside, The Bronx) praised her ability as a community leader and said he anticipated her efforts as a state assemblymember.
Espinal felt ecstatic when she heard news of the endorsements for her candidacy. She added that Moya taught her valuable lessons, including being active as a lawmaker in the assembly.
“I’ve learned a lot from him,” Espinal said. “I also know that I’m my own person and that I can bring things to the table the same amount of work he did and continue to do good for my neighborhood.”
If she goes to the assembly, she already plans to focus on a variety of issues affecting constituents. For example, she cited the problem of overcrowded public schools as one issues she would address.
“A lot of our kids are studying in trailers and you don’t want that. You want them to have good quality education. To do that, you need to have funding for that and I want to do as much as I can,” she said.
Espinal referred to her time as a director of constituent services for Moya and her upbringing in an immigrant household as valuable tools that taught her the importance of immigration in the district. She favored making New York as a sanctuary state and ensuring DREAMers receive protections.
Voter turnout is always a challenge in New York City with the last mayoral election attracting nearly 500,000 residents. Nearly 124,000 people live in the 39th Assembly District. Yet a minority—at least 7,800—voted for the mayor last November, according to the New York City Board of Elections.
Espinal explained interacting with the community through town halls and motivating youths would be remedies to boost voter turnout in elections.
“We got to tap into [youths while they’re] young. Do an internship program, teach them, speak at local junior and high schools,” she said.
For her campaign, Espinal wants to stress she is not running for the seat as someone seeking status. Rather she wants to represent a community she grew up in and understands well.
“If you can’t relate to your constituents, when you go to Albany, how are you going to be the voice?” she said. “How are you going to fight for them?”