State Assemblymember Ari Espinal (D-Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst), Catalina Cruz, and Yonel Letellier Sosa all participated yesterday in debate organized by several Queens newspapers.

    The Queens Courier, QNS, and El Correo NY invited the three Democratic candidates running in the 39th Assembly District to a small conference room to talk about issues ranging from transportation to education.

    The topic of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent led the discussion as the agency continues to detain and deport immigrants across the country. Espinal denounced the treatment of immigrants at the ICE facilities and was the only one to favor the abolition of the agency.

    “The state could do much more, and that’s why it’s important to push the DREAM Act in the Assembly and Senate,” Espinal said.

    Cruz pledged to devote $100 million to expand legal services for immigrants in court and prevent ICE agents from obtaining data from the state. She felt this would be a viable solution with the current policies coming from Washington.

    “The reality is [Trump] isn’t going anywhere for the next two years,” Cruz said.

    Sosa continued to talk about the fear among residents resulting from Trump’s presence in the White House. He elaborated that, despite this fear plaguing the community, Democrats in Albany failed to pass protections for immigrants.

    “This doesn’t happen in Fresh Meadows or Kew Gardens,” he said. “It happens in Corona.”

    Affordability was also spoken about in the debate. Cruz recalled conversations with voters on the campaign trail that dealt with rent hikes tied to major capital improvements. She expressed concern with this tactic and favored limiting major rent hikes.

    “That’s forcing some people to roommate with others to actually make rent,” she said.

    Espinal felt affordability was the “biggest concern” among residents and desired stronger rent reforms to protect residents from being priced out of their homes. The Assemblymember said, even with her job, it was not easy for her to obtain an apartment in the district at a reasonable rent rate.

    “We don’t want gentrification, especially in a community like the one I represent now,” she said.

    Sosa believed there existed special interests that contributed to not only high rent rates, but also several luxury projects in the district. He did view real estate sector as helpful for the district, but it required stricter regulation.

    “We need to put our foot down and say ‘no mas,’” he said.

    The three candidates offered different visions for the city’s public transportation system that includes the 7 train. Cruz favored a solution of breaking up the MTA into smaller agencies to work on specific tasks, while Sosa wanted a noiseless 7 train with clean stations. Espinal believed there needed to be more bus lanes for residents.

    Sosa first responded to a question about the district’s school system by noting schools in the borough being overcrowded.

    “It’s a proven fact that when students learn in a class of 30 to 35 children, they’re not going to do well on these standardized tests,” he said.

    Espinal followed her challenger by discussing how she brought $217,000 back to the district for students in her short time in office. She shared concerns that students would suffer if there is no push for more funding for schools.

    “This is something that is not fair, and this is something we have to concentrate on,” she said.

    Cruz said there was too much emphasis on standardized testing that harmed the education of children. Furthermore, she advocated her “Airport Impact Fund” plan, which would tax tickets bought through LaGuardia Airport, as a solution to improve school budgets.

    “We need someone that understands with someone who has lived in an overcrowded classroom and spoken to the parents of our children. [They] understand that it’s beyond being in an overcrowded classroom, there are tons of issues affecting our education systems,” she said.

    The Democratic primary is set for Thursday, September 13th.

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