Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras is not looking for reelection this November

Real estate speculation is king in New York City and its killing Queens County. This stark reality will define the primary election race for the NY City Council District 21 (CD 21) Democratic Party line in northwestern Queens. Concerns regarding the cozy cross-fertilization between the speculative real estate coalition and local elected officials will surface during the campaign. The race will revolve around the hot button issues of gentrification, immigrant displacement, and social justice; political dynamics will be shaded by questions of personal character; and the political stew will be stirred by New York’s hyper-driven media market. Clearly this is a highly volatile mix. And what follows are my preliminary thoughts on how the primary race may tentatively play out.

Once again, turmoil among Latino politicians in Queens. Photo Javier Castaño

Once again, turmoil among Latino politicians in Queens. Photo Javier Castaño

At present, three candidates have cast their hats into the political ring: former state Senator Hiram Monserrate, state Assemblyperson Francisco Moya, and community activist Cristina Furlong. CD 21 is a working-class and populated by Latin American, Caribbean, and Asian immigrants. Furlong, as a Jackson Heights resident, will be viewed by many local voters as a politically inexperienced cultural interloper, reducing the race to two highly experienced Latino contenders with vastly differing economic and political views regarding the real estate sector.

In the head-to-head between the candidates, Moya will criticize Monserrate’s problematic legal legacy and his history as renegade democratic state Senator in Albany. On the flipside, Moya will self-laud his profile as an elected official with a history of Latino community-based engagement, economic growth strategies, pro-immigration advocacy, and a repertoire of anti-Trumpian political positions. This strategic political story line aligns with the Queens democratic machine’s standard public rhetoric. Consequently, the Queens Democratic Party, which fully supports Moya, will mobilize the requisite political resources to ensure the candidate’s success. Thus, solidifying the machine’s political control and reinforcing Moya’s script as the unblemished liberal knight who fights the good fight.

Monserrate will design his campaign as an insurgency against entrenched political and economic interests. The emphasis will be on predatory real estate speculation, the explosion of mega projects, and how certain Latino elected officials collude with real estate developers. This will open the door to a pointed criticism of the growth coalition that has fast-tracked unsustainable levels of inequality across the borough.

Monserrate will connect the dots linking Moya and local Latino elected officials with large scale real estate capital, gentrification, and the expulsion of economically vulnerable residents and immigrant businesses from the district. He’ll voice the claim that “I will be fighting for the community and not for big capital” and “I’ll be ten times more tenacious then I ever was in the past.” These are fighting words. Yet, what remains to be seen is if he can achieve the political redemption essential for reviving his public profile.

For Moya and Monserrate, win or lose, the lines are sharply drawn. It’s evident that we are living in turbulent times. Our institutions are outmoded and in crisis. Long held conventions are falling by the wayside. What does this mean for the near future? It’s still too early to say. But, continued silence in the face of deepening social injustice is unacceptable and unsustainable.     

Arturo Ignacio Sánchez, Ph.D. is an urban planner and a member of Community Board 3, Queens. He has taught at Barnard College, City University of New York, Columbia University, Cornell University, New York University, Pratt Institute, and various Latin American universities.