While nearly everyone in the Queens Democratic Party – and probably up in Albany, as well – would like to just see him go away, two-time ex-con Hiram Monserrate refuses to give up his political aspirations.
Last month, he filed the necessary paperwork to mount a challenge to Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubrey, who has represented East Elmhurst and parts of Corona and Elmhurst since 1992.
Monserrate was first elected to the City Council in 2002. In 2008, he defeated then-state senator John Sabini, and the next year threw the state legislature into chaos when he joined fellow Democrat Pedro Espada, Jr. in voting with Republicans to oust Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and replace him with a member of the GOP.
If that were the end of Monserrate’s story, he would still be infamous in certain political circles.
But in 2009, he was convicted of misdemeanor assault for slashing his girlfriend with a broken glass and then dragging her from their apartment building, which was caught on camera. He was eventually removed from office by his colleagues after the conviction.
And in 2010, Monserrate was convicted of misusing City Council funds and served 21 months in federal prison.
For most people, all of this would be enough to squash their political ambitions, but not Monserrate! The man has never stopped running for office.
In 2010, he ran in a special election that was called to fill the seat he was removed from, but lost. That same year, he ran for the State Assembly, but lost. In 2016, he ran unsuccessfully for the post of district leader, an unpaid and largely ceremonial post, but one that holds some sway within the inner workings of the party.
In 2017, he ran for City Council and lost. In 2018, he again ran for district leaders and...won!
Almost from the time he was elected, Monserrate has been looking for the next position. He has spent almost his entire political career preparing for the next race.
Even before all of the scandals, a colleague of ours made an astute observation about Monserrate.
Most candidates pull together all of their resources – from money to volunteers – to take their one shot at winning an election. If they lose, very likely that is the end of their political career, or at the very least it is hard for anyone to take them seriously in the future.
They plan and plan and plan for this one opportunity and put everything they have into it.
But for Monserrate, campaigning isn’t necessarily about winning. Rather, it’s almost as if he is working out. Each campaign is an opportunity to get a little bit stronger for the next big campaign, growing his network of supporters, growing his campaign war chest, and growing his name recognition.
And if Monserrate’s recent past is any indication, he’s been working out really, really hard!
Which is why, despite all of his troubles and scandal and baggage, Hiram Monserrate on any ticket still makes Democrats nervous.
The truth is, in some parts of the district Monserrate is still popular and well liked despite his troubled past.
He has made himself active in what – from the outside anyway - appear to be civic associations and groups formed solely to give Monserrate a platform to reach the public, speaking out on big issues in the district like the redevelopment of Willets Point and the LaGuardia AirTrain.
But Aubrey is well liked in the district as well, and he won’t have to make much of a case to voters as to why, at the very least, he is the more honorable of the candidates.
But Monserrate won’t be a do-nothing candidate. He will be out there campaigning hard, which is going to force Aubrey to do the same.
And if Monserrate loses, don’t think this will be the last you have seen of him. Before he was elected to the State Senate, he ran against Sabini in 2006 and lost by 200 votes. At the time, it was somewhat surprising that he even entered the race.
Sabini was a very popular figure in the Democratic Party and a 16-year incumbent. Back then, Democrats didn’t routinely challenge other Democrats holding office, especially those in such good standing with the party leadership as Sabini.
The narrow margin of victory spooked the party and emboldened Monserrate to challenge him two years later.
Worried about looking weak if their candidate lost, the Queens Democratic Party reluctantly began to support Monserrate, and allowed Sabini to gracefully drop out of the race by appointing him chair of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.
Or at least that’s how we read it. Perhaps Sabini was just the right man for the job at that particular time and they just couldn’t wait until after the election to install him in the post, but we think our version of events is probably a little more accurate.
So even if Monserrate loses again – especially if he makes a good showing – we suspect he will be back.
A victory for Monserrate over Aburey is still a long shot, but that’s pretty much the way it’s always been for Monserrate.