AD37: Carmona and Valdez Vie for Ardila’s Seat

By Celia Bernhardt |

Carmona and Valdez. Both photos courtesy of Celia Bernhardt

A three-candidate race for the 37th assembly district is nearing the finish line.

Embattled incumbent Juan Ardilla faces two strong challengers: Claire Valdez, a DSA-backed union organizer, and Johanna Carmona, a special victims lawyer endorsed by the Queens Democratic party. Carmona has raised a total of $156,259.48 since November (when she was already discussing a bid for office, the Queens Eagle reported) plus $89,147 in matching funds. Valdez has raised $131,344 since launching her campaign in August, with $142,333 in matching funds. Ardila, meanwhile, has raised a total of only $24,957 since the last general election. The assemblymember was publicly accused of sexual assault in March of 2023 — which he later denied — and became something of a political pariah in the aftermath.  

Ardilla is not without local support, but his activity this election cycle has been extremely muted. The assemblymember has only reported $3,161 in campaign expenditures since the start of 2024 — compare that with $143,575 from Valdez and $150,290 from Carmona over the same time period. The representative was a no-show for two different candidate debates; the first hosted by the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association, and the second by the Western Queens Independent Democratic Club. Editors from the Queens Eagle and Queens Chronicle moderated the second debate, and said that Ardila had been invited to the event. Ardila did not respond to multiple requests for an interview from the Queens Ledger. 

Valdez began her campaign over four months earlier than Carmona’s official launch. She has a strong ground game; the DSA pours its volunteer-based canvassing resources into candidates running their first campaigns. In addition to the DSA and Working Families Party, Valdez has racked up endorsements from Congresswoman Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, State Senator Mike Genaris, Comptroller Brad Lander, Planned Parenthood, UAW Region 9a and three other unions, and myriad progressive organizations and representatives.  

Carmona, for her part, has the advantage of a compelling narrative about her roots in the district, an official endorsement from the Queens Democratic Party and support from much of its establishment. She also has financial support from Solidarity PAC — a pro-Israel group with significant real estate ties spending against DSA candidates in New York’s Democratic primaries. New York Focus reported that at least 41% of Carmona’s fundraising, since launching her campaign and through May 20, came through the PAC. 

Carmona has locked in endorsements from Eleanor’s Legacy, New York League of Conservation Voters, over 20 unions, Queens politicians like Congressman Gregory Meeks, Borough President Donovan Richards, and more. 

Valdez, who hails from Texas, is a political newcomer. She came to New York to work in the art world nine years ago and has lived in Ridgewood for five years. In her first few years in the city, Valdez said, she worked “all kinds of odd jobs, and often two or three at the same time, just to make rent.” She found increased stability working as a program assistant for Columbia University’s visual arts department, where she threw herself into labor organizing with UAW Local 2110. She highlights her experience with the union as catalyzing her political ambitions.

“I’m running for office because my union changed my life,” Valdez said in an April interview with the Queens Ledger. “You realize how much power you have as a working person when you stand together with your co-workers, and that’s a feeling like I want every single New Yorker to have. I want everyone to feel like they have a seat at the table. Once you have that sense of empowerment, you really take that out with you not just into your workplace but into your neighborhood, your city, and to your state. So I’m running to bring that kind of shop floor energy and organizing to Albany.”

This is not Carmona’s first time running for the seat; she ran against Ardila in 2022 as the handpicked successor of retiring 38-year Assemblymember Cathy Nolan. A Sunnyside native, Carmona has worked her way through the Queens politics and law world for years. She served as a Hispanic community liaison for Nolan before working as a special victims prosecuter in Brooklyn, a private attorney in Queens, and then a court attorney in Queens County Civil Court; currently, she works as Legislative Administrative Manager for Speaker Adrienne Adams. Carmona frequently cites her experience growing up in the Sunnyside community — and receiving support from her neighbors when tragedy struck — as her inspiration to work as a public servant. Her mother suffered a severe stroke when Carmona was three years old, and to this day requires 24-hour care. 

“It took a big toll on our family financially, but it was people in the community that really stepped up for us — meaning, like, babysitters, but also teaching my dad how to cook, and different programs that my family benefited from.” Carmona said in an April interview with the Queens Ledger. “It was Sunnyside Community Services that actually set up my mom’s health care.”

“The love that I’ve been receiving from the people here has been very humbling, but also heart-filling just because it’s like, they believed in me as such a young kid, and they still believe in me, even as an attorney, as an adult,” Carmona later added. 

Carmona has critiqued Valdez for having a relatively new relationship with the district. 

“Being present here is really what differentiates us. For example, in the 34 years that I’ve lived here, I only met Claire once,” Carmona said, describing a brief interaction amidst a donation drive that she helped organize in the aftermath of December’s Sunnyside apartment building fire. “It was for a brief moment where she dropped off two detergents, and that was the first time. This is not someone that is from the community.”

Valdez doesn’t pretended to be a Queens native; she argues that her devotion to the district is strong nonetheless, and informs the progressive policies she wants to push for. 

“I moved to New York for a job opportunity, and was really excited to work in the arts. And, you know, that’s why so many people come to New York — they are seeking a better life and community,” Valdez said. “When I moved to Ridgewood, it immediately felt like my home in a way that no other place I’ve lived has. When you find your home, and you feel like you’ve really made a connection to a community, you’re ready to fight for it.”

One of Valdez’s most frequent critiques of Carmona, meanwhile, is her acceptance of funds from real estate and charter school PACs in her previous run for office in 2022, as well as from Solidarity PAC’s deep-pocketed donors in this election cycle. 

At the Western Queens Independent Democratic Club, both candidates were asked by a moderator — who acknowledged that Carmona has faced criticism from Valdez on the issue — about the role of money in the election. Carmona defended her fundraising practices. 

“These campaigns cost between $150,000 and $200,000,” Carmona said. “Taking this money is the only way I can run a very good campaign but also get my message heard. In no way shape or form am I bought or in anyone’s pocket.”

Carmona, pointing out her father in the audience, added, “I cannot sell out a community that has taken care of me this much.” 

Valdez shot back, arguing that the funds Carmona accepted could compromise her policymaking. 

This is not about virtue signaling, it’s not about purity — it’s about power. It’s about being able to go to negotiate housing and not have a REBNY check hanging over your head. It’s about being able to fight for public school education funding and not have charter school money hanging over your head. This is about funding a different kind of a political vision for what Queens can be,” Valdez said.

On June 25, the primary will come to a close. You can find your local polling site here.


Editor’s Note: A different version of this article was published in print on June 20, 2024. 

Share Today

Fill the Form for Events, Advertisement or Business Listing