On track to becoming first Filipino-American elected in New York
Steven Raga, a lifelong Woodside resident and former chief of staff for Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, declared victory in the Democratic Primary for Assembly District 30, based on the unofficial results from the State Board of Elections.
Raga won in a landslide with 71 percent of the vote—receiving 2,561 of the 3,618 locals who cast their ballots—over his opponent, Ramón Cando, in his bid to represent Elmhurst, Woodside, and Maspeth.
This means that should he defeat Republican challenger Sean Lally, a petition carrier for Andrew Giuliani’s gubernatorial campaign, in the general election this November, Raga will make history as the first Filipino-American person to hold office in New York State.
Cando, a Democratic district leader and proud member of Laborers Local 78, came up short in the polls with approximately 28 percent of the vote. Running as a “common sense” candidate, his campaign was focused predominantly on repealing bail reform and increasing NYPD resources and funding.
According to Raga, he and Cando were originally supposed to go head-to-head for the district leader position, but that changed in April, when Barnwell announced that he would not seek reelection.
Raga was unanimously selected by a committee on vacancies to fill his former boss’ spot on the ballot. He said it was a very sudden, and therefore difficult decision.
“I had a day or two to think about it… and I talked to some friends who said, ‘If you want to represent these communities and feel like you have the experience to fight for them now, sometimes the timing is not the way you want, but the opportunity is there,’” Raga said. “So I said, ‘sure.’”
Barnwell previously told The Queens Ledger that he bowed out of the race because despite his efforts to resolve various community issues, “people would rather play politics than solve the real problems [the district] is facing.”
With this knowledge, Raga said he will strive to make a difference in Albany by reaching out to more electeds to build coalitions surrounding certain issues, prioritize safety, and write legislation that people will support.
Raga has experience working with communities and making an impact, shown by his work with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, AARP, the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Queens Community Board 2, and Woodside on the Move.
He said that as the former executive director of Woodside on the Move, he was able to double its budget in the last quarter, which hasn’t increased in years.
“That was kind of a dream job, you get to work for the community, work on policies that are needed, and help vulnerable communities in the neighborhood,” Raga said. “I could really put my skill set into it. I also widened the scope of policies by doubling on housing and focusing on healthcare.”
In the Assembly, Raga would prioritize the issues of housing injustice, rent stabilization, public safety, infrastructure investments, education, climate, healthcare, LGBTQ+ resources, and workers’ rights.
Because of his ancestry, as the descendant of the Philippines, Raga said that public safety hits close to home, having seen friends and family targeted and harassed because of their race.
“I would take a comprehensive look at how to make city streets safer, but also address the root cause,” he said.
“That includes stable housing, so folks are not rendered homeless and in a more precarious position, more jobs to keep people stable, and mental health services and resources.”
While working as Barnwell’s former chief of staff, Raga helped set up a new constituent case system for his office, which allows residents of the district to direct their complaints or concerns directly to the Assemblyman and his staff.
Raga said he plans to continue to provide the same accessibility to his constituents.
“I want to prioritize helping constituents, which means picking up the call and making sure you get back to your constituents—whether or not they voted for you, whether or not they’re registered in a particular party. It doesn’t matter,” he said.
“You have to help the folks that live in the neighborhood, whether they hate on you or they go on social media,” he continued. “That’s part of what I learned from the current Assemblymember, and I would definitely re-emphasize that as a priority if I take the seat.”
Raga received a broad range of endorsements for the campaign, including organizations such as the Lesbian Gay Democratic Club of Queens, New York City Immigration Coalition Action Fund, New American Leaders Action Fund, and TenantsPAC. He also gained the support of Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Congressman Gregory Meeks, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson, Assemblyman Ron Kim, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, Councilman Shekar Krishnan, and State Senator John Liu.
In response to his win, Meng took to Twitter to congratulate Raga, highlighting the importance of Asian representation in politics: “We did it! We helped elect the first Filipino American ever in the state of NY!!! @RagaForQueens #history!!!!”
She also responded to a tweet that pointed out how AAPI voters make up more than 40 percent of the vote in Assembly District 30, and how “representation matters now more than ever.”
“Thank you for entrusting me with your vote. It is an incredible honor to be your Democratic Nominee for Assembly District 30,” Raga said in an Instagram post.
“I love my community and know that it deserves so much more in attention, recognition, and resources. [This] victory proves that our neighbors agree and are ready to bring our fight to Albany,” he continued. “The work does not stop now. In November, we will be facing a Republican candidate. So, tonight we rest and tomorrow, we’ll get back to work.”