By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]
Three community members held a sit-in for over ten hours in Assemblyman Juan Ardila’s Sunnyside office last week, in an effort to push him to resign.
The individuals, including Hailie Kim, former city council candidate in district 26, and Thomas Muccioli, a campaign staffer for Congresswoman Alexdra Ocasio-Cortez, confronted Ardila with a sign that read “Resign Now!” in the office’s lobby. Adam Friedman, a former staffer for Ardila, also showed up and documented the interaction.
“It was not a comfortable situation for anybody involved, I can say that,” said Kim, a Sunnyside resident, in an interview with the Queens Ledger. “We were there for over 10 hours, or at least 10 hours.”
The assemblyman, who represents Maspeth, Ridgewood, Sunnyside and Long Island City, was first accused of sexually assaulting two women earlier this March, and since then, countless electeds across the city and state have called for his resignation. Despite the large push for him to step down, Ardila has maintained his innocence and says he will carry on serving his constituents.
But other elected officials whose districts overlap with his say that a working relationship with him, both in the district and in Albany, has been difficult due to his outcast status. Kim also pointed out that the lack of collaboration has hurt nonprofits and constituents in the district.
“There is an issue of leadership in our district where there was no coordinated effort to distribute discretionary funds to nonprofits in our community and so there were nonprofits who do great work and were zeroed out,” wrote Kim on Twitter alongside images from the sit-in. “This is unacceptable.”
In May, the New York Post reported that Jeffrion Aubry handled $250,000 worth of discretionary funds from the state budget to support community based organization within Ardila’s district.
Kim also pointed out that during her lengthy stay in the office, only a handful of constituents stopped by the office on Skillman Ave for services.
“This office is not fully functional,” said Kim, who previously worked in the nonprofit sector. “All day, there were not many constituents at all. And especially in a district like ours, it is highly unusual that there are not constantly people there.”
“Three individuals came to my office, and I spoke with them for over two hours, explaining that the allegations were false and that I have never been under any type of criminal investigation,” Ardila said in a statement to the Queens Ledger. “They repeatedly stated that they did not care if I was guilty or innocent, but that I needed to resign regardless.”
Ardila denied that there were few constituents who came by the office on July 19 when the sit-in was held.
“No, we were serving many constituents. We had a couple of walk-ins, and a lot of phone calls,” said Ardila in a follow up interview. “I even had to get involved because we were getting a few folks that needed some support. So we were pretty busy throughout the day.”
Ardila confirmed that he spoke to them for “over two hours” while they remained in his office and when it came time to close the office, “they refused to leave.” Kim also said that the conversation “felt like forever” and upon closing, “Juan and his staff stepped over us to leave and we were told if the landlord called the police on us, it would not be their fault.”
In a video of the interaction shared by Ardila, Kim and Muccioli are seen planted in front of the office’s main door as Ardila and his staffer stepped around them to leave for the day. The landlord remained in the office for an unknown period of time after their exit.
Both Kim and Muccioli also shared their personal experiences with sexual assault with the Assemblyman during the confrontation in an effort to encourage him to take a restorative justice approach to the accusations against him. This approach aims to have offenders take responsibility, admit harm caused and take the opportunity to redeem themselves.
“We weren’t trying to center the allegations, specifically, we were trying to center the fact that there were things that Assemblymember ought to be able to do that were not being done as a result of these allegations,” clarified Kim.
Kim previously ran for city council twice in district 26, which includes Sunnyside, against current Councilwoman Julie Won. But she says that this act of protest should not be viewed in an electoral light.
“I want a district where if someone holds an action like this to hold an elected official accountable, I don’t want it to be seen as an electoral choice,” said Kim. “We have the right to express discontent and just want better for our district. And not necessarily just with the intention of running for office.”