By Jessica Meditz
As residents of Assembly District 37 say “goodbye” to longtime Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, they’ll say “hello” to a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed newcomer, Juan Ardila.
The Maspeth native recently celebrated his 29th birthday after being elected to serve the neighborhoods of Hunters Point, Sunnyside, Woodside, Maspeth and Ridgewood.
He was victorious against fellow community advocates Brent O’Leary, Johanna Carmona and Jim Magee in the primary, garnering over 43 percent of the vote.
He ran unopposed in the general election, easily securing the win.
As Ardila and other Assemblymember-elects prepare to take office on Jan. 1, they attended an Assembly orientation up in Albany – making Ardila’s first-ever visit there one to remember.
“I loved everything about it. The vibe and the energy in the room felt like going back to college or high school, seeing old classmates after a while,” he explained. “Even though it was my first time up there, I never felt out of place by folks, and everybody was very engaging.”
Ardila said that given the fact he’s so new to state politics, he came into orientation with no expectations or assumptions, and wanted to arrive with an open mind.
However, he feels pleasantly surprised by how friendly his colleagues-to-be are, and all the positive energy that circulated throughout the room.
Ardila said he found it interesting to listen to his future colleagues, taking note of the differences in needs for various districts across the state.
“The composition of my district compared to the composition of a member in New Rochelle or Buffalo, is very different. But it’s exciting to see so many Democrats come together,” he said.
Ardila has not yet received his assignments, but said that if he could choose a committee to serve on, it would be one of the issues he campaigned on – most notably, housing.
He said that he was told to write 10 choices as to which committees he would like to serve on, and that he would also happily serve on committees related to climate, health care, education or labor.
Ardila said he already feels confident and comfortable to serve the people of his district, as the Assembly has strived to ensure that each member has the tools they need to do so.
One of the first tasks he completed to be accessible to constituents right off the bat was moving into an office located centrally in the district.
During the first week of January, Ardila will move into his district office situated on Skillman Avenue between 45th and 46th Streets in Sunnyside – just steps away from the 7 train.
In addition to being active and accessible for constituents, he’s also prepared to work with colleagues on all sides of the political spectrum in Albany.
Since his sit-down interview with the Queens Ledger in the spring, his top priority issues in the district have remained, namely, climate, housing, health care, immigration rights and public safety.
Ardila is supportive of universal healthcare and the New York Health Act, as well as the Green New Deal and shutting down peaker plants – which are highly polluting power plants that pose significant health threats to locals.
He’s also a proponent for legalizing accessory dwelling units, or independent residential units located on the same lot as a stand-alone home, and passing the Good Cause Eviction bill, which expands protections for tenants.
In regard to the overlap between climate and transportation, Ardila feels the Citi Bike expansion slated for Ridgewood and Maspeth will help alleviate many burdens for residents.
“[Citi Bike] is environmentally responsive, but it also addresses the transportation crisis in central Queens,” he said. “They’re transit deserts, and right now, we’re in that kind of phase where we’re trying to get Citi Bike to come to Maspeth and Ridgewood just to provide more interconnectivity.”
Ardila recently penned an op-ed titled, “Double Down MTA, Queens Needs More Trains,” calling on the completion and implementation of the QNS line – which would reactivate and repurpose freight rail along the Lower Montauk Branch running through central Queens, and connect Long Island City to nearby neighborhoods like Maspeth, Ridgewood, Middle Village — all the way to Jamaica.
Back in June, Ardila admitted he’s “a little bit on the radical side” in terms of tenant rights, and plans to stay true to that through the legislation he’ll propose.
The first piece of legislation he plans to introduce has to do with the issue of housing, and would place a limitation on initial regulator rent not to exceed the average rent for a comparable rent-regulated housing accommodation.
“It’s essentially just trying to make sure that we’re able to keep affordability for as long as possible and as sustainably as possible. It’s a question of whether or not this gets to the floor, but I’ll be pushing for it,” he said.
He also supports Make the Road New York’s endeavor to try and get a state funded public assistance program that can be distributed to undocumented New Yorkers.
Rather than being nervous about taking on this new role, Ardila feels it behooves him to take things for what they are and be open to mistakes.
“It’s one of those things where it’s a learning curve for all of us. It’s a new team, it’s going to be a young team, a very engaged, passionate, high-energy, hands-on and present team,” he said. “So I want to make sure that we are delivering. I’m super grateful for people showing their support and voting, but I also want to take it very seriously and return that to the best of my ability and give everything I have.”