Julie Won Secures Second Term 

Photo Credit: Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

By Iryna Shkurhanishkurhan@queensledger.com 

In District 26, incumbent City Councilmember Julie Won secured a second term in office following a Democratic primary election victory on June 27. 

“I am incredibly humbled by my neighbors’ overwhelming support for my re-election to the City Council!” said Won in a press statement. “From the beginning, my campaign has always centered the needs of the working class, immigrants, and families across the district.”

Won secured 61 percent of the vote, with 99 percent currently reporting, according to unofficial results from the city’s Board of Elections. Her second time challenger to the left, Hallie Kim, received 38 percent of votes in the district that represents much of western Queens, including Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Astoria and Maspeth.

While we did not get the result we wanted tonight, I am deeply grateful for the time everyone took to make their voices heard,” wrote Kim on Twitter the night of the election. “We made it clear that politicians who make promises on the campaign trail and break them in office will have to answer to their community and fight to maintain power.”

In her first term, Won spearheaded negotiations for Innovation QNS, a controversial $2 billion mixed-use development project that is expected to create 3,200 apartments – 45% of which will be designated affordable. She also worked to deliver free WiFi for NYCHA residents in her district and passed two language access bills to address disparities in access to public safety  information for immigrant communities. 

Won received significant criticism from her challenger for voting to pass last year’s city budget, which allocated more funding to the NYPD and while defunding schools by $370 million, according to Chalkbeat. Only six council members voted against the budget – a choice that Won said would have hurt her district. 

Despite criticism from her challenger and some community members, Won stood by her vote and insisted that issues from the budget can not be “cherry picked” and a vote against it would ultimately result in lost funding to her district. She would also point out that the budget is not set in stone, and has room for flexibility following its passage. 

In the two weekends leading up to election day, protests against Won and her “broken campaign pledges” were held in Sunnyside. Community members showed up to Lou Lodati Park on June 24 with signs that read “Julie Won Defunded My School” and “Julie Won Breaks Her Progressive Promises.”

“Our landslide victory demonstrated that a campaign rooted in positivity, real accomplishments, and genuine grassroots support will always triumph over one built on lies, personal attacks, and dirty tactics,” said the newly re-elected council member with reference to her challenger.

Kim, an educator and housing advocate, ran a progressive campaign that staunchly criticized Mayor Adam’s “austerity budget” and called restoring cuts to public education a “number one priority” on her website. 

In a much more crowded District 26 race in the 2021 election, Kim came out in eighth place amid fifteen total candidates and no incumbent. In this race, she was Won’s only challenger. 

The election occurred just two years into the term due to redistricting which responds to decennial census data. City law requires an off-cycle election every other redistricting cycle to address significant changes to boundaries. The newly drawn lines removed a section of Astoria, while adding a chunk of Maspeth. 

The fight for justice is a marathon, not a sprint. I am excited that we broadened the coalition in support of economic and racial justice while opposing austerity together,” wrote Kim who moved on to criticizing this year’s budget, which passed shortly after the election. 

This time around, twelve city council members voted no for a budget that included significant cuts to education and housing, while increasing funding for policing. Councilmember Tiffany Caban, who represents Astoria, Steinway-Ditmars and Jackson Heights, was the sole Queens elected to vote against it. 

“It has been the honor of my life to serve the people and places I love,” said Won. “Now, it’s time to get back to work!”

The citywide turnout, which has always been chronically low, was just 6.5 percent this election cycle. A total of 174,544 New Yorkers live in District 26, and only 5,850 votes were cast. 

In November, Won will be up against Republican Marvin Jeffcoat who unsuccessfully vied for the seat in 2017 and 2021. 

More Protesters Than Kids Show Up to Drag Story Hour

Parents leaving the library were faced with protesters from both sides. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

By Iryna Shkurhan | ishkurhan@queensledger.com

Outside of the Long Island City branch of the Queens Public Library, two antagonistic groups gathered during a drag story hour event on June 26 – one opposing the reading and the other standing in solidarity. 

Right-wing groups have taken issue with Drag Story Hours across the country in what has become a battle over gender and sex education in the name of safeguarding kids. In late February, a drag story hour at the Jackson Heights library drew a large turnout – with supporters greatly outnumbering protestors. 

The organizers of the “Defend Drag Story Hour” event called on supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community to bring signs, rainbow swag and noisemakers to the library on 21st street, an hour ahead of the reading scheduled for noon. The day before, organizers spread word of the defense and handed out fliers during the city’s annual Pride parade which drew over two million attendees despite rainy weather. 

“I feel like when there’s an opportunity to protect our civil rights, queer rights, or human rights it’s critical to show up, regardless of our affiliation,” said Lasara, who wanted to withhold her last name. 

Supporters brought noisemakers to drown out chants from the other side. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

She visited from California with her daughter for Pride festivities and heard about the defense at the parade. “I do identify as a queer person. So that’s part of my motivation,” she said. “But also, even if it weren’t my issue, I would still be out here because our basic rights are at risk.”

One retired couple, Mary and Dan Holzman-Tweed have lived in the LIC area for over two decades and arrived at the library clad in shirts expressing support for the scheduled Drag Story Reading organized for Pride Month. 

Holding a rainbow umbrella, with a shirt that read “Protect Trans Lives,” Dan said that reading held for children too young to attend school is “is a silly thing to have to defend.” Mary’s shirt read “Defend Your Local Library” with a black cat guarding an open book. 

“It’s been happening all over the country, it was only a matter of time before it happened here,” said Dan. “I don’t think the culture has been moving backwards in terms of LGBT rights, I think we’ve been moving steadily forward. We’re just resisting right now.”

Dan Holzman-Tweed has lived in LIC for over two decades and wanted to show solidarity with his local library. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

The 45 minute reading was scheduled to take place at noon, but just before 11 a.m. advocates for the event were waiting outside for the opposition group to arrive. The group, bearing signs claiming that the reading is inappropriate for children, arrived shortly after. 

Protestors stayed for more than two hours, and during that time only a few parents arrived with children in tow – in strollers or in their arms. It was not clear if they came for the scheduled event, or just to visit the library. No other events were scheduled for that day, according to their website. 

“There’s a group of us who try to show up whenever we can to support the storytellers and to support the families and to sort of shield them from the bigots,” said Jamie Bauer, 64, who traveled from the West Village. “There’s nothing sexual about it. And they’ve turned it into, you know, this horror story evil thing, when it’s really darling.”

Bauer traveled from the West Village to support the Drag Story Hour in LIC. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

Close to a dozen NYPD officers were at the site to set up barricades which corralled the two separate groups – both approximately equal in size with a dozen people on each side. 

“Where do you want the bigots to go,” shouted one supporter of the event as police were sectioning off two areas to keep protestors on either side of the library’s entrance. 

“Kids are smarter than we think,” said Chris Austin, an LIC resident who was walking by the gathering and said that both groups were appearing to “out noise” each other. 

While both groups brought speakers with them, the NYPD discouraged them from using them to not disrupt the library’s event. Instead, the supporting group sang children’s songs like the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the “ABCs” to drown out the opposition’s chants. The right-wing group held signs that said “this is not okay” above pictures of drag queens and “save the kids” among others. 

One opposition protester, with his face covered to disguise his identity, held a poster that read “Julie Lost G.o.d Won” and said that he believed the City Councilwoman Julie Won, who represents LIC, lost the election. Julie Won has previously expressed support for Drag Story Hours in her district. With chalk he wrote out, “RIP Drag Story Hour” along with “Not My Tax Dollars” on the sidewalk. 

One counter protester condemned Councilmember Julie Won for supporting the library’s event. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

“I want them to feel welcome, safe and happy,” said Mary on how she wants the parents bringing their children to the drag story reading to feel. “This is my library. You cannot come to my home and make people feel unsafe because of who they are and how they choose to express themselves.”

“If they choose to view someone in fancy dress, reading children’s books to small children through a sexual filter, that’s on them,” said Mary. 

‘Matchmaking’ Fair Connects Schools with STEM in District 24

The team at NYC Stem Network.

By Ariel Pacheco | news@queensledger.com

To provide students in Pre-K-8 with more opportunities in STEM, Community School District 24 held a matchmaking STEM provider fair on Friday, June 9, where representatives from schools were able to connect with STEM providers to lay the groundwork for programs beginning in September of 2023.  

Although the fair was scheduled to be held at PS/IS 128 in Middle Village, it quickly shifted to taking place virtually due to poor air quality in the New York City area. Despite the last-minute shift, about 100 participants were still in attendance.

District 24 covers Middle Village, Maspeth, Ridgewood, Glendale, Elmhurst and Corona.

Schools will be allowed to apply for financial assistance to bring and sustain these programs into their curriculum. The fair was hosted by NYC STEM Education Network in partnership with ExpandED Schools and Community School District 24. There is a total of $25,000 available in funding from ExpandED schools with awards capped at $5,000 per school. 

“STEM education really is just a window into the world,” said Ellen Darensbourg, the Grants Manager and STEM Support for Community School District 24, during the fair. “It really gives our kids a leg up into all the possibilities that are out there for them and it helps make what they learn everyday real and applicable.” 

Emma Banay, the Senior Director of STEM at ExpandED Schools, estimates that they should be able to assist about five to ten schools with the funding allocated to the school district. 

“There’s a real focus on creating high-quality engaging STEM experiences and making sure there is access and equity for those who have been historically excluded,” said Banay. “We want to engage students in a creative, critical thinking way so that they can express who they are and who they want to become.” 

Representatives from schools across the district were able to get detailed overviews from nearly 20 STEM providers in attendance. It was a forum for discussion and the first step towards partnerships between schools and STEM providers. 

Planning for the fair had been ongoing since early March when an initial “needs assessment” was conducted. The needs assessment entailed a survey created in tandem with District 24’s planning team to see what schools were looking for from STEM programs and gave them a setting to have their voices heard. 

“The survey was distributed to teachers and principals across the district to get a better feel for what they were looking for and a better understanding of what was going on in the district,” said Banay. 

Through this needs assessment, the coalition of STEM organizations learned that District 24 needed programming that supported multilingual learners, students with disabilities, and mixed-ability age groups. They also learned that there was a need for in-class programs, field trip locations and programming geared toward professional development. 

City Councilmember Julie Won, who represents District 26 in Queens, was in attendance and spoke about her own personal experience working in tech and how it helped lead her to where she is now. Won worked at IBM for close to a decade in various roles prior to becoming a councilwoman.

“It is so important that our schools have these programs and that our students are getting exposure from early on,” said Won. “I am grateful that everyone is here to make sure that we’re connecting our children to the most holistic education possible.” 

Similar fairs will be held for Community School District 4 in Harlem in August and Community School District 9 in the Bronx in November. 

Rain Didn’t Stop Sunnyside Pride

By Iryna Shkurhan | ishkurhan@queensledger.com

Rain and thunder didn’t stop Sunnyside from kicking off LGBT Pride Month with the second annual SunnyPride on June 2.

Beginning at Lowery Plaza, on Queens Blvd. and 40th St, at 6 p.m, elected officials and community advocates held a rally denouncing the attacks on the LGTBTQ+ community nationwide and locally. Council Member Julie Won, State Senator Michael Gianaris and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez expressed solidarity with the community and said that they will continue to fight to secure equal rights.

Over a hundred attendees proceeded to march underneath the 7 train to Bliss Plaza on 46th St. where a queer art market and performances awaited the crowd. A marching band led the parade to the next plaza, covered from the rain by the train above.

“I’m the community board chair, and I’m queer. And you’re the director of the Sunnyside BID and you’re queer. Why don’t we have a queer event?” recalled Morry Galonoy, the second Vice Chair of CB2, when he asked Dirk McCall, the executive director of Sunnyside Shines, to plan a pride event just three weeks out last year.

“We are not only celebrating, we are marching in protest of the folks that are trying to trample our rights. We cannot let that happen, we have to stand, be counted, be seen, be visible and take up space,” continued Galonoy during the rally.

Rain began to come down with some thunder and lightning as the rally began to transition into a march. But that did not stop the community from carrying on with the celebration with full energy.

“I see a crowd where your faces are welcoming, where trans faces are welcome. Because you’re in this crowd,” said Émilia Decaudin, Democratic District Leader and youngest ever elected State Committee Member at the rally. “This is what Queens means.”

Decaudin is the first openly transgender party official in the state and staunch advocate of transgender rights.

At a Queer Makers Mart, various artists set up tables to display and sell their prints, custom mugs and tote bags. Initially, vendors set up their stands at the Sunnyside arch block, but they relocated to underneath the train at Bliss St. due to the rain.

One artist, Lili Rochelle, displayed watercolor prints in various sizes from her “Bodies” collection which seeks to embrace the female form. She says that her art is made through a queer lens for people of color.

One of the main sponsors of the event was Romantic Depot, an adult sex toy and lingerie store with twelve locations across the tri-state area. Their Woodside location on 47th Street and Queens Blvd, is just a block from where the event was held. Store employees carried a banner during the march and gave out coupons and free gifts to the crowd.

Other sponsors included Elmhurst Hospital, Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District, Public Health Solutions, Department of Cultural Affairs, Department of Transportation and Queens Community Board 2.

“They introduced more than 600 pieces of legislation across this country, against the LGBTQ community,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez about her fellow members of congress. “And we cannot let that stand. So together, we will fight hate, we will come together to make our country a better country.”

The event culminated with several dance performances from drag queens and a story time reading from one of the performers to children in attendance. But the adults also tuned in attentively to the reading of the pride themed book.

A no cover after-party was held at Alewife Brewery, located at 41-11 39th Street, after 9 p.m. There, attendees were able to purchase “One Love Beer,” a hazy double IPA, with proceeds going to the Queens Center for Gay Seniors in Jackson Heights. Live music was played by singer-songwriter Janex followed by a performance from drag queen Angela Mansberry.

Julie Won Talks Misogyny, Housing and Education

By Iryna Shkurhan | ishkurhan@queensledger.com

Julie Won isn’t scared of conflict and confrontation, in her own words – she thrives in it. 

Since assuming office in the beginning of 2022, the Western Queens councilwoman spearheaded negotiations for the largest private affordable housing development in Queens history, securing 20 percent more affordable units than developers proposed. And as someone who moved to the United States from Korea at age six, she focused on immigrant communities to pass legislation mandating vital city notices be accessible in other languages.

In a sit down interview with the Queens Ledger last week, Won used words such as pragmatic, confrontational and even rigid to describe herself. She attributes her approach as an elected official to being an Aries, a fire sign anecdotally known to represent bravery and boldness. 

Won came out on top of one of the most crowded city council primaries in the 2021 cycle, with 11 other democratic candidates vying to represent Sunnyside, Woodside, Astoria and Long Island City. Despite the initial density, over 18,000 locals turned out to vote in the general election, more than double the 7,709 ballots cast in the previous election. She replaced Jimmy Van Bramer, who represented the district since 2009 and did not run for reelection. 

She credits the high voter turnout to her team knocking on over 70,000 doors leading up to voting day, rejecting the assumption the District 26 “doesn’t vote” with the numbers to prove it. 

While she is a political newcomer, her background in data analytics, technology and marketing easily translated to running a successful campaign and fitting into the world of budget negotiations and all things legislation. Won previously worked for IBN in various roles for a decade, most recently as a digital strategy consultant right up until she took office. 

As the first Korean-American elected to city council at 32, Won is progressive without taking a full-blown Democratic-Socialist stance like Tiffany Caban and Jennifer Gutirrez in neighboring districts. She is pro-union, collaborative with organizers and supported holding the NYPD accountable for aggressive policing during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

Won also says that she’s staunchly pro-public schools and disapproves of investments in charter schools, which critics say operate at a cheaper cost but siphon funding from public schools. And as someone who attended public schools for most of her life, Won says that her child, who recently turned one, will do the same when it’s time to enroll.  

“We have to fix the public education system as they’re privatizing it,” said Won. “I don’t have a single parent in my district begging me to open up a charter school. I have every single parent rallying to make sure that a charter school does not open in this district.”

Won received some criticism for voting to approve the controversial city budget last year, which included defunding public schools by $469 million. Only six members voted against it, including Caban who represents Astoria. 

She expressed that her vote to pass the overall budget does not necessarily signify a vote on just one line. 

Won also pointed out that given the rate of students leaving the NYC public school system due to pandemic relocation, schools should not receive the same level of funding now. Enrollment at NYC public schools is down 11 percent since the pandemic after 813,000 students in grades K-12 left the system, according to reporting by Chalkbeat. 

“If you understand the logic of what your job role is, you understand that your role as a legislator is to advocate and fight for a budget that is as close as possible to where I want it to look like,” said Won, who said that legislators who vote to reject the budget, delay long term solutions and reduce additional funding for their own districts. 

Since emerging in the political scene, Won says that she has encountered a fair share of misogyny, especially since she was pregnant during her campaign and gave birth just months after taking office. 

“I’m pregnant, not brain dead,” said the council member in response to critics who criticized her decision to choose both — motherhood and a far-reaching career. 

In order to be present for budget negotiations, which can not be attended virtually, her maternity leave amounted to less than a month. She also pointed out that she continued to work up until 24 hours before giving birth. 

“Because of my own upbringing, I think of having to be independent, I do better in high stress situations,” said Won, who secured her first job at 16 and moved out while being financially independent two years later. 

That mentality got her through negotiations for Innovation QNS, where she was able to secure a deal where 45% of 3,000 units will be designated affordable. Developers initially proposed that 75% of units will be at market rate. When renderings included designer retailers in the commercial space, she pushed for more apartments instead. 

Won says that in her district, 88 percent of people are renters. And with the city currently enduring an affordability crisis, contributed to by shortage of housing and skyrocketing rent, the deal was pivotal for the housing security of thousands of Queens residents.

At an Astoria rally for Good Cause Eviction legislation to be included in the state budget last month, Won shared that since she took office, thousands of constituents have come to her office distressed over eviction notices and the inability to afford the rising cost of rent and utilities. 

In response she hired a housing lawyer through CUNY Law School to represent residents in her district facing eviction. Since October 2022, he has come in twice a month and met with dozens of constituents pro bono.

While she says she is not a DSA member, and did not receive their endorsement, her policy stances paint her to be socialist-adjacent. She stood alongside exclusively DSA endorsed officials and organizers at the rally in support of the progressive vision. 

“I work with anybody who’s willing to work with me if our vision or mission aligns for the betterment of my community,” said Won about politicians on both sides. 

That includes the Working Families Party (WFP), whose higher ups vetoed her endorsement during her first run despite the Queens chapter offering their endorsement. Instead, the WFP endorsed Amit Bagga, another progressive candidate who trailed her on election day. Won attributed it to the “political machine” being “alive and well” in a response on Twitter immediately after. 

Following the rejection, her husband Eugene Noh, who also ran her campaign, said “f*** the working families party” in an interview with Matthew Thomas, an independent reporter. 

During her interview with the Queens Ledger, where Noh was also present, he said “she’s happy to start fresh” with the WFP and pointed out that they endorsed her in this upcoming cycle.  

It appears that Won and her husband are partners in life and work. The couple say that they have known each other since they were teenagers. 

In another immigrant-supportive step, she hired local residents who speak Bengal, Nepali and Spanish to better serve her constituents in her Sunnyside office on Queens Boulevard. She says her office has resolved over 2,000 cases since taking office. 

“Making sure our bread and butter is constituent services to make sure people have the constituent requests met, and making sure that I get the most money every single year for this district,” is top priority, said Won. 

CB2 Demands Response from Ardila

By Iryna Shkurhan | ishkurhan@queensledger.com

Western Queens pols and Community Board 2 members pressed Assemblyman Juan Ardila to acknowledge sweeping calls to resign at their recent Zoom meeting on May 4. 

Allegations that the Assemblyman sexually assaulted two women in 2015 first emerged in March. Initially, he issued a “no comment” response but later asserted a “commitment to accountability” and chose to hire a personal lawyer to conduct an investigation into the allegations. Since then, a slew of city and state officials have called for his resignation. Most notably, Governor Kathy Hochul and the Working Families Party that endorsed him. 

“You cannot ignore the call for resignation from the victim and then not saying anything, you have to explain why you’re refusing to resign,” said Council Member Julie Won during the meeting.

The councilwoman accused Ardila of intimidating his accusers through his personal lawyer. She also mentioned that he reached out to one of the victim’s father’s to inform him of the allegations his daughter brought forward. 

“It’s not okay for you to expose their names and intimidate them and call their father telling him that their daughter was sexually assaulted by you or are alleging that you did that,” said Won. “That is not okay.”

Won, who represents Sunnyside in Ardila’s district, also said that she has received “angry text messages” from constituents who are “incredibly upset” that he has not resigned, nor provided an explanation why. 

“This is certainly an issue that should interest our entire district,” said Council Member Kristen Gonzalez, who was one of the critical voices of city to state officials who called on Ardila to resign. 

After Ardila initially spoke at the meeting to discuss his involvement in the state budget that recently passed in Albany, Gonzalez stepped in to discredit his role in budget negotiations. Ardila was the only freshman Democrat to not receive an assigned budget committee, per the elected officials at the meeting.

“For example, All-Electric Buildings was carried by Assemblymember Gallagher who has also called for him to resign. He mentioned the Build Public Renewables Act, something that was worked on by the Democratic Socialists of America. Again, all DSA electeds overlapping have called on him to resign. He mentioned Good Cause Eviction, a bill carried by Senator Salazar, another woman and survivor who has called on him to resign,” reinforced Gonzalez. 

Despite Ardila’s continuous dismissal of the allegations as a “personal matter” during the call, CB2 Chairperson, Danielle Brecker, and other members of the board reinforced that they see it as a “community issue” instead. 

“To hear you say it’s personal, doesn’t take into account that this is societal. And that none of us deserve to experience that,” said CB2 member Sheila Lewandowski who shared that she is a survivor of multiple incidents of sexual assault, some of which fit the description of Ardila’s victims. 

Ardila stated several times that he plans to address the issue, but did not offer a specific timeline during the meeting.

“It’s disappointing because there’s things that are being said that haven’t come from me, haven’t come from my circle. And like I said, I will address it. You are going to hear from me,” Ardila replied during the meeting. “But I do not believe that our community board is the space to do so on personal issues like that.”

Ardila’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

“What you’re doing is harming our community. And that is not a private matter. You have not made it a personal matter, because now it is affecting my constituents and your constituents and Kristen Gonzalez’s constituents and our neighbors,” reinforced Won. 

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