BY TRONE DOWD
The past 12 months marked a historic year in politics, both nationally and locally. Kicking off the year was the near immediate backlash to the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Just two weeks after the Jamaica Estates-born businessman and entertainer took over the oval office on Jan. 20, Trump signed his immigration travel ban. The executive order aimed to limit the amount of individuals coming into the United States from such Muslim-majority countries as Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The diverse borough of Queens did not take kindly to the president’s order, setting off a series of pro-immigration movements, marches and rallies throughout the borough. One of the most vocal opponents to the White House’s new agenda was Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also faced his own fair share of criticism on a variety of issues in the city.
Announcing plans to close Rikers Island proved to be among the mayor’s most ambitious and divisive plans to date. Despite loud opposition on this issue and his placing of homeless families in hotels across the city, the mayor was reelected after he easily defeated Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island) and various third party candidates in November.
In Southeast Queens, former Councilman Ruben Wills was found guilty on five counts of corruption and sentenced two to six years in prison. Following his expunging from the council, Community Board 12 chairwoman Adrienne Adams won a special election for the seat, bringing much needed representation to the long neglected 28th Council District.
Queens lost a number of longtime leaders in 2017. Former Queens Borough President Helen Marshall—who was remembered for her commitment to the borough’s libraries and schools—died at the age of 87. Marshall was the first African American and second woman to hold the position. Julia Harrison, a former councilwoman for the 20th District, died at age 97, and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz—who was still in office—died in September of an undisclosed illness.
Simanowitz’s death left an open seat in the assembly that has since been filled by Daniel Rosenthal, a former aide to Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest). Rosenthal was not the only shakeup to Queens’ political status quo. In what was arguably the biggest upset in New York City’s November election, longtime community activist and Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden (R-Glendale) defeated incumbent Elizabeth Crowley. The challenger, who had previously run in the Democratic primary, bested Crowley by just 133 votes.
In Western Queens, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-East Elmhurst) announced in June that she would not seek reelection in the fall. With her exit, the Democratic Party backed Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) for the seat. Moya defeated former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate—who was sentenced on corruption charges in 2012—to win the seat.
And State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Elmhurst) drew fire from his constituents and fellow Democratic state senators after he joined the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC)—which caucuses with Republicans—in January. Peralta has defended his decision, telling the Queens Tribune that joining the IDC was about “having a seat at the table” and “bringing results to the community.” Despite his reasoning, leaders in the Queens County Democratic Party have blasted him and hinted that they might run a primary opponent during his next reelection bid.