Felicia Singh, a teacher who triumphed in the Democratic Party’s crowded primary in June, will square off with Queens Republican Party Chairwoman Joann Ariola on Nov. 2. The district includes parts of the Rockaway peninsula, Howard Beach, Belle Harbor, Woodhaven, and South Ozone Park.
The election for Queens Council District 32—which includes parts of the Rockaway peninsula, Howard Beach, Belle Harbor, Woodhaven and South Ozone Park—is, by many measures, one of the most contentious races on the November general election ballot.
On Nov. 2, voters there will likely elect Queens Republican Party Chairwoman Joann Ariola or Felicia Singh, a teacher who triumphed over five other Democrats in the party’s crowded primary in June. Kenichi Wilson, chair of Queens Community Board 9, is also running on the Community First line.
“It is historic: No matter what the outcome is in the 32nd, a woman will be going from the 32nd to City Hall,” Ariola, who is from Howard Beach, told City Limits.
District 32 is a critical, final stronghold for the Queens GOP: While Democrats have represented it in the Council before, it is the only district in the borough currently represented by a Republican, term-limited Councilmember Eric Ulrich. It’s also one of just three current Council districts citywide with a GOP rep, with the other two located on Staten Island.
Available data suggest that the race could be close: The number of active Queens Republicans increased nearly 14 percent—from 122,888 to 139,699—between November 2016 and November 2020. The party’s growth in Queens outpaced that of the Queens Democrats, which increased their enrollment around 11 percent. Only Staten Island saw a greater increase in the number of Republicans enrolled during the four-year period.
And voting data from last year’s borough president election, which Ariola lost to former Councilmember Donovan Richards, show she performed well in the Assembly district that contains most of District 32, ultimately earning 43 percent of the vote to Richards’ roughly 46 percent share, the Queens Eagle reported in January. A considerable share of the district also supported former President Donald Trump, a Queens native, in the 2020 presidential election, according to an analysis of certified election results by the CUNY Graduate Center.
“I’m running in one of the most competitive general elections in the city,” Singh, who has netted endorsements from both the New York Working Families Party, the Sunrise Movement, and many labor unions, said in a recent interview. “In fact, it’s probably more competitive than the mayoral election.”
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Still, Democrats still heavily outnumber Republicans in Queens, with 807,187 active members across the borough. And Singh, a lifelong resident of Ozone Park who would be the first South Asian representative in the Council, has pulled in more in contributions, campaign finance records show, with $74,965. Ariola has raised $43,231.
Several weeks ahead of the start of early voting, both candidates said they are focused on what is at stake: An ethnically and culturally diverse district, one uniquely vulnerable to the accelerating impacts of climate change. Affordable housing, education, infrastructure and resiliency are critical voter concerns, both agreed.
The two lifelong residents of the district differ on their priorities, however: Ariola said that public safety is one of the most important issues facing the district; Singh has backed reallocating at least $1 billion from the NYPD, money to be redistributed to “social services, youth development, and ensuring every person has a safe and dignified place to live.”
Fewer major felonies were reported in the community districts that compose District 32 compared with many other parts of the city, according to NYPD complaint data. Queens Community District 9, which includes Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, and Woodhaven, for example, ranked among the five community districts with the lowest number of reported crimes in 2019.
Still, in conversations she’s had throughout the district, Ariola said community members remain concerned about crime. “One of the other differences between my opponent and myself, is that I’m more community-based and motivated when choosing a position on a particular issue, where my opponent really kind of follows the leader on the movement.”
The growing South Asian and Indo-Caribbean population in the district has been largely excluded from local politics, Singh said, and has not benefited from the status quo.
“A lot of our community members have felt erased in the way that they’ve received services from the city,” she said. “The thing that I envision the most about winning this election and what I hope we’re able to give back to our community is centering equity and justice in District 32.”
The same week Ariola and Singh spoke to City Limits, the Republican candidate criticized Singh’s support of extending municipal voting privileges to lawful permanent residents who live in the city, calling Singh, who testified in support of the measure, a “radical.”
“Voting is a sacred right that must remain tied to citizenship,” Ariola said in a Sept. 21 press release. “This bill would chip away at the value of citizenship and the incentive for new Americans to make the commitment to become citizens. Not surprisingly, my radical opponent wants this and testified in favor of it in the Council hearing.”
“When you’re to the left of Bill de Blasio, then you know you’re a radical,” Ariola said, elaborating on the comment in an interview with City Limits.
Ariola was criticized herself last week, when the New York Daily News reported that the Queens Republican Party had scrubbed online photographs of her socializing with Philip Grillo, a Queens man who allegedly participated in the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol.
“Despite Grillo’s alleged role in the insurrection,” the Daily News reported, “he still serves as the Queens Republican Party’s leader for the borough’s 24th Assembly District, according to its website.” Ariola told the paper she wasn’t the one who deleted the online images.
Singh called Ariola’s “radical” comments “ironic.”
“What’s heartbreaking about what my opponent said about non-citizens, and calling me a ‘radical,’ is that she goes to spaces where non-citizens celebrate, and pray, and live and have small businesses,” Singh said. “And she asks them for their vote. And that is heartbreaking to me, and actually disrespectful, because now she’s calling me a radical for wanting those same people to support her, to be able to participate in municipal elections. So it’s ironic and hypocritical.”
“I’m the first Guyanese and Punjabi person to win the Democratic primary for City Council,” Singh added. “Our communities have run before but we’ve never won a primary. This is a really huge race in so many ways.”