The news sets up a competitive primary for Assembly District 37, which includes Astoria, Sunnyside, Ridgewood, and Queensbridge, and iterates an increasingly familiar dynamic in Queens politics: a seasoned incumbent facing off against a relative political newcomer.
Lifelong Astoria resident and software developer Huge Ma, best known for developing “TurboVax”—the platform launched last year that aimed to connect New Yorkers with available COVID-19 vaccines—has announced he will challenge longtime Assemblymember Catherine Nolan in the June 2022 Democratic primary.
The news sets up a competitive race for Queens Assembly District 37, and iterates an increasingly familiar dynamic in Queens politics:a seasoned incumbent facing off against a relative political newcomer. Nolan, the current deputy speaker of the Assembly, was first elected in 1984, five years before Ma—who turned 32 on Tuesday—was born.
This time, however, the underdog is already a fairly well-known figure in the district. Ma’s website TurboVax, which is no longer active, streamlined a tangle of sometimes-clunky city and state resources for booking vaccine appointments. Splashy profiles (and a cheeky nickname, “Vax Daddy”) accompanied the spring 2021 launch of the tool. The experience prompted the decision to run for office, Ma said.
“After I shut down TurboVax, I thought deeply about my place in the world,” he said Tuesday. “TurboVax was a deeply intense experience for me, but I think I realized that I was so fortunate to have the right skills and the right opportunity to build the tool and serve my neighbors. And now, when I’m thinking about the seat in the State Assembly, I do believe that we have an opportunity to use my platform and advocate on behalf of the needs of my neighbors.”
The district includes Sunnyside, Queensbridge (including NYCHA’s Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in North America), Ridgewood, Long Island City, Ravenswood, and Woodside.
Nolan, who withstood previous primary challengers last year, did not immediately return City Limits’ requests for comment, but told news site THE CITY she is “ready for anything.” Mary Jobaida, a Long Island City resident who ran against Nolan in 2020, has said she intends to run again for the District 37 seat next year.
If elected, Ma told City Limits that he would focus on developing and implementing unique solutions for some of the city’s biggest problems, including a changing climate, unreliable transit, and increasingly unaffordable housing, health care, and higher education.
“Until more housing can be built, we must strengthen renter protections to prevent further displacement,” Ma said in plans posted to his website. “We should streamline fully-affordable developments and experiment with new models of social housing. We must buttress NYCHA with iron-clad guarantees that public housing stays public. And we should support creative new initiatives such as the Western Queens Community Land Trust that aim to protect public space.”
Ma supports expanding Right-To-Counsel eviction protections statewide and overturning New York City’s ban on single room occupancy apartments, and is calling for an audit of the state 421-a tax program, which he said offers “questionable public benefit.”
Additionally, he wants to ban the installation of gas stoves and heating systems in new construction and renovations, and has pledged to reject “fossil fuel infrastructure” like National Grid’s proposed natural gas pipeline in Brooklyn and NRG’s controversial proposed Astoria power plant, which was rejected by the state in October. . He also wants to fund resiliency infrastructure throughout the district, including upgrades to drainage systems.
“I truly want to go to Albany to attack those top-line issues that I mentioned with urgency and creativity,” Ma said Tuesday. “And I want to build a New York that lets any New Yorker live with dignity. I believe that housing is a human right, I believe that healthcare is a human right. And that we really need to take an urgent look at climate. I am focused on that, and I think those are the biggest needs for my constituents.”