The 13th Senate District in Queens was drawn after the 2000 census to create a Latino majority seat, but the first person elected to represent the district was John Sabini, a man of Italian descent.
“Some people tell you that it’s a Latino district, and we should have a Latino legislator. I believe it’s a diverse district, and people should be given an opportunity to choose who they want.”
Sabini is facing a strong challenger in Hiram Monserrate, Queen's first Latino city council member, a rare test of an incumbent in Albany.
Some have pointed Monserrate's Latino background as a particular strength in the diverse district encompassing Corona, Jackson Heights, and East Elmhurst, with a population that is slightly over half Latino. He has raised $177,000 through the end of July, outpacing Sabini, who has raised $143,000.
Monserrate acknowledged that historically New Yorkers have tended to vote along racial lines, but insists that that is not why he is running. Nor does he have major philosophical difference with Sabini.
“We have one of the most underserved communities," said Monserrate. "We need more resources, and we need someone who is going to go to Albany and bring those resources back. [Sabini] hasn’t done that.”
Sabini, however, maintains that he has delivered a solid performance as State Senator. “We gave a record we are proud of, and we are eager to get it out,” he said.
Both candidates agree that health care is one of the major challenges that their district faces, as the district has a large immigrant population and particularly high incidences of diabetes, tuberculosis, and HIV. As State Senator, Sabini has provided free testing and free referrals for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, hearing loss, and a number of other health conditions. In addition to expanding existing programs, he intends to provide community education programs about healthy living.
Monserrate, however, feels that Sabini is not securing enough funding from Albany for health care. As City Councilman, Monserrate has increased healthcare funding, providing funds for a new emergency room for Elmhurst Hospital, $1 million for a preventive infectious disease clinic, and $600,000 for a mobile mammography unit. Monserrate brought experts from Albany to explain recent changes to Medicare in different languages. He stresses the need to provide community education about the importance of healthy eating, annual checkups, and preventive care.
Sabini, who is on the education committee in the Senate, has voted against every piece of the state education budget this year, because he believes that it does not provide adequate funding for underperforming schools, as required by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. As State Senator, Sabini has obtained funds for 10,000 new school seats in the area, and has also led in the creation of a law that prohibits required state high stakes testing on religious holidays.
Monserrate believes that closing the digital divide is one of the most important areas of education reform. He plans to continue investing millions of dollars to continue upgrading the technology of local schools and to create computer labs throughout the district. He also stresses the importance of parental involvement in student education, a feat that is particularly difficult for parents who do not speak English. To increase facilitate such involvement, he fought for changes in Department of Education regulations to provide translation services for parents in the top eight languages, other than English, in New York City.
The Queens district is home to many small businesses and many entrepreneurs, and both candidates emphasize the need to provide support for small business owners. Sabini is focusing on expanding opportunities for women and minorities in business. He also is fighting to assist the restaurant and hospitality industry, which he argues have been hurt by the city's indoor smoking ban, and to support businesses in Woodside affected by the 2006 blackout, through low or no interest loans and restitution from Con Edison.
Monserrate emphasizes the need to promote “an atmosphere that doesn’t just benefit major corporate entities, but also small businesses.” For example, he challenged the New York Mets stadium proposal, which he felt originally did not provide adequate benefits or promise of employment to the community. The deal was then modified to include increased community benefits, jobs for Queens residents, and opportunities for women and minority owned businesses.
In regard to transportation, both candidates agreed in the need for a restructuring of the MTA, which has been challenged for illegal financial practices in recent years. Sabini felt such problems should be remedied by increased fiscal accountability on behalf of the MTA and other authorities, such as the Dormitory Authority and the Empire State Development Authority. Monserrate emphasized the need to increase local control of the MTA, so that more subway decisions could be made by the people who use the subway on a daily basis.
Sabini has emphasized the need to “fight for change in the structure of the way Albany has done business." He believes that party loyalty and a failure of the Assembly and the Senate to work together leads to inefficiency. He believes that the main change needed is increased oversight of committees, through adoption of a system similar to that of the New York City Council. He also advocates restrictions on the governor’s power to evoke messages of necessity, which allow the governor to bring a bill to immediate vote, forgoing the usual three day minimum waiting period. Some say this allows bills to avoid public scrutiny and be used as a part of the “gamesmanship” of last-minute deal-making.
Also believing the State Senate needs reform, Monserrate emphasizes the need to eliminate the Senate Majority Leader’s power to “star” a bill, thus unilaterally blocking floor action on it.
In addition, Monserrate advocates reform in the way the Senate disperses funds, which he believes is “at the detriment of New York [City], and is “unacceptable and illegal.” He felt that Sabini had failed to adequately address the issue of the distribution of funds, and that district residents have suffered as a result.
Both candidates criticize the current system of campaign fundraising and would like to see it replaced with public funding of elections. Monserrate said that New York City has a very good campaign financing system that could serve as a model for the state. Sabini concurred, saying “the influence of money in politics should be minimized.”
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