Saturday, November 22, 2008

Monserrate Makes Way for Latina Candidate by Paul Leonard - Queens Chronicle

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It may be the turn of the Latinas in Queens.

Photo: Julissa Ferraras plans to announce her candidacy next month for the City Council seat vacated by state Senator-elect Hiram Monserrate. (photo by Marisol Diaz)

After watching Barack Obama break the ultimate racial barrier on his path to the presidency — and after serving as chief-of-staff for six years to the borough’s first Latino elected official, Councilman Hiram Monserrate — Julissa Ferreras is set to make some history of her own.

In all probability, Ferreras will soon announce her candidacy for the city council seat left vacant by Monserrate’s landslide state Senate victory.

If she wins the special election in February to serve the rest of her boss’ term, Ferreras will become the first Latina representative from Queens.

Though certainly buoyed by the strength of Monserrate’s political team and her own experience working for a high-profile elected official, Ferreras doesn’t take a victory for granted. “Hiram had his own doors to kick down, and he allowed me to walk through them,” she told the Queens Chronicle this week. “But I have my own barriers to knock down.”

Ferreras faces a potentially tough opponent in Francisco Moya, a community activist who once worked for Gov. David Paterson. Moya has indicated that he plans to run for Monserrate’s seat.

Both candidates started their political careers early, with Ferreras serving as a member of former Borough President Clare Schulman’s Youth Council and Moya starting a block association as a teenager.

Moya, 33, and Ferreras, 32, also share a common ethnic background and a decidedly progressive attitude toward government.

However, Ferreras has emerged with a slight advantage in the race to represent the 21th City Council District, which includes East Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights.

She reported almost $23,000 in contributions, according a campaign finance report filed with the state last July. That amount has risen to $35,000, according to Ferreras.

Moya has not yet disclosed any contributions to a possible City Council campaign.

Ferreras said she also is poised to secure the endorsement of two prominent Latino city representatives, Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Corona) and Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Williamsburg). “She undersands who the players are,” Peralta said. “But she has her own style, and that’s a bonus.”

But unanswered questions about a troubled nonprofit Ferreras headed may yet linger over her City Council campaign.

The group, Libre, which offers English language instruction, job placement and other services to the mostly Latino community in Corona, could not account for nearly $250,000 in city money appropriated by Monserrate, according to a report last month in the New York Times.

Ferreras served as chairwoman of Libre during the period of time examined in a city Department of Youth and Community Development audit, which uncovered the discrepancies.

“I was not responsible for the day-to-day operations at Libre,” Ferreras said. “I am open to work with any agency when or if they might call.”

At a JFK Democratic Club meeting last Wednesday night, Ferreras was scheduled to explain her role at Libre in greater detail.

Meanwhile, Moya has already begun framing his campaign as a struggle against a well-connected political insider, namely, Ferreras. “We need some changes to happen in our community,” Moya told the Daily News last week. “It’s not about creating little fiefdoms.”

However well-positioned she may be politically, Ferreras was quick to emphasize her community roots.

“I’ve walked every block in this neighborhood,” she said. “I know it better than most.”