Name: Aravella Simotas
Office Sought: New York State Assembly District 36
Party Affiliation(s): Democrat
Education: B.A., Fordham University; J.D., Fordham Law
Occupation/Employer: NYS Assembly Member
Previous Offices, Campaigns and Community/Civic Involvement:
- Before taking office in 2011, I was involved in community affairs as a member of Queens Community Board 1 and the United Community Civic Association.
Please state whether you support or oppose the following reform measures. If you wish to elaborate on your answers, you may do so in the provided space at the bottom of this page.
- Replace the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission with an effective and independent enforcement body (S594A/A1282A).
- Limit outside compensation earned by state legislators and statewide officials to 25% of their salaries and eliminate stipends.
Elections and Voting
- Do you support or oppose the following changes to the state’s current registration and voting system?
- No-excuse absentee voting (second passage of constitutional amendment)
- No-excuse absentee voting (second passage of constitutional amendment)
- Election Day voter registration (second passage of constitutional amendment)
- Re-enfranchisement of people on parole automatically through legislation, without requiring a Certificate of Good Conduct or Relief
- Automatic voter registration, unless the potential voter opts out
- Mandating poll sites on college campuses
- Reform the special election process, utilizing a nonpartisan special election for state legislative seats and eliminate delays in filling vacancies.
- Reduce the vote threshold to become a registered party back to 50,000 votes and keep the gubernatorial election as the qualifying election, and reduce the petition requirement for independent candidates back to 15,000 signatures.
- Amend the state’s public campaign financing system, approved in the 2021 budget, by
- Drastically reduce campaign contribution limits
- Set even lower contribution limits for registered lobbyists and those who do business with the state
- Move the campaign finance matching program to be administered by an independent, nonpartisan body outside of the NY Board of Election
- Simplify the matching system by making both in- and out-of-district donations eligible and by eliminating the three different tiers for matching
- Drastically reduce campaign contribution limits
- Require full disclosure of grants and contracts issued by the state, including the budget lines from which the spending is made and reporting on the results of each grant or contract over a certain amount.
- Provide for effective online disclosure and itemization of spending from elected officials’ lump sum appropriations, including reporting on potential conflicts of interest and how the funds are spent.
- Repeal Civil Rights Law, Sec. 50-a, which shields from public view the disciplinary records of police officers, correction officers, and firefighters.
- Restructure the state Board of Elections to abolish the strict two-party division of governance and operation and put in place professional, nonpartisan administration.
- Empower the attorney general to investigate and prosecute election law malfeasance and cases of public corruption.
- Make mayoral control of city schools permanent, with a governance system that provides for accountability, transparency, parent engagement, and democratic participation.
- Simplify and consolidate New York State’s court system by passing the Chief Judge’s proposed constitutional amendment to modernize the courts.
If needed, you may elaborate below on your positions on the previous questions. You may also provide additional information on any actions that you have taken or plan to take to advance your positions on these issues.
RESPONDING TO THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK
Government under the COVID-19 outbreak
- Adopt technological solutions and provisions that will allow the New York State legislature to convene and vote remotely if needed.
- Provide public access to observe and participate in government proceedings, in meetings that would be public under the New York Open Meetings Law, via live and recorded video available on government Website:
- Implement immediate programs to facilitate absentee voting for all New York voters as long as the widespread contagion risk of COVID-19 continues, under current state constitutional limitations. This includes electronic submission of absentee ballot applications without a wet signature and a public information campaign.
- What are your concerns regarding the use of emergency powers during this crisis, and how do you think NY government can maintain public accountability standards at this time?
These are unprecedented times and we must adapt as a society and as a legislature to deal with the remarkable challenges we face daily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we face extraordinary economic disruption and uncertainty about future federal assistance, I am very concerned about transparency and oversight in the state’s emergency midyear budget modification process. Responding to a crisis of this magnitude will require difficult choices to address revenue shortages and overspending, but there must be mechanisms for public accountability. Details on proposed changes and the reasoning for any spending cuts should be made available to the public as soon as possible to provide an opportunity for the legislature to review and debate the modifications with input on their potential impacts.
Many of the challenges that New York State faces are merely explosions of systemic problems that have existed and been ignored for years, including income inequality, housing insecurity and racial and socioeconomic injustices. As of today, the emergency orders that have been issued to address this crisis have been measured and necessary, but in many instances, have not gone far enough. It is our jobs as legislators to legislate and address the problems that exist in our state. For example, millions of New Yorkers have lost their incomes and are facing ballooning rent arrears that they will never be able to pay. Eviction moratoriums, which have been provided for by executive order, do not address the root problem but rather “kick the can down the road.” It is the legislature’s responsibility to resume session and pass legislation to cancel rent for the millions of New Yorkers who we serve. The legislature should also address a myriad of other pressing issues such as hazard pay for frontline workers, employee reclassification so that gig employees and undocumented New Yorkers can qualify for unemployment benefits, and raising taxes for millionaires and billionaires to ensure that our state will have the revenue it needs to mitigate any further erosion of our social safety net. To ensure that the extraordinary emergency powers are not abused, the legislature should also extend the legislative session to last for the duration of the emergency order.
Serving the public under the COVID-19 outbreak
- What are the biggest challenges in your district in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak?
Many of my constituents have lost their jobs and are having difficulty receiving unemployment benefits because the Department of Labor’s systems were not adequately prepared to process the high volume of claims. People are subsequently struggling to afford rent and basic necessities. I have been advocating for rent relief and partnering with non-profit organizations in the community to deliver meals and fresh produce to families in need. I have also been advocating for accommodations to allow our seniors and medically vulnerable neighbors to safely access groceries and essential medications without unnecessary risk of exposure to coronavirus. Several small business owners in my district have reported that their insurance policies do not explicitly provide coverage for the financial losses they are suffering as a result of mandated closures. I have urged the governor to require insurers to cover these losses so our small businesses can survive the pandemic. I am also sponsoring legislation to classify COVID-19 as an occupational disease so workers exposed to the virus on the job can receive workers’ compensation. As a mother homeschooling my daughter, I understand the challenges parents are going through with the sudden transition to remote learning and I am fighting to ensure families and educators receive the support they need and every student receives the services they are entitled to.
- What are the appropriate roles of city, state, and federal governments in a crisis such as this?
On every level, the government should be working to provide financial relief to everyone affected by the pandemic and ensure people can safely stay home to limit the spread of the virus. We need to make it as easy as possible for people to maintain social distancing without sacrificing their health and wellbeing. It is critical that we provide compensation to all essential workers who are risking their health to serve our communities, which is why I have been calling for the state to use federal aid to provide hazard pay to our frontline workers. Additionally, the state must safeguard the fundamental right to vote during this crisis. I wrote to the Board of Elections sharing recommendations to enable everyone who wants to to vote from home and take precautions to protect the health of voters and poll workers during in person voting.
- How will you help your future constituents, residents and businesses, access potential funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, or any other future government relief funds?
Throughout this crisis office has been sending regular updates to my constituents through emails, social media and personal calls as well as a Website: we created to navigate the resources available. We have been helping residents apply for unemployment insurance and small businesses apply for emergency loans and grants. I will continue reaching out to offer assistance to anyone in the community who needs relief.
CAMPAIGN PROMISES MADE TO VOTERS
What are the top five promises you are making to the voters during the campaign?
Campaign Promise 1
I will stand up for tenants’ rights and fight to cancel rent so no one who is facing financial hardships in this crisis has to fear losing their homes. As our state recovers from this emergency, I will continue advocating for long-term solutions to the affordable housing and homelessness crises in our state.
Campaign Promise 2
I will champion a universal, single payer healthcare system so all New Yorkers can access quality care without burdensome costs and restrictions. Families should not be left vulnerable in this pandemic because their health is dependent on employer-provided coverage
Campaign Promise 3
I will fight to tax the rich and combat economic inequality in our state. We need commonsense reforms to generate revenue for essential resources in our communities, including public education, housing, healthcare, and transportation. I will continue pushing to pass my legislation to create a progressive ultra-millionaires tax for incomes above $5 million, $10 million and $100 million to ensure the wealthy pay their fair share.
Campaign Promise 4
I will prioritize the needs of working families and work to strengthen our social safety net. We need to restore funding to Medicaid and other essential human services to protect the welfare of our most vulnerable communities. We cannot continue to underfund our public education system and deprive schools of adequate resources to support economically disadvantaged students. I will fight for long-term, sustainable investments in our public schools to eliminate disparities and enable all students to thrive.
Campaign Promise 5
I will work to tackle the widespread problem of food insecurity and ensure that no New Yorker goes hungry. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated hunger in our communities, and we need innovative solutions to repair the supply chain and get food to the families who need it most.
ETHICAL REPRESENTATION OF CONSTITUENTS
Citizens Union believes that all New Yorkers deserve to be represented by officials who work for the public interest and honor the public trust. With the corruption conviction of recent legislative leaders, we seek to endorse a candidate who will demonstrate that she/he will honor the full commitment of the oath of office, and always represent the public interest above all else.
Please tell us how you have and would continue to conduct the political affairs of this office in an upright manner, and maintain the public trust.
Throughout my time in office, I have championed ethics reforms and fought to restore public trust in our state government. As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance, I worked tirelessly to strengthen our policies against harassment and discrimination and expedite our investigation procedures. I am currently fighting to eliminate exemptions in our whistleblower protection laws to ensure elected officials are held accountable for retaliation against their personal staff. I am also co-sponsoring legislation to replace the Joint Commission on Public Ethics with a truly independent enforcement agency to investigate ethics complaints against public officials. I proudly supported the Fair Elections Act and legislation to close the LLC loophole and I will continue advocating for meaningful campaign finance forms to limit the influence of big money in our elections. I will continue to fight to bring integrity, transparency and accountability to our state government.