Name: Jessica González-Rojas
Office Sought: New York State Assembly District 34
Party Affiliation(s): Democratic
Education: Master of Public Administration, NYU School of Public Service; Bachelor of Arts, Boston University
Previous Offices, Campaigns and Community/Civic Involvement:
- Elected to the New York State Democratic Committee, 2002 – 2006
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)
- 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
- No-excuse absentee voting (second passage of constitutional amendment)
- 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.
I have spoken out publicly against the decisions of the public campaign finance elections commission that specifically set out to attack progressive third parties, such as the Working Families Party (this is prior to receiving their endorsement). In addition, one of the first platforms that I rolled out was related to good governance and democracy reform that centered communities, not corporate special interests: https://www.votejgr.com/peoplepowered-reforms
To clarify my position on 6.d. I agree that we need to simplify the matching system, but I believe we should prioritize in-district matching over out-of-district matching.
And to clarify my position on question 12, I support local control of city schools, but I am open to exploring another body that engages parents and communities, as opposed solely mayoral control.
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 websites.
- 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?
It is said that you should never let a good crisis go to waste. And our governor has wasted no time in using this crisis as an opportunity to grant himself more power and oversight over decision-making under the guise of this emergency, which I am very concerned about. Decisions about our response to this crisis must be made transparently and democratically, not by one person in power. In order for the NY government to maintain public accountability standards, we should allow the State Legislature to resume session and hold public hearings and vote remotely.
Serving the public under the COVID-19 outbreak
- What are the biggest challenges in your district in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak?
My community is at the epicenter of the epicenter of this crisis. Elmhurst Hospital is blocks away and is the only hospital accessible to most of the community. My district is 88% people of color, and the data shows that communities of color are being hit hardest by this crisis, specifically the Latino community that lacks representation in the 34th Assembly District, even though it makes up the majority of residents of the district. Not only that, but my district is over 60% immigrant, and despite being on the frontlines – as delivery workers, as cleaners, as grocery workers – many are excluded from the majority of the benefits being offered by the federal government. Many of my neighbors lack health insurance and are not able to go to the hospital if they feel sick, and many live in multi-generational homes, where it is nearly impossible to self-quarantine if they are exposed to the virus. Food insecurity is rampant and the inability of many low-income immigrants to obtain benefits has exacerbated an already tenuous situation for them. COVID-19 has greatly exposed the shortcomings of our systems and safety net, and underscored the need for drastic reform.
- What are the appropriate roles of city, state, and federal governments in a crisis such as this?
The role of government during a crisis should be the same as when we’re not in a crisis: to use our tax dollars to thoughtfully, transparently, and equitably provide a safety net and minimize struggle. On that front I would say that both our Mayor and Governor, and many of our other state and local elected officials, have failed us. First with the failure to close all non-essential businesses, schools, and issue a stay-at-home in a timely manner. Then with the passage of a shameful budget which cut Medicaid and hospital funding (including $10 million from Elmhurst Hospital) amidst this health crisis. The City and State both must do better and step up in this moment, especially to fill the gaps of the relief offered by the federal government. The State must provide financial relief for undocumented folks who are not covered by the federal stimulus package. Information from official channels must be provided in multiple languages expeditiously. We must release vulnerable populations who are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus from prisons and jails. The City must provide hotel rooms for those who are infected and cannot self-quarantine at home.
Additionally, democracy should not be put on hold in this moment. The State Legislature should be able to hold session virtually and allow remote voting, and the Board of Elections should dedicate resources to ensure all voters know how to vote absentee in the June 23rd primary.
- 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?
Through my campaign’s mutual aid calls, we have been connecting our neighbors with organizations and other resources to help them access relief through the CARES Act and other relief funds. We also hosted a Zoom webinar with staff from the Legal Aid Society who talked through all of the relief available and how to apply. We’ve also called upon the government to include undocumented immigrants in emergency relief funds, cancel rent and release vulnerable populations from jails and prisons.
If I were in elected office now, I would use my office’s resources to offer education on how to access funding, deploy staff to support application processes for public benefits, pressure the NYS Department of Labor to rapidly issue unemployment benefits and make myself and my staff available to answer questions, ensuring language needs are met. I would also connect constituents with mutual aid networks who are offering resources to those not eligible for government relief, and offer food distribution programs in partnership with farms and non-profit organizations.
CAMPAIGN PROMISES MADE TO VOTERS
What are the top five promises you are making to the voters during the campaign?
Campaign Promise 1
Healthcare: The outbreak of the Coronavirus has tragically exposed how vulnerable New Yorkers are because we lack universal, high quality health care for everyone. Health care shouldn’t be so expensive that folks are left choosing between food or medicine. The health care system shouldn’t be so convoluted that both patients and doctors need to jump through bureaucratic hoops just to pay for simple services. And healthcare should definitely not be tied to employment. I will immediately sign on to the New York Health Act and be a leading voice in passing it in order to ensure healthcare as a human right.
Campaign Promise 2
Immigration: I will immediately sign on to the Protect Our Courts Act, and I would actually go further to advance legislation that protects immigrants beyond courthouses to include other sensitive locations such as houses of worship, hospitals, clinics, schools, social service agencies and transportation hubs. In addition, I will fight for legislation that ensures access to legal counsel for immigrants and co-sponsor the SWEAT Act so that immigrant workers who are exploited with stolen wages have protection to obtain their back wage claims.
Campaign Promise 3
Education: In New York, despite having one of the highest per student spending ratios in the country, funding is not distributed equally. We are seeing income inequality grow, while access to a quality education seems more and more out of reach for those who cannot afford it. I will prioritize education by fighting to fully fund our public schools and for the immediate payment of the billions owed to NYC schools under the CFE decision. I will also fight to make CUNY free again, ensuring everyone has access to higher education regardless of income.
Campaign Promise 4
Campaign finance: The campaign finance system in New York State is broken. The influence and priorities of a small number of wealthy donors can overwhelm the needs and values of the majority of New Yorkers. This is a system that too often disenfranchises low-income communities, and creates near-insurmountable hurdles for insurgents, people of color, and women candidates looking to represent their communities. I will fight to drastically reform campaign finance, including implementing a matching funds program, banning contributions from corporations, lobbying firms, and LLCs, reducing the maximum contribution limit to $1,000. I will also fight to make it easier to vote by supporting automatic voter registration, expanding early voting, and fighting for more accessible poll sites.
Campaign Promise 5
Public transportation: My district only has 2 major subway stops (with connections and accessibility), so many residents rely on the buses to get to the subway. However, the current proposal for the Queens bus redesign eliminates many vital routes, including routes that connect East Elmhurst, Corona, and Jackson Heights to the accessible 74th St station. I am committed to fighting back to save our buses. Additionally, I will fight to keep our buses fare free (as they are now during this crisis), and fight to implement the “Green New Northern,” my plan to limit traffic along Northern Boulevard between 114th Street and Queens Plaza to emergency and delivery vehicles, buses, bicycles, and pedestrians in order to allow pedestrians and cyclists to travel safely and improve air quality.
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.
Our campaign is driven by grassroots support. We reject corporate donations and money from luxury real estate developers. We do this because we are accountable to our constituents and not beholden to the monied few. As mentioned above, if elected, I will fight to reform our campaign finance system to drastically limit the influence of special interests. I believe deeply in the importance of a robust public finance system that allows more working class folks to run for office and represent their communities. In addition, as a long-time leader in the non-profit sector, I have always maintained strict ethical standards in my work, and have led a values-driven campaign that reflects my commitment to ethics, transparency and community engagement.