Interviews & Profiles

Juan Ardila: ‘When the left organizes, we win’

One of the two leftists to win an Assembly primary, Ardila talked election strategy, housing policy and reaching across the ideological spectrum.

Juan Ardila and AOC.

Juan Ardila and AOC. Corey Torpie

New York progressives set their targets on moderate members of the New York Assembly in the June primaries, hoping to reshape New York’s lower legislative chamber much in the same way insurgent candidates reshaped the state Senate in 2018. Groups like the Democratic Socialists of America and Working Families Party endorsed a slew of candidates who challenged long time incumbents. But incumbents came out largely unscathed from Tuesday’s Democratic primary

However, there were some bright spots for leftist candidates. One of them was Juan Ardila’s victory in the 37th Assembly District in Queens, where he replaced a moderate incumbent in an open seat. Ardila, a former staffer for Brad Lander, racked up endorsements from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Working Families Party. 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

You were endorsed by the Working Families Party, and you're replacing a long time incumbent who was more associated with the establishment in Albany. What did you do in your race that resonated? Were you able to power through negative attacks? Being accused of defunding the police and that stuff didn't seem to stick? 

I want to thank the WFP (Working Families Party) a lot because I think when the left organizes, we win. And in terms of what I did, I just stuck to what I genuinely believe in. Housing justice, climate justice, health care for New Yorkers.

When it comes to public safety, I openly campaigned on the issue. It wasn't about abolishing or anything like that, but mostly talking about there's an uptick in gun violence. How can we remove the flow of illegal guns in New York? 

How do you address public safety in a way that is addressing the root causes of crime?

So we talked a lot about expanding anti-gun violence programs, investing in affordable homes for those facing evictions, mental health services, social services investing in youth, just because especially the youth, because those are the populations that are most involved when it comes to gun violence.

And that's what we campaigned on really. Housing, how to protect tenants, but also thinking about how to genuinely expand truly affordable housing. Legalizing accessory dwelling units. The ADUs: That's a big piece of my platform. I really believe in it.

People in the district already do it. People across New York state already do it. It's just not legal. And because it's not legal, that's when you saw the deaths because of (Hurricane Ida) that took place, the devastation that took place. If you do legalize it and take a safety first approach, have these units up to compliance, up to safety measures, to have them dignified and safe for tenants. You're looking at at least 100,000 new homes just in New York City alone. And you can think about what that means across the state. And especially in a housing crisis that we're in. It's just, it has to happen. 

It's not going be the magic wand to erase the prices, but I think it can, it can definitely support a lot of struggling tenants. It can support the small homeowners that have been impacted by the pandemic, and it can even create job opportunities for people in the construction space without damaging the fabric of the community.

And were you hearing from folks who were concerned about some of the bigger issues you just mentioned? Was there a sense that Albany wasn't listening to people or were they disenchanted? 

There was definitely a concentration of people that were upset that “good cause” didn’t get passed, upset about the (Build Public) Renewables Act. Upset about health care not being passed. Upset about Clean Slate not being passed, which I think is arguably the least polarizing issue on this platform.

There's a lot of the rhetoric about "common sense, common sense." And to me, having someone kick you out just because they can, is not common sense to me, right? Like this is just a no-brainer decision. Protecting tenants, especially in a post pandemic recovery, I just don't see the argument against it.

I did a forum with everyone in the race. Some people didn't like my position on (“good cause” eviction), but I was just very honest. When it comes to housing issues, hat might be one of the few that I'm very, very radical on. It's because I genuinely believe it is a human right. I don't view housing as a speculative investment for people, I do believe that it's a right that every person has access to. 

ADUs were divisive, particularly “good cause” was divisive. Some Democrats were suggesting the party needs to back off those issues, and you're saying the party needs to double down on them?

I think we should definitely be talking about these issues. And with the Working Families Party as well, we were very much aligned in terms of what we wanted and what we wanted to advocate for. Housing this is something that is just essential. And we showed it in full force.

We threw down hard. The Working Families is a force to be reckoned with. Like I said before, when the left organizes the left wins. Advocating for tenants rights, advocating for working class people, making sure that you can pass legislation to support tenants, especially when it comes to unscrupulous landlords. Making sure that we're combating things like (predatory loans). It's just essential for working class New Yorkers and immigrant New Yorkers.

You've referenced twice, “When the left organizes we win.” What does organizing mean to you? What were you doing in the community to get people to turn out and to win? 

We were speaking on a progressive message. We never went negative on anyone. We only talked about the issues in terms of what we wanted to advocate for and what are the solutions to the problems that the people in the district are facing.

What we did in this race was actually gather a lot of support from people that are from both ends of the party, ironically. So you're looking at, like, AOC and Tiffany Cabán right. We also had folks like the Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.

We also had labor unions thrown down for us, like almost all of them. Labor unions, some of them tend to go for more moderate candidates or moderate incumbents. You have to be able to stick to your values but also understand that in Albany, you're going to have to work with both ends of the party. Without compromising your values, without compromising what you believe in. And what I believe in is a progressive vision.