New York State

The retirement of Cathy Nolan creates an open race for state Assembly

Western Queens could become even more progressive after the June Democratic primary.

Assembly Member Catherine Nolan is reportedly planning on retiring at the end of this year.

Assembly Member Catherine Nolan is reportedly planning on retiring at the end of this year. New York State Assembly

A newly-open Assembly race in Western Queens has become the latest opportunity for the political left to expand its presence in Albany. 

Assembly Member Catherine Nolan is reportedly planning on retiring at the end of this year after nearly four decades in office and a growing list of candidates are getting ready to declare their candidacies for the June primary campaign. This includes Émilia Decaudin, a democratic socialist district leader from Sunnyside, who could become the first openly transgender person to be elected to the state Legislature. “You’ll be interested to see what happens next week,” Decaudin told City & State Friday. “I am strongly considering a run and that is what I want to say.” Other potential candidates have until the end of the month before they would have to begin gathering signatures to get on the June primary ballot. 

Some political observers responded to the news of Nolan’s retirement for health reasons by commenting on her role in challenging the male-dominated establishment in Albany during her long career as a legislator. This includes a 2015 run to become the first female speaker following the fall of Sheldon Silver, the longtime leader of the chamber who reportedly helped cover up sexual misconduct by other powerful men. “She set the example & blazed the trail for me + many other women to engage + lead in our communities & run for office,” former Assembly candidate Danielle Brecker tweeted Friday. “I would not have been able to challenge AM Nolan in 2020 if she had not been doing the work before me.” Nolan, who did not respond to a request for comment by publication time, suggested to supporters in early January that she would run for reelection.

The unexpected news that Nolan – a longtime liberal who now qualifies as a moderate in the increasingly left-leaning Assembly – would retire is the latest twist in a race that has yet to even really begin. Activist Mary Jobaida, who could not be reached for comment Friday, aimed to challenge Nolan from the left, but told supporters in late January that she was suspending her campaign after enduring a series of personal and political challenges. Huge “Vax Daddy” Ma based his own campaign on the name recognition gained after creating a website that helped New Yorkers book vaccine appointments. His campaign ended after his residence was left outside the district in the new Assembly map approved by Albany lawmakers, which would have required him to move in order to run for reelection in the future. 

Nolan currently represents Assembly District 37, stretching from Astoria, in the northwest corner of Queens, southwards along the waterfront where it includes much of Long Island City and Sunnyside. The neighborhood of Ridgewood to the southeast also makes up a substantial part of the current district. Redistricting made Assembly District 37 more geographically compact by removing left-leaning areas of the district like Astoria, which will now be included in the district represented by Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani, who was elected in 2020 with the support of the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. The new Assembly District 37 also overlaps with a newly-created state Senate district that is targeted by another democratic socialist candidate, Kristen Gonzalez, who is seeking the endorsement of the group.

Western Queens has acquired a reputation in recent election cycles as one of the most left-leaning areas of the five boroughs and the election of one or more democratic socialists to the state Legislature will only make that more true. But whoever wins the seat will hardly be able to fill the position of power currently held by Nolan. She has chaired committees overseeing education and labor in the past – and remains a member of the powerful Committee on Ways and Means, which oversees state spending, and the Committee on Rules, which can play a pivotal role in controlling which bills reach the Assembly floor for a vote. It takes years to build a reputation like that held by Nolan, according to former Assembly Member Joe Lentol, a longtime colleague. “She was a good legislator, a great debater and somebody that will be sorely missed – no doubt,” Lentol told City & State Friday. “One of the towering women of the Legislature ever to serve in our state.”

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