The recent mudslinging between candidates for the upcoming primary election for the 34th Assembly District seat in Queens highlights how police reform – and where the candidates stand on it – is developing as a central issue in election battles. It raises questions over how the national conversation is going to play out in local elections.
In the midst of citywide protests against the NYPD following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, 34th Assembly District Candidate Jessica González-Rojas challenged incumbent Assemblymember Michael DenDekker (D-Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside) on his police reform record. She said that his recent support of police reform legislation is a reaction to protests and to pressure from her campaign, and not a sign of commitment to real reform.
“Michael DenDekker has failed our community. He was supported by law enforcement money for years and in return he helped block police accountability reforms,” González-Rojas said. “Now that we are challenging him, he is belatedly sponsoring bills that are critically important to our community.”
George E. Hadjiconstantinou, Assemblymember Dendekker’s deputy chief of staff, refuted González-Rojas statement in an email to Queens County Politics and said that the Assemblymember has supported the policing reforms proposed by the SafeNY package of bills for a while.
“Inaction from the Republican-controlled State Senate blocked these and other progressive proposals from becoming law for many years,” Hadjiconstantinou said about why the proposals have never come to fruition.
He also said that the assemblymember has a long record of supporting criminal justice reform.
“The very first bill Assembly Member DenDekker authored and passed in the Assembly made it easier for those who are arrested to seek counsel,” he wrote referring to a bill which was passed in June 2010.
A month ago, police reform would have been lower on the list of issues defining a campaign as politicians and candidates worked hard to mitigate the immediate and lasting effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But, as police cars burned and President Donald Trump threatened to send the military into cities that he said were unable to control the protests, the state of policing in our country has become a central issue, and politicians like Assemblymember Dendekker are scrambling to come out unscathed.
Last week Assemblymember DenDekker, who’s received campaign contributions from at least seven different law enforcement groups for his current campaign according to his most recent campaign finance filings, announced he would be donating all contributions from police associations to local nonprofits.
González-Rojas said he was only doing so after facing pressure from the community and called on him to go further and renounce the endorsement he received from the Police Benevolent Association of New York City.
“The PBA has blocked police accountability reforms even in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officers,” González-Rojas said in a press release.
However, before Assemblymember DenDekker could do so, the NYC BPA retracted their endorsement.
“Anti-police fever has claimed even some politicians who were previously supportive of the PBA and our members,” PBA President Pat Lynch wrote in a letter to the members of his union.
Assemblymember DenDekker wrote in a tweet that he was surprised that the PBA had endorsed him because they’ve never donated to his campaign.
Hadjiconstantinou, Assemblymember Dendekker’s deputy chief of staff, did not answer whether or not the assemblymember would have renounced the endorsement had it not been rescinded. But he said that the assemblymember has received support from law enforcement unions in the past because he’s pro-union, has been in unions for most of his life, and has supported legislation that benefits unions.
“Assembly Member DenDekker is tired of and upset by the constant flow of injustices inflicted upon People of Color in New York and nationwide, and was disgusted by the police brutality and overwhelming show of force in response to the protests in New York City over the past ten days,” Hadjiconstantinou wrote.