Editor’s note: The following is a brief series is to introduce readers to the new Democratic District leaders recently elected to the unpaid party position.
Julio Peña III (D) has called for several reforms to the Kings County Democrats’ operations after winning the primary to be Democratic District Leader for the 51st Assembly District (Sunset Park, Red Hook, Gowanus, Park Slope).
A Sunset Park native, he joined his local community board around 2014 (he was unsure of the exact date). About two years ago, Peña got involved in the Kings County Democratic Committee when he ran for county committee. “I just really wanted to get involved any way possible after the 2016 election,” he recalled.
“There’s just so much that needed to change. Our community wasn’t being heard or represented, so earlier this year, I decided to run for district leader.”
Peña has promised “transparency, equity, and accountability” as district leader, and intends to reflect that in reforming the process under which voters pick judges. “When people go to vote, they see all these judges on their ballots, and the district leaders and party play a significant role in that. I’ll be honest myself: I don’t even fully understand the role that the district leaders play,” he admitted.
“I think people automatically assume that `Oh well, this judge is a Democrat,” but I think we’ve learned from experience that not all Democrats are the same.”
He also called for the district leader positions to be more inclusive, citing current laws that only allow them to identify as “male” or “female,” which he feels “really just excludes” trans and non-binary citizens from civic engagement.
Peña acknowledged that his lack of legal experience was a challenge, but insisted his professional background in education offered its own unique qualifications for the position. “I understand the needs and experiences of folks in my community,” he said.
“Working with high school youth who have experience in the criminal justice system and how that affects their lives, the experience of judges, particularly bad judges, can affect the lives of young people, so really coming from that lens of ensuring that supporting judges are human and have a humanistic approach and humility.”
Peña also expressed concern that community members would regard him suspiciously as a radical outsider. “I don’t want to be perceived as someone who wants to do that,” he assured this reporter. “I just want to be the person who wants to represent their community and start.”