When City Council Candidate Aleda Gagarin thinks about the future of New York, she envisions what she calls a “New York that works for all New Yorkers.”
It’s a just and equitable city, she said. One where no one gets kicked out of their home, all children have access to education, seniors get hot meals, public transportation is safe and accessible, and if someone loses their job, there’s help and resources to get them through.
And after a summer of racial reckoning, protest, economic crisis, a contentious city budget vote and a global pandemic, Gagarin decided to try to bring that vision to life by joining the crowded field for the District 29 race in the 2021 New York City Council elections.
“I really think we have an opportunity through these crises to reimagine what New York City is and who we are and how we take care of each other,” she said. “In every challenge there’s an opportunity and I think 2021 is a year for that.”
Gagarin is the senior director of development at Candid, a nonprofit that connects people, organizations and foundations to resources and researches charitable giving, but more recently she was known throughout the district as the campaign manager for unsuccessful 6th Congressional District Democractic primary candidate Mel Gagarin –– her husband.
But now, the two Gagarins have swapped roles. Just months ago she was her husband’s campaign manager. Now, the roles have been reversed and he is hers.
“Yea, freaky Friday!” Gagarin said laughing.
She’d never considered running for office, she said, until a group of mostly women of color from the district approached her with the idea while she was busy with her husband’s campaign. And when she realized that there wasn’t anyone who represented her values running to replace term-limited longtime City Councilmember Karen Koslowitz (D-Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill), Gagarin decided it was her time to step out of the shadows and into the ring.
“I wanted to make sure that there’s someone from my district that’s willing to, you know, be an ally and a part of that call for, for real, racial and economic justice,” she said. “If this is the best way that I can be an ally to my community and to the movement then you know this is how I’ll approach it this year.”
Gagarin is up against nine other candidates seeking to replace Koslowitz. Also in the race are candidates Lynn Schulman, David Aronov, Edwin Wong, Evan Boccardi, Eliseo Labayen, Marcelle Lashley-Kabore, Sharon Levy, Douglas Shapiro, and Donghui Zhang.
The 2021 elections, in which 35 out of 51 city council seats are up for grabs because of term limits, are a once in a generation opportunity to remake the city, she said.
Her top issue is the budget. The contentious vote this past summer where the City Council did not listen to protester demands that the NYPD budget be slashed left her dismayed, she said.
“I felt like the Council really let us down in terms of how they voted on the mayor’s budget. I think that our priorities are really flawed,” she said.
The city needs to better allocate its resources and that means defunding the NYPD, an idea that she understands is hard to stomach for some, she said.
“They hear phrases like ‘Defund the NYPD’ and it’s very scary and off putting,” she said. “But what people don’t realize is that our city’s budget doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I want to make sure we’re investing in, you know, harm reduction, and then thriving communities.”
Instead she believes the money should go towards social workers to do homeless outreach and deal with mental health crises, counselors in schools, and even trash pick-up in neighborhoods.
“It’s frustrating to hear that we don’t have money for garbage collection and seeing trash pile up on our streets,” she said. “But you know, NYPD is allowed to blow through their overtime cap.”
Gagarin is the most progressive candidate in the District 29 race so far but she thinks the district is ready for her. She saw a hunger for a proressive candidate while helping her husband campaign this past spring, she said.
“Things have changed so drastically,” she said. She thinks there are massive numbers of voters who are suffering, who are tired of the status quo, and who are sick of “solutions” that have really not solved anything.
It’s an era that takes a candidate who’s willing to go beyond what the city has already imagined. She’s frustrated at politicians who are neither bold enough nor compassionate enough to to imagine a New York City without prisons. If they can’t make that leap, she said she doesn’t think they can lead to the kind of city she envisions.
But ultimately she thinks the results of the November election will determine how people vote in 2021.
“Because frankly, if Donald Trump wins,” she said, “There’s no help coming.”