Nicole Lee: A City Council Candidate and Advocate for People with Disabilities

City Council Candidate Nicole Lee (photo from campaign Facebook)

City Council candidate Nicole Lee wants to be an advocate for people disabilities. This is why she decided to run in the special election for City Council District 31. 

A single mother of three children, one of whom is a child with autism, Lee said she feels she understands the difficulty many families face in Southeast Queens.

“Being a single mom of three kids, with a special needs son, I notice the lack of services for the special needs community,” Lee said. “Fighting for those services for over 10 years is something that is close to my heart.”

City Council District 31 includes Averne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale, and Springfield Gardens. The office was previously held by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who vacated the seat in December after being elected Borough President, triggering the special election.

Lee said she’s particularly concerned about the lack of educational resources. Like many families, she was forced to look outside her community for the best opportunities for her children. Her son, who has autism, goes to school in Forest Hills because the schools in the area can’t meet his needs. 

“That’s because the resources in District 31 were not helpful at all,” Lee said. “Any school he has ever attended has been outside of the district for special needs resources. It’s really horrible because I should not have to send him that far.”

A testament to the diversity of educational options in New York City, Lee has one child in private school, one in a public school run by the Department of Education (DOE), and one in a public charter program. Her favorite out of the three is the school run by the DOE.

“I think we should invest more money in the DOE system. Not only is it free for our children, they have less restrictions,” Lee said. 

A proponent of so-called “blended” learning, Lee would like to see students across the city back in classrooms at least part time.

Blended learning refers to a model of education since the pandemic began which mixes a couple days of in-class instruction per week with supplemental online learning. The situation creates a logistical headache for Lee who now has to plan her day around watching her daughter.

Despite the issues with school scheduling, Lee counts herself lucky. Largely self-employed, she is able to more freely parse out her time than many families.

For over 20 years, Lee has maintained a number of small businesses including selling cosmetics, and opening a daycare for children with disabilities after being unable to find care for her son. She believes this experience will help her in her bid for city council.

“COVID has hit us really hard — half of small businesses are not being able to reopen,” Lee said. “Access to capital in our district is very much needed. Being an entrepreneur, I’ve seen that through the 20 years of being a sales employee.”

As part of her COVID relief plan, Lee said she supports sending stimulus checks to families to offset economic distress, particularly to help offset the cost of raising children.

“Especially during these times, we need some sort of income. People cannot afford to buy food,” Lee said. “My food bill went up a couple hundred dollars a week, and I’m a single mother.”

She could not specify when asked, however, whether her relief proposals should be paid for with city money, or with an offset such as a tax increase.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around how to pay for it,” Lee said. “I can’t really give a straight answer for that. I would literally need to look at the budget and see where we can pull the money from.”

Editor’s Note: Following publication, a spokesperson for Lee’s campaign challenged a quote where Lee indicates having 20 years experience as a sales employee. Though correctly quoted in the story, the spokesperson clarified Lee has 20 years as a small business owner, and did not specify how much of this was sales-related.