As a candidate for State Assembly in Astoria, I have been traveling the district and talking to my neighbors in the community I have lived in my entire life. In a sympathetic tone, everyone asks the same question—“Why would you ever want to go to Albany?” The answer is simple—I want to go to Albany because I know I can make a difference for the community I love. I know I can help clean up the mess.
Because of Albany’s dysfunction, the significant problems faced by our state go unresolved. Our schools face a more than $1 billion budget cut, three Queens hospitals closed in recent years, further overburdening our remaining health care facilities, and special interests like the MTA run amok and operate as out-of-control bureaucracies by overcharging and under-serving residents. We need to reign in Albany and ensure that our state works for its citizens, not the special interests.
We should begin by holding our representatives to much higher standards. Too many Albany politicians have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, stealing taxpayer money to pad their own pockets instead of funding needy causes. Criminal penalties must be increased for those that break the public trust so that the message is clear that corruption will not be tolerated.
And when politicians are caught breaking the public trust, investigations must be undertaken by truly independent authorities rather than by colleagues and friends. It is time to force the fox out of the hen house. We need an independent ethics commission that will hold those who break the law responsible.
Accountability is also lacking among Albany politicians because voters are denied real choices on Election Day. Fair elections are a rarity in New York, where the current system allows the politicians to choose their voters by drawing their own districts rather than allowing voters to choose their representatives. That is why we need an independent redistricting commission to create districts based on what our communities need, and not politics.
Since money holds too much influence in the political process, we also need campaign finance reform that guarantees lower maximum contributions, stricter disclosure requirements, and public financing of elections to level the playing field. By making our redistricting and campaign finance systems fairer, we will ensure that the voices of New Yorkers are heard louder than the special interests on Election Day.
Albany has been allowed to abuse its power and authority for far too long. I look forward to the day when we are no longer ashamed of our government, but rather are proud it stands for us. In the Assembly, I will lead the fight to change the system and make state government accountable to the people once again. I hope you will stand with me and join the fight.
Aravella Simotas is a practicing attorney and lifelong resident of Astoria. She is a candidate for the 36th Assembly District.