April 22, 2022 By Czarinna Andres
Elected officials and civic leaders gathered in Jackson Heights Thursday to join Steven Raga for the launch of his campaign to represent Assembly District 30.
Congresswoman Grace Meng, State Sen. John Liu and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz joined Raga in Diversity Plaza to announce his run for office. Raga was thrust into the race when the incumbent Brian Barnwell abruptly announced earlier this month that he was not seeking reelection.
Raga was selected by a committee that was formed to determine who would replace Barnwell on the ballot.
“I am so excited and pumped up to announce my candidacy,” Raga said at the launch. “Like so many immigrant families from so many cultures, my family came here in the 60s and took root. It is time that we take our voice to the Assembly and that we are represented by someone who understands the spirit and the needs of this amazing community.”
Several people spoke in support of Raga at the launch and said that he had the experience and background suited for the position. They noted that he would be the first Filipino American to be elected to serve anywhere in the state.
The newly drafted borders for Assembly District 30 include Woodside, Elmhurst, and Maspeth. The district is one of the most diverse in the state and is majority AAPI—as in Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Raga, who is the executive director of Woodside on the Move, has a long track record in government and the non-profit sector.
Prior to joining Woodside on the Move, he was the Northeast Regional Manager for Policy and Advocacy for the Susan G. Komen Foundation and was the chief of staff for Barnwell for four years. He is also on the board of several Filipino organizations.
“This is a huge opportunity to expand AAPI representation in government,” said Liu. “We want to claim this seat.”
Liu said that there are Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, Bangladeshi Americans and Indian Americans in office–and it was time for a Filipino.
Cruz also spoke and said that she has seen Raga do the work over the years both as a civic leader and while working for Barnwell as chief of staff.
“Steven understands the nitty gritty of being a good elected official,” Cruz said, such as working with small business owners, helping parents get their kids into good schools or assisting immigrants find the government aid they need. “He has done the work.”
Meanwhile, Meng said that the district is “blessed to have a candidate like Steven who is willing to step up to make sure our voices are heard.”
“There really is no better person,” Meng said, adding that he has already been doing the work. “I am proud to support Steven in his historic candidacy.”
Raga was thrown into the race in the last minute following Barnwell’s sudden announcement. Barnwell told the Queens Post that he was fed up with politics and wanted to do something else.
A committee was formed to replace Barnwell on the ballot and Raga was selected.
The committee—known as the Committee on Vacancies—consisted of Gregory Meeks, who leads the Queens County Democratic Party, along with Melissa Sklarz, Patrick Martinez, Kathleen Nealon and Raga.
Sklarz, Martinez and Nealon are on the ballot running to be Democratic district leaders.
Sklarz was at the launch Thursday in support of Raga. So too were members of the Filipino community such as Rachell Ocampo, the producer and host of Makilala TV, a long running Filipino American talk show that runs in the New York metro area.
“As a member of the Committee of Vacancies, it was an honor to select Steven Raga to be our Democratic candidate for the 30th Assembly District,” Sklarz said. “Steven is smart, experienced, compassionate for both neighborhood and community, and essential to represent us all in Albany. The 30th District needs Steven Raga.”
Raga urged the attendees to help him in the race.
“This is a tight time frame. It is two months…so I need your help to knock on doors and join me in the fight.”
Raga faces Ramón Cando in the June 28 Democratic primary.
Cando is a Democratic District leader and is being backed by Hiram Monserrate, who is challenging Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry for the 35th District seat.