Monserrate, Ex-Senator and Ex-Convict, Seeks Votes Amid Disdain


The seat became vacant over the summer with the unexpected announcement by its current holder, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, that she would not seek re-election. The news surprised political observers who had considered Ms. Ferreras-Copeland a leading candidate to be the next Council speaker, and gave Mr. Monserrate, who had already been running to challenge her in the Democratic primary, elbow room to push his campaign.

Mr. Moya, 43, is no stranger to the district, or to Mr. Monserrate: When he was elected in 2010 to the Assembly, representing the district that covers portions of Corona and Jackson Heights, he defeated Mr. Monserrate, who had been attempting to return to the Legislature after being expelled from the Senate.

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Hiram Monserrate in 2010, following a hearing in federal court on mail fraud and conspiracy charges, for which he was later found guilty. Mr. Monserrate declined to be interviewed or photographed for this article.

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Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Mr. Moya has received endorsements from powerful Democrats including Mr. de Blasio and Ms. Ferreras-Copeland and labor groups, and has amassed more money in campaign contributions. He has been campaigning from morning to night in recent days, at subway stops and door-to-door.

But Mr. Monserrate, 50, has raised more than twice as many donations from people living in the district: 285 to 110, according to data from the city’s Campaign Finance Board. And Mr. Monserrate recently received $87,000 in public matching funds to fuel the final days of his campaign.

The margins are likely to be small in the largely Hispanic district that stretches from East Elmhurst and La Guardia Airport in the north to LeFrak City, the sprawling apartment complex along 57th Avenue. Only a few thousand votes are cast in a Council primary. And Mr. Monserrate benefits from name recognition and some longstanding relationships in the community.

“They support him because they know him,” lamented Andre Maloy, 55, a lifelong East Elmhurst resident and campaign volunteer for Mr. Moya. He said he voted for Mr. Monserrate in the past, but resented his return. “If you steal from me once, I’m not going to give you the keys to my house.”

Mr. Monserrate has sought to muddy the waters by falsely accusing Mr. Moya of living in a condominium in Long Island City, outside the district. (Mr. Moya lives in Corona with his aging parents, helping to care for them; his father has Parkinson’s disease.) During a raucous debate on Wednesday, Mr. Monserrate accused Mr. Moya, without evidence, of criminal activity.

“Oh Hiram,” Mr. Moya said at one point, turning to the moderator. “If jail can’t make this man tell the truth, I certainly can’t.”

“A storm is brewing,” Mr. Monserrate, sporting a close-cropped Caesar haircut, warned.

“No storm is brewing,” Mr. Moya replied. “I’m going to beat you in LeFrak, I’m going to beat you in East Elmhurst, I’m going to beat you in Corona, I’m going to beat you like I did in 2010.”

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Assemblyman Francisco Moya, right, who defeated Mr. Monserrate in 2010 to enter the Assembly, is seeking to replace the departing incumbent, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, left.

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Uli Seit for The New York Times

Mr. Moya, in an interview, said that he wanted to address the issues facing the area, including high property taxes, a lack of parking, construction worker safety, and the future of Willets Point, a scrapyard area near Citi Field that has been long slated for development.

Mr. Moya, a boxing and soccer enthusiast, beamed as he talked about the Spanish soccer star David Villa, who recorded a robocall in Spanish for his campaign. “It’s like if Derek Jeter were calling to baseball fans,” Mr. Moya said.

Mr. Monserrate declined to be interviewed or photographed for this article.

Daniel Dromm, a councilman who represents the neighboring Queens district, is not a Monserrate supporter but has not been surprised at those sticking with him. “There is a sentiment with some in the community that politicians are this way, and Hiram was no different, so what difference does it make,” Mr. Dromm said. Before the criminal conviction, Mr. Dromm added, “my bone of contention with Hiram was his vote against marriage equality.”

Others cited Mr. Monserrate’s move, as a state senator in 2009, to join with Republicans in that body and take control away from the Democrats. He was expelled from State Senate in 2010 after a judge convicted him of misdemeanor assault. Two years later, he pleaded guilty to the Council fraud, which had benefited his State Senate campaign.

But to his supporters, Mr. Monserrate deserves another chance.

Bertha Lewis, the former chief executive of Acorn who endorsed Mr. Monserrate and has been assisting his campaign, said that his criminal past should not impinge on the race. “He’s a returning citizen,” she said. “Do we actually believe in reform, do we believe in redemption, or is this something abstract and when it comes to individuals, you wear the scarlet letter forever?”

Ms. Lewis also believes that a polling place, long present at LeFrak City, was moved for this primary as a way of suppressing the vote for Mr. Monserrate in an area where he has support among black residents. The city’s Board of Election declined to comment, citing a pending lawsuit filed by Ms. Lewis’s group and residents.

Near LeFrak City, Miguel Rodriguez, a 26-year-old Uber driver, looked at a Monserrate flier hanging outside a Columbian bakery.

“I heard about Moya; there’s lots of Latinos supporting him,” he said, adding that he had not yet made up his mind about Mr. Monserrate. “I’m going to look at it and see.”

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