For years, voter turnout in the 38th Assembly District has been among the worst in the state.
But two men are looking to change that and will square off this fall in the race for Democratic district leader.
They’re hoping a competitive race will entice voters to become active.
Angel Vazquez, chief of staff to Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), and Farouk Samaroo, a former candidate for Miller’s seat and veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, are both throwing their hat in the ring for the powerful party position.
“It’s unacceptable that we have such low turnout,” Vazquez said.
Samaroo expressed the same concern, saying he wants “to get people registered and get them involved.”
The district leader job — a party position whose holders pick the party’s chairman, help pick judges, hire poll workers and help get candidates on the ballot — was left open by Al Baldeo, who was stripped of his title by the Democratic Party in the wake of an alleged straw donor scandal stemming from his 2010 run for City Council.
“For a seat that is this important to South Queens, I think I’m a better fit,” Samaroo said, noting that he grew up and still lives in the district and has been politically active there since interning for former Rep. Floyd Flake at age 12.
Vazquez, who says he has the support of Miller, the district’s assemblyman, moved from his native East Elmhurst to Woodhaven last year, but noted that he has had family in the neighborhood his entire life.
“I’ve spent many holidays and have a lot of childhood memories from here,” he said.
Vazquez, who has worked in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and for Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), said being district leader would only supplement his current job.
“I think it’ll put me in a better position to represent the community directly and cut the red tape,” he said, further adding that as district leader, he would encourage “good people” from the communities in the district to pursue a career in public service.
Vazquez noted that through his job at Miller’s office, where he said he wears many hats, he recently helped a destitute veteran who had nothing get benefits.
“Working with the community, it’s amazing,” Vazquez said. “It’s one of the most amazing jobs I’ve ever had.”
Samaroo, who served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for a year and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for military merit, as well as six other decorations, said constituents in the district could count on him to fight for their causes.
“I would be the most vociferous,” he said. “I won’t back down.”
He took aim at the Queens Democratic Party, saying it works to avoid contested races to its detriment.
“The organization still has an allergic reaction to competitive races,” he said. “I think the Queens County organization will be stronger if they had competitive races. They would have the best and brightest running.”
The 38th Assembly District includes all of Woodhaven, most of Glendale and parts of Ridgewood, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park. Historically home to working-class conservative Italian, Irish and German populations — in 2001 it was the only district to vote for Republican Al Stabile over Democrat Helen Marshall for borough president — its demographics have shifted in the past decade, with fast-growing Hispanic and West Indian and South Asian populations moving in.
Some Democratic sources noted the district leader race, with Vazquez, a Hispanic, and Samaroo, who is Guyanese, is a test of which growing community can get voters out.
But Samaroo, who identifies as a Roman Catholic with a Hindu dad and a Muslim mother, said the race is not about ethnicity and rejected the notion that people should vote for him just on the idea that he is a West Indian running to replace a West Indian.
“I’m an American first and foremost,” Samaroo said.
Vazquez said the district leader needs to be accountable to everyone in the district.
“The community as a whole should be the ones choosing who their leaders are,” he said.
Petitioning for the Sept. 9 primary starts in the next few weeks.