Activist and community organizer Maya Contreras announced on Thursday, July 1 that she would run for the Democratic nomination in New York’s 12th district, currently represented by Democrat Carolyn Maloney.
“I didn’t take the decision lightly,” Contreras said. “I continuously see those already pushed to the margins by policy left to fall through the cracks…they are constituents, and they have a voice that should be listened to.”
Contreras, who is Afro-Latina, grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico to a single mother who worked multiple jobs to pay the bills. “Poverty is traumatizing,” she said in her campaign announcement video. “Unfortunately, not much has changed in the decades since that happened.”
Contreras moved to New York in 2003, where she has been an actress, a writer, and an organizer for voting rights. In 2018 she started “Step Up and Vote,” a program registering and educating voting-eligible students at HBCUs. More recently, she testified before the New York State Senate to support the New York State Voting Rights Act in March 2020.
Contreras’ platform includes provisions for universal childcare, universal healthcare, and expanding Pell Grants for college students. In addition, she supports investing in New York City’s creative economy by helping BIPOC and LGBTQ artists obtain housing, as well as federally subsidized, no-interest loans for artist studios.
“Funding like this would have helped me greatly during the 2008 recession,” Contreras says. “I was not eligible for a traditional loan as I ha[d] no collateral and no assets…Federally subsidizing artistic institutions in NYC is not a new concept…but subsidizing artistic institutions, or already wealthy artists, is not the same as subsidizing everyday marginalized working artists.”
The primary for New York’s 12th District is already growing crowded. Maloney is already being challenged from the left by progressive Rana Abdelhamid, who has been endorsed by the Justice Democrats. In response to these primary challenges, House Democrats formed Team Blue PAC, a PAC dedicated to defending incumbent House members.
In 2020, Maloney survived her primary with a plurality of 43%, but the remaining 57% of the vote was split between other candidates. To Contreras, that’s a sign that the district is ready for a new Congressperson.
“Maloney seems to prioritize those that are wealthiest in the district over those who are in poverty,” Contreras said. “She’s been trying to make up for decades of complacency by co-sponsoring a flurry of progressive policies in the last few months…that she ignored the last decade but now hold her interest because she has challengers.”
New York’s 12th District currently includes the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Greenpoint, and parts of Queens, including Roosevelt Island. Although it will be redrawn as part of the 2020 census, it will likely remain a heavily Democratic district, and whoever wins the nomination will have a good shot at winning the general election that fall.
If she is elected, Contreras will be the first Afro-Latina woman ever to represent NY-12, and the first woman of Black heritage to represent it since Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman ever elected to Congress.