Jackson Heights leader challenges six-term incumbent Assemblyman DenDekker

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By David Brand 

National Latina Institute Executive Director Jessica González-Rojas will challenge six-term Assemblymember Michael DenDekker in the Democratic primary for Assembly District 34.

González-Rojas, who has lived in Jackson Heights for 20 years and advocates for healthcare access, said she is running in the district to bring leadership on social justice issues that she said is lacking.  Now that both chambers of the legislature are controlled by Democrats, individual Assemblymembers can introduce progressive bills that could actually pass.

“The ability to step into a place where I’m not just the advocate from the outside but the legislator from the inside is really exciting,” she told the Eagle. “I think the state has changed in the last session to actually get things done.”

González-Rojas said DenDekker has not advocated for the rights of immigrants, who make up significant proportion of the district. 

“We have a huge immigrant population and we need a champion who understands the issues of immigrants, and he hasn’t been that,” she said, adding that she would seek the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Local civic association president Nuala O’Doherty Naranjo, a veteran Manhattan prosecutor, has also filed a campaign committee with the Board of Elections and begun fundraising. 

DenDekker, a county Democratic party stalwart, was first elected to represent parts of Jackson Heights, Woodside and East Elmhurst in 2008. He has run without a primary or general election opponent five times since then. This time around, he said he welcomes the challengers. 

“I think elections are good,” DenDekker said. “I think elections keep an elected official working hard and give the residents a chance to rate their elected officials.”

“This is really a litmus test on your work,” he added. “A review or a rating by your employer.”