Queens Councilman Robert Holden, the incumbent candidate for the 30th District City Council, is poised for re-election following New York’s mayoral primary on June 22.
Holden, a right-leaning Democrat Democrat who ran on a law and order platform, secured 53 percent of the vote against progressive newcomer Juan Ardila, according to city voting data. Ardila earned 3,868 votes—541 shy of Holden’s 4,409—enough for just over 46 percent of the vote.
Holden, who represents Ridgewood, Middle Village, Glendale, Maspeth, Woodhaven and Woodside, appeared to claim victory late Wednesday morning.
“I couldn’t have won this race without my staff and all of you,” Holden posted on Facebook. “Many thanks to all the hardworking unions, colleagues in government and volunteers who supported us. This is our victory.”
As of Thursday afternoon, however, Ardila wasn’t ready to concede, despite trailing by more than 500 votes.
“It is what it is,” Ardila told Bushwick Daily. “We did really well.”
He said his team was still crunching the numbers. Approximately 1,300 absentee ballots still needed to be counted.
Ardila was outperformed, unsurprisingly, by his incumbent opponent in the conservative enclaves of Middle Village, Maspeth and Glendale.
The 27-year-old Legal Aid Society program coordinator was confident he’d locked down Ridgewood, Woodside and Woodhaven—Queens neighborhoods with substantial immigrant populations.
Ardila, who burst into civic politics amid the coronavirus pandemic last March, championed public housing. His platform included the legalization of accessory dwelling units, boosting public transit, and expanding dual language programs in public schools.
“I feel fantastic about it,” Ardila said of his campaign early Wednesday, as it hung in the balance. “The people we wanted to contact and reach out to—they expressed their voices. I’m happy for that. We uplifted a lot of people. If the results didn’t go our way, I think we did everything humanly possible that could have been done realistically.”
Ardila is the first Latino council candidate to run for the 30th District seat. His grassroots candidacy, despite a looming loss, signals the neighborhood’s shifting tectonics, particularly the community’s burgeoning Latino base.
Throughout his campaign, Ardila flatly accused Holden, an immigration hardliner, who is pro-ICE, vocally opposed to sanctuary cities and has voted for repeals of police choke holds, of being out of touch with large fragments of his constituency.
“We made sure to make this a campaign about inclusivity and real representation,” Ardila added. “There is a huge shift in demographics in our council district that the incumbent has failed to acknowledge, such as the growing Hispanic population.”
Ardila cited a lack of affordable housing, transit, multilingual education, and immigrant protections as issues which, he said, his opponent failed to address. He also accused Holden of colluding with Republicans while running on a Democratic ticket.
Approximately 35.6 percent of Maspeth and Ridgewood’s 165,895 residents identify as Latino, according to a 2019 survey conducted by New York University’s Furman Centre.
“We don’t have any enforcement of anything,” said Tony Nunziato, the president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. “You want to make it a safe neighborhood for everybody. It’s outta control.”
The 64-year-old Republican florist, whose family has lived in Queens for more than a century, called Holden an “unbelievable” and “concerned” community advocate who has the chops to combat spiraling crime.
“There definitely is an uptick—music playing, people getting knocked out, women getting punched in the face, motorcycles racing up and down—everything,” Nunziato added. “It’s just [something out] of the old, wild, wild west, and you have to have a sheriff in town to make sure everything stays calm.”
Conversely, Holden’s pro-police stance—particularly in the post-George Floyd era—turned other voters off.
“I definitely haven’t seen more of an increase of crime,” David McEvoy, 25, a lifelong Maspeth resident, told Bushwick Daily after casting his vote for Ardila this month. “I’ve lived here my whole life. I don’t see that myself.”
In April, Ardila’s campaign was tainted after the New York Post published a story exposing a series of homophobic, misogynistic, and racist Facebook posts the progressive candidate authored in high school. According to screenshots provided to the tabloid, Ardila reportedly used slurs such as the N-word, “c–k,” and “homo.”
Ardila has since apologized and deleted the posts. He called the article a “hit piece” that he claimed was “planted” by Holden’s team.
“I didn’t even know it existed,” Ardila told the Bushwick Daily. “Had I known it had existed I would have been the first one to erase it obviously. Of course I’m sorry. It’s never correct to say no matter what the age is….You take it on the chin, you accept it. You own it.”
Nonetheless, the exposé emerged as repeated ammunition for Holden’s staff and supporters, who painted Ardila as a socialist, bigot and racist homophobe throughout the race.
The two camps also clashed at early voting sites earlier this month, largely over revelations contained in the tabloid. On June 12 and 13, the opening days of early voting, Holden supporters canvasing a Middle Village voting annex could be seen passing out photocopies of the article.
“When we were trying to talk to voters, aside from surrounding our table, they would scream ‘racist homophobe,’” Derek Evers, Ardila’s chief of staff, told Bushwick Daily. “Voters didn’t want to stop, obviously. It was super uncomfortable. So we moved to the other side.”
Ardila’s campaign later accused Holden staff and supporters of purposefully blocking their one-table setup by parking illegally at the voting site’s entrance. The taunts, however, quickly escalated. At one point, a female staffer stumping for Ardila said she was filmed without her permission by a male Holden supporter during a brief confrontation.
“They were there with their ten or so people. We would be trying to talk to a voter, and they would kind of shout over us,” Sami Murphy Solano told Bushwick Daily. “They would make it so it was intimidating for the voter; it was hard for the voter to hear what anyone was saying. It was just very weirdly passive-aggressive and confrontational.”
In a memo circulated internally by staff last week, which Bushwick Daily obtained, Ardila’s campaign described the behavior as “dangerous” and “abusive.”
Robert Holden’s campaign staff didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the alleged incidents.
No official complaints were lodged by either campaign surrounding the poll site interactions either, according to the New York City Board of Elections.
“Nobody ever brought that to our attention,” Michael Gortman Sr., a poll worker and co-coordinator at the voting site told Bushwick Daily. “If they would have, it really would have been a matter for the police. Technically, where they are, they are more than 100 feet away. They’re not on the site, so that becomes a police issue.”
According to election bylaws, candidates, staff, and volunteers are prohibited from campaigning within 100 feet of polling sites.
In November’s general election, Holden faces Republican challenger John C. Spataro, the Queens County attorney who launched a failed campaign to be a Queens Supreme Court Judge in 2019.
Holden was first elected to City Council in 2017. He initially lost the Democratic primary to incumbent challenger Elizabeth Crowley. He later ran as Republican in the general election, beating Crowley by 137 votes.
All images courtesy of Dorian Geiger.
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Editor’s Note: Previously Robert Holden and the neighborhoods of Ridgewood, Woodhaven, Woodside, Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale were described in an imprecise manner and without proper citation. Juan Ardila was mistakenly referred to as a paralegal. These errors have been amended.