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Simotas aims to give western Queens bigger voice in Albany

Astoria’s Aravella Simotas said she would focus on expanding health care options and improving education in western Queens if she is chosen to replace state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) this fall.

Simotas, 31, a Manhattan litigator and Community Board 1 member, is one of two Democrats running in the race for Gianaris’ seat. She will face off against Jeremiah Frei-Pearson, who works as a civil and children’s rights attorney in Manhattan, during the Democratic primary in September.

Gianaris has announced his bid to replace state Sen. George Onorato (D-Astoria), who will retire at the end of the year.

“I’ve lived in the community my entire life and I’ve always been active,” Simotas said. “As an attorney, one of the skills I have developed over the past eight years is working with other people to get solutions to problems, often aggressively. Albany is a mess and there are a lot of issues that are not getting resolved.”

Simotas said she will prioritize health care, education, economic issues and the environment in her campaign, which kicked off April 10 at Astoria’s Taminent Club.

“There is a health care crisis in Astoria,” she said. “A lot of young families are coming into the neighborhood and we do not have community hospitals to serve them. We are severely under-bedded.”

Simotas said her father recently suffered a heart attack and has other health problems, but his doctor told him he should travel to Manhattan for care.

“People have to go across the bridge for services they require,” she said. “It’s unacceptable.”

She said she is also concerned about cuts to western Queens schools in science, arts and after-school programs.

“Parents rely on after-school programs for their children,” she said. “It’s where they can learn more than reading, writing and arithmetic and bond with their fellow students.”

Simotas said her platform would also include economic initiatives to bring back jobs to western Queens.

“I have a lot of friends who have lost their jobs,” she said. “I see storefronts closing. We have to make sure our residents have resources, proper tax credits and access to small business loans.”

She cited the state’s film tax credit program as one that creates jobs and aids community businesses. Gov. David Paterson has proposed an extension for the credit through 2014 in his state budget, which has not yet been enacted.

Simotas said she intends for her campaign to bridge the gap between Astoria’s younger generation and longtime residents.

“We’ve been able to merge people who have been in local politics for a long time with younger volunteers,” she said. “As an elected official, you have thousands of bosses. You work for the people in the community. They are your allies and they help you to become a more effective leader.”

She has already been endorsed by a number of Queens elected officials, such as U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) and Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), Gianaris, Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), and several unions as well as Councilmen Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).

Frei-Pearson’s endorsements include Democracy for New York, the Stonewall Democrats and Marriage Equality for New York.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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