Juan Reyes, an attorney and longtime Forest Hills resident, said if he is elected as a state senator, he would focus on growing underdeveloped job sectors in New York to bolster employment and attract the country’s top talent.
“We’ve been blessed in the city with having very good finance jobs and very few cities really have that,” Reyes said at in an interview with Times Ledger Newspapers staff at its offices. “But there are a lot of other jobs that we could be producing, but we’re not and that’s a problem.”
He said he would lower taxes on some businesses to make it easier for them to reinvest and would study other cities to see how they have stayed competitive and adopt similar models in New York.
“It’s just one of those incredible points in New York history,” he said. “There are times where the city could have gone one way or another and the people in charge were always smart enough to evolve and to retain businesses and this is another time.”
Reyes is running against City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) in the Republican primary, which takes place Sept. 13. If he wins, he would face Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) in the general election in November.
The candidate is vying for the 15th Senate District, which includes Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Glendale, Middle Village, Woodhaven, Maspeth and parts of South Ozone Park, Rego Park, Ridgewood and Sunnyside.
Reyes currently works in the private sector for law firm Reed Smith LLP, where he specializes in land use and zoning.
He is no stranger to the public sector, however. He worked for several years in Washington, D.C., for both former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and for former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, and later in New York City for the Giuliani administration, both as counsel and for Giuliani’s mayoral re-election campaign.
He said that experience puts him ahead of his contender Ulrich, who was elected to the Council’s 32nd District in 2009.
“Kudos for him for winning the special election and being in the City Council for three years, but I don’t think you can really compare the experience,” Reyes said. “I don’t think he’s going to be the kind of leader that we really need.”
He accused Ulrich of being a politician that goes with the flow and generally falls in line with Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s (D-Manhattan) agenda.
Reyes said that is part of the reason the Queens Republican Party backed him instead of Ulrich.
“He’s been a team player with the City Council members and Quinn, but not with the people in the Republican Party in Queens,” Reyes said.
Reyes said he differs with Ulrich on the issue of raising the minimum wage, which is currently being debated in the Senate. While Ulrich has come out in favor of a higher minimum wage, Reyes disagrees with that position.
He said a minimum wage increase forces small businesses to fire employees or prevents them from hiring new workers if they are not able to afford to pay the minimum.
“I don’t think it’s the right time to really do it,” he said.
The Senate is considering raising the minimum wage to $8.50 from $7.25 an hour.
But Reyes was more ambivalent on another issue that Ulrich supported: upholding rent stabilization.
“I think it’s a complicated issue and you don’t want to throw people out that really have been reliant on rent stabilization,” he said, but added that he thought at some point something would have to be done.
Reyes also spoke about other hot-button issues, such as crime, saying that it is a cyclical problem that is best combated with better education and training in business.
He said stricter gun laws, such as a state proposal to microstamp guns, would not alleviate the problem because he said New York already has some of the toughest laws in the country. Instead, greater enforcement of the current laws is needed, he said.
“It’s going to stop it if you arrest people for criminal behavior and give them a good education and hopefully stop that cycle of poverty,” Reyes said.
He said he would support hydraulic fracturing in New York state, although with caution, saying the practice is “controversial for a reason.”
“It really could damage the groundwater and you don’t even know what’s going to happen for years to come if you’re not careful,” he said.
He said hydrofracking needs to be carefully and properly insulated to protect against contaminating water supplies.
On gay marriage, Reyes said he believes in traditional marriage although recognizes that gay marriage “is the law of the land now.”
He said he would not have voted to pass the gay marriage bill and said it should have had a referendum instead. He said he would not get into hypotheticals about whether he would vote to repeal it.
In general, Reyes said his policies would be guided by common sense and making the government work for people.
“You really have to use your own best judgment and study the issue and vote accordingly,” he said. “Whether or not you’re everybody’s best friend is irrelevant. You have to do what’s best thing for the people that you’re representing.”
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cn
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