JUST 21 -  A Candidate for NYC Council District 32

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 At just 21 years-old, Shaeleigh Severino, has decided to run for District 32’s City Council, in the hopes of replacing Councilman Eric Ulrich. Born and raised in Ozone Park, Severino states she is, “an advocate. Not a Politician.” Because Severino has grown up and continues to live in District 32, she expressed to The Rockaway Times that she is running on a platform entirely for the people and by the people. “Any elected role is supposed to advocate for the people you are representing,” Severino said. And from the moment she began her campaign, that is what Severino and her team have been doing. Whether it is going out to hear from community members, or giving PPE to local businesses and people, Severino wants the people of District 32 to know that she is fully devoted to advocating for every community. “My number one focus has always been advocacy, and because this district has such a wide range on the political spectrum, running for office means I have to represent and advocate for everyone,” Severino said.

Severino, self-described progressive democrat, is currently a Senior at St. John's University, working to earn her BA in Government Politics and BS in Legal Studies. Before deciding to run for office, Severino had originally planned on attending law school after earning her St. John's degree. However, she realized that she was needed elsewhere as a leader for the people. And despite her age, she has received positive feedback from community members across the district.

Communications Director of the Severino Campaign, Amelia Eberline, said, "The district is excited about Shaeleigh's age. They value, appreciate, and seek young leaders. They see Shaeleigh's energy and unmuddied special interests as a good thing!"

Severino stated that she has been actively making her presence known here in the Rockaways, because time and time again issues Rockaway residents face have been neglected. For a peninsula with many local businesses, Severino expressed how frustrating it is to see the lack of attention these businesses have received. “Queens currently receives the least amount of funding from the Federal Cares Act, and lots of these small businesses and restaurants will not survive a second lockdown,” Severino said. If elected, Severino says she will start preparing legislation to send to the City, advocating for the need of financial aid and grants to help support local businesses. Since the beginning of her campaign, Severino has been going to local businesses asking if they need any help applying for existing grants and providing PPE to employees. Regarding restricting indoor dining in NYC, Severino expressed how much this is hurting businesses. Severino said, “We need to establish a set protocol for outdoor dining and take-out, as well as a protocol to allow for indoor dining and help businesses stay open at a set capacity.”

One important issue that Severino hopes to resolve is the District’s current public school system. As a City Council Member, Severino hopes to reestablish the desire to learn for all children. Because of COVID-19 and the transition to hybrid/remote learning, the community needs to combat this issue of the lack of attention for schooling. Severino stated that we must utilize our community centers, senior centers, and perhaps small businesses. “We can’t just have a child sitting on the computer all day, that is no way to learn and fully retain the information. If we utilize spaces that already have proper protocols for sanitization and WiFi connectivity, then we can allow for children to utilize these spaces and learn together,” Severino said.

Additionally, as a woman with an autoimmune disability and having gone through the public school system until college, Severino has seen firsthand that many children with disabilities do not receive the aid and support that they require. And since the pandemic, this has only become more apparent. Severino said that the lack of resources for those with disabilities needs to be recognized and resolved.

Another issue Severino hopes to tackle if elected, is the Jamaica Bay Bill that was just recently vetoed by Governor Cuomo. “While NYC is prioritized as a whole, Rockaway’s environmental justice has been constantly ignored and forgotten,” Severino said. She expressed that as City Councilwoman, she will apply pressure at all levels of government in order to pass legislation to help the Rockaway community.

Because District 32 is so diverse, Severino also expressed the importance of finding a balance between the people with so many differing viewpoints. Severino stated that this district currently holds the largest number of NYPD, law enforcement agents, and veterans. “As a young black woman, it is crucial to have these conversations with community members and find a balance. I have family who are law enforcement agents and serving in the military. The main way we can find this balance is to create an a wide reform for public safety,” Severino said. If elected, Severino plans to tackle the issue of police reform by recognizing the holds that currently exist in the system. Severino stated, “This means that as a community, we must hold police accountable, but also notice that many times officers are not allowed to speak up when witnessing injustices. There are no protections for officers who report corrupt matters.” In hopes of establishing more faith and respect for NYPD officers, Severino stated that mental health resources should be available. She also stated that there will be protections put in place that will allow officers to utilize these resources without the risk of being reported and losing their quality of life. Severino also advocates removing qualified immunity. She said, “Police and people shouldn’t be at odds. If we remove qualified immunity, we are rebuilding trust in the community and everyone else, which will bring both sides together.”

The last issue Severino discussed with The Rockaway Times was the importance of supplying voting information to all people throughout the district. Regarding ranked voting, she stated that the City Council will need to look at this carefully. They must be informed by the Board of Elections how much ranked voting will cost and what it takes to be implemented properly. “My biggest concern is about the June primaries. Will there be enough voting information available to the public? Will the people be aware of ranked voting and what this entails?” Severino said. If elected, Severino is making the availability of voting awareness a top priority. She stated that this is a big issue she hopes to advocate for the people, because the district should not suffer from any type of voter suppression.

Running as an advocate for the people, Severino said, “As a young black woman, it is especially important that I bring all my lived experiences to this position. That means acknowledging the issues that currently exist and working hard to resolve every community’s issues within District 32.”

By Marina Cregan

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