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Corona’s Julissa Ferreras sets sights on Monserrate’s Council seat

The Corona−born woman who hopes to succeed her former boss in the City Council has a personal history of climbing through the ranks. She faces a challenging month of campaigning against a field of community activists and district leaders before the Feb. 24 special election for Council District 25, which covers Corona, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.

Julissa Ferreras, who resigned as former Councilman Hiram Monserrate’s (D−East Elmhurst) chief of staff last month after he was elected to the state Senate, grew up in Corona, the daughter of Dominican immigrants.

Ferreras, who is 32, began her civic involvement at age 15, when two of her friends were hit and killed by a drunk driver on Northern Boulevard.

Her mother, seeking safer places for Ferreras to play, directed her toward then−City Councilwoman Helen Marshall’s Youth Council. Ferreras soon became president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Youth Council.

When she graduated from high school, she took a job as director of PS 19’s Beacon School, an after−school program funded by the city Department for Youth and Community Development.

“Sometimes people, especially in our culture, they tend to think the directors have to be a man,” she said. “They’d walk into the Beacon [office] and they’d say, ‘Oh, you must be the secretary.’ ”

Ferreras spent six years running PS 19’s Beacon program until she met with former Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette (D−Jackson Heights), who recommended her as a delegate for the 2000 Democratic National Convention. A year later, while working on Hillary Clinton’s successful U.S. Senate campaign, she met Monserrate, who was making his first bid for the Council.

“I was like, ‘How are you going to run, you’re not from the area,’ ” she said. “But ... I had enough roots in the community to help him win.”

Ferreras was Monserrate’s chief of staff for four years before leaving to head the New York chapter of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. It was also during this time that she was named chairwoman of the Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment, a Monserrate−funded nonprofit that later had trouble accounting for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ferreras said she had nothing to do with LIBRE’s finances. If elected, she said she would not involve herself with start−up nonprofits.

“This was a lesson learned,” she said, “especially since I worked so hard at building my name and my integrity, to have this little bit of tarnish is not something I ever want to have to face again.”

Ferreras, who returned to her job as Monserrate’s chief of staff in 2007, said her experience managing his office gained her crucial experience dealing with municipal politics. She said the most pressing issues facing her constituents are affordable housing, affordable child care and public safety.

Two day care centers in the neighborhood, Malcolm X and BCL, are facing financial problems, she said, noting that many mothers are forced to decide whether to work or stay home with their children.

“Your neighbor won’t be able to accept an ACS [city Administration for Children’s Services] voucher but these organizations will,” she said. “The subsidies are there. We just need to have institutions that will accept the subsidies.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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