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Astoria resident sets sights on Gianaris seat

One could easily call Aravella Simotas a striver. The longtime Astoria resident enrolled in college when she was 16, got her law degree and rose through the ranks to become a commercial litigator and Community Board 1 member.

Now she is setting her sights on public office — that of her longtime friend state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who is preparing to run for state Sen. George Onorato’s (D-Astoria) seat this fall.

Simotas, 31, has not officially declared her candidacy yet on the Democratic line, but her exploratory committee has raised more than $61,000, according to the state Board of Elections, and she has Gianaris’ blessing.

“The opportunity presented itself and, of course, I thought about it and have talked to many community leaders who are encouraging me to run,” she said.

Simotas is no stranger to the political scene in Astoria. While in college she worked as a district representative for then-City Councilman Peter Vallone Sr. Then in 2001 she managed the successful campaign of Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria).

“The best thing that I really got out of it [was] working for people who weren’t motivated by being called ‘Assembly member’ or ‘Council member,’ but people who really care about the community,” she said.

Simotas worked for Peter Vallone Jr.’s office as well until she was appointed to CB 1. At 22, she believes she was the youngest person serving on the boards in Queens.

Simotas was born in the African nation of Zimbabwe to parents of Greek origin. They moved to Astoria when she was 6 months old. Simotas attended public schools, including Bryant High School in Long Island City, before heading to college and law school at Fordham University. She cites her time clerking for a pair of judges in the U.S. Court of International Trade as a formative experience.

“I focused on disputes that dealt with American companies that were injured because of predatory pricing and also there were a lot of disputes that dealt with the [U.S.] Department of Labor, where American workers who lost their jobs because of outsourcing or offshoring applied for benefits and were denied benefits,” she said.

Now that she works for the Manhattan law firm Bickel & Brewer, Simotas spends most of her time on commercial litigation, although she said she was proud of a recent pro bono case she took representing a disabled client whose condominium lacked an entrance ramp to the front door.

If elected, Simotas said she would make education funding and expanding health care options her priorities.

“I know firsthand how important a public school education is,” she said. “One of my main objectives is to ensure that public schools receive the funding they need and they deserve so that every child receives the same kind of education I got.”

She also said she would advocate for the plan to expand Mt. Sinai Hospital in Astoria, currently seeking $70 million to qualify for loans to build a new nine-story structure next to the existing building.

“In recent years my father was very ill and had major heart surgery,” she said. “Every time we needed to take him to see a specialist, we had to go across the bridge to Manhattan, and that’s unacceptable.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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