JACKSON HEIGHTS — A longtime community activist, running for City Council, is ready for her fight as an underdog.
Cristina Furlong, a co-founder of Make Queens Safer, has filed paperwork to run for the seat currently held by Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who announced last week she would not seek another term.
Furlong said it never crossed her mind to run for public office before now, although friends and other members of the community would often tell her she should.
But with Ferreras-Copeland's sudden announcement, she felt a pull towards the position.
"I like being on the advocacy side," said Furlong, whose group supports safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists. "But now I see, from the last few years working independently and the great coalitions we've built, that we do need a little push in power."
Furlong is taking a grassroots approach to her campaign and believes that voter engagement is high after the controversial election of President Donald Trump, and Sen. Jose Peralta's criticized move to the Independent Democratic Conference.
"I think people want to have a fresh voice," she said.
The other candidates who have thrown their hats in the ring for Ferreras-Copeland's seat have years of experience in politics — former city and state lawmaker Hiram Monserrate and current Assemblyman Francisco Moya.
Furlong said she's faced a steep learning curve getting into the race, as even getting the documents to file with the Campaign Finance Board can be daunting.
"There's a lot of politics involved in getting in to politics," she joked.
But she feels her advocacy work, which has centered around street safety and public education, puts her in the best position to listen to her community.
Her platform centers on affordable housing, as well as what the development of LaGuardia Airport and the plan for Willets Point will mean for rent prices.
"It's a really big one I worry about, for myself included, as a renter in a very expensive, gentrifying neighborhood," Furlong said.
School overcrowding is another issue, and one she's worked on for years since her son started at a school in Elmhurst that's is at 145 percent capacity.
The city should be looking at overcrowded schools differently — working to bring more resources while waiting to build more space, she believes.
Furlong would also like to spend as much time as possible in her community, if elected, creating task forces to address other concerns, like immigration.
As an activist, she's attended hundreds of meetings and made many, many phone calls to elected officials to share concerns. Now she's ready for a different role.
"For the last few years there have been a lot of things I've been working on changing without a lot of power and authority," she said. "I want to be on the other side of the phone call."