On the latest episode, the Honorable Steven Raga, New York State Assemblymember from Queens, NY, shares his journey from legislative staffer to elected official and discusses the daily life of being an Assemblymember, including hectic legislative, community, and campaign schedules, as well as the importance of addressing constituents’ immediate concerns. Assemblymember Raga reflects on his first year in office and details his legislative priorities for the upcoming year, including support for non-profits, safety on college campuses, and digital literacy resources for US veterans. Assemblymember Raga also provides his perspective on public service and offers advice for those considering a career as an elected official, emphasizing the importance of a positive attitude, dedication to community work, and the ability to learn from mistakes.


Honorable Steven Raga, New York State Assemblymember, 30th Assembly District

  • Transcript

    Transcript was generated using AI software and may contain errors. 

    Alexander Morse  00:01

    Hi and welcome to a special episode of Policy Outsider presented by the Rockefeller Institute of Government. I’m Alex Morse. On today’s episode, we have the Honorable Steven Raga, New York State Assemblymember from Queens to talk about his work in the New York State Assembly and the nonprofit sector, and his call to public service. We also discussed the similarities and differences between being an advocate, legislative staffer, and a state elected official, roles all covered by our guest, and how those experiences inform his policy and legislative priorities. Assemblymember Raga also offers advice for what qualities are important for success in public service. A not so surprising hint, all public service requires a lot of dedication and enthusiasm towards building and strengthening communities. And later in the episode, stay tuned for a special breaking announcement from the Assemblymember. Hope you enjoy. Coming up next. Welcome to a very special episode of Policy Outsider. Thank you again, Assemblymember Steven Raga for joining us today.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  01:22

    Of course, thanks to us for the invitation. Happy to be here.


    Alexander Morse  01:25

    So we’re gonna talk a little bit about your career, how you got to where you are, some of the similarities and differences of working in this legislature versus being a legislator. But first wanted to kind of talk about your your upbringing and where you came from. So a lifelong Queens resident, you now represent the community grew up in and just tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  01:46

    Yeah, for sure. Like, like you mentioned, born in Queens. But the first few years of my life actually lived in the Philippines. I was born here and then and went back because my dad didn’t have his his paperwork yet, waiting on it. So it would be easier if I lived with him for a while then I came back around like first, first grade. And I’ve been here all around mostly in the Woodside Elmhurst and also in Jamaica area too. But I’m so excited to represent communities that where I lived in most of my life, and also where my friends and family still live. I see my uncles and my auntie’s around all the time or just walking down the street. So it’s truly an honor. Very exciting.


    Alexander Morse  02:26

    Yeah, it must be really special for you to have that kind of community connection and impact and now being able to work for the people and your constituents.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  02:34

    Yeah, for sure. But then it’s also I gotta be extra alert. Because every little thing like the other day, literally, I’m just trying to get into my building. And my neighbor is like, “hey, did you see that pile of garbage there last Tue- I’m on it, I was already I already filed complaints. I’m talking to the agencies. I’m on it, don’t worry. So more hyper alert, but, but again, truly an honor to serve your community like that.


    Alexander Morse  02:55

    I’m sure that attention to detail is going to serve you well in the long run. So you’re about to enter your second year of your first term as an Assemblymember. But as I kind of mentioned at the top of the podcast, you’re no stranger to the workings of the legislature formally serving as Chief of Staff to the former Assemblymember Brian Barnwell, whose district you now represent, you know, what are some of the biggest takeaways you’ve learned, similarities and differences between being a legislative staffer and now being a legislator?


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  03:22

    Yeah, I think a lot of outsiders don’t really know that in the Albany world, and I’m sure in other governments, it’s really around the clock job. Actually, there’s a lot, I was Brian’s Chief of Staff from his first day in office until about the fourth year, where I joined Susan G. Koman Breast Cancer Foundation doing legislative healthcare advocacy for the Northeast. But for that first four years, I was Chief of Staff in its entirety. And I thought I kind of knew at least, you know, 90% of, of what I would be getting into as an elected official, because I’m always next to or filled in with Mr. Barnwell on every piece of legislation or advocacy or bill. But it seems like he was hiding a lot, because there’s a lot more on on this other side that as a staffer, especially at that point, I was the chief of staff where I have to communicate with our staff, but also in other offices and the member themselves, I felt pretty looped in, like, I knew everything. But there’s also these other pressures that I did not see that an elected official would have to monitor. And, and, and try to balance. For instance, I would always say when Albany is in session, and if I’m not in Albany, I’m in district office in Queens, and he’d call me pretty late. I mean, I’m pretty used to it. These call means after midnight and talking about legislation stuff, I’d be okay with it. That was the that was kind of the pattern we had. I’d be like, and then what why, why are you calling me like after 12? We could talk about this and whatever. Like, come on. Now. We could schedule this. And then now as a legislator, I’m like, well, I’m, I might be calling at 3am Because that’s the first time I had a break the entire day and it is non stop, non stop non stop, but it’s it it is a lot and there are differences between a top of this there are differences between the district because of redistricting for District 30 here. We lost parts of actually the entirety of Long Island City, Sunnyside, large swaths of Astoria and Middle Village, but we gained Elmhurst a large part of Elmhurst and also Jackson Heights. So it goes from Middle Village to the corner of Astoria to Diversity Plaza to to the middle of the heart of Woodside. So it’s a pretty, very diverse district. Yes, it is nonstop. And it’s a lot because you could be I’m gonna give an example, literally last night, where my day, the calendar day ended at 1030pm, done 1030pm. But I had 20 calls that were all emergencies, I had to follow up on that were, hey, this is kind of very serious. It’s cannot wait until 9am the next day. And then after that, there’s all this catching up in emergency emails. And next thing, you know, it’s it’s 3:30am. And you had something at 7am. So this is not just an outlier. This is an average day. And it is around the clock. But again, if you have a good team, you you make that positive impact. And I think we do and I think we’re doing pretty great in our first year.


    Alexander Morse  06:25

    I’m glad to hear that. And you mentioned redistricting new Assembly lines and Senate lines were drawn in 2022. So you have those new districts. You mentioned Elmhurst and what were the others?


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  06:35

    Jackson Heights and found this out, but we have about a block or two of East Elmhurst as well.


    Alexander Morse  06:40

    Right. So it’s even more as a freshman. I’m sure it’s even more work for you and your staff to learn those communities, those constituents, make sure that you’re out there and hearing their concerns and bringing those concerns to Albany.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  06:52

    For sure, for sure. For instance, today, I know we’re doing outreach in Elmhurst and Maspeth for our small businesses, making sure they’re they’re kept in their loop. Also, the other unfortunate hindrance of being in new office is, well people have to, I think people most people don’t know this. But if you’re a new office, they don’t just give you the contacts from the previous.


    Alexander Morse  07:10

    Right, right.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  07:11

    You’re like, hey, here he goes, what we’re working on. All right, have fun, you have to start from zero. So from we got to let folks know that they got to opt in sign in to our, our communications that we’re still here for them. And this is the new district lines. And if for some reason they’re outside, we can direct them to their new representative. If they can’t do that, we’ll follow up, we might be able to help them as well, too. So that aggressive outreach is something our team is doing very regularly.


    Alexander Morse  07:39

    And there’s a chance that aggressive outreach is going to have to double down again, with redistricting coming again. Next year. Possibly.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  07:45

    For sure. For sure, for sure. But you know what I asked for the job and the citizen. This is what it is. But, but for sure, hopefully, I love the neighborhoods that we represent right now. I think it’s a great balance of, of not just Queens in New York, but but the State. So as an honor serve and then hopefully you could keep the same lines as much as possible.


    Alexander Morse  08:06

    While you said you asked for this. So let’s talk about your draw to public service and public sector work. You mentioned, you’ve spent quite a bit of time in the nonprofit or the public sector as an advocate. You mentioned the Susan G. Koman Breast Cancer Foundation, I took from your bio here, also AARP, Woodside on the Move, on the boards for Queens LGBT Pride, the Western Queens Community Land Trust, there’s more, but I might lose an audience member if I keep going.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  08:34

    No. I mean, so what is it? What does it feel to be on this end? I think that I take a lot from it, in which case, I’m gonna try to be more proactive. Because I remember on the advocacy side, whether we’re holding an event or we have a piece of legislation, or if there’s just a social issue that we don’t know the next step on, whether it’s an agency that can help us or did you go to a policy change, it was very tough to reach our elected officials in office or, or let them hear our needs and what I felt was even for them to take it seriously. So for us, we’re doing that that outreach like what was just mentioned, but we’re doing so in ways that’s reflective of the community making sure that they’re in language that our outreach is culturally competent, and just make sure they feel safe and like and their their concerns are valid just because they feel that way isn’t me like we’re gonna ignore them or or anything like that. So on any given day, our staff other than English of course, we can speak Spanish, Tagalog, Desia, Pali, Polish, and Hindi Urdu, and Bangula, so we try to make sure we’re, we’re there for our community. Oh, and also sorry, Mandarin, Cantonese and Fujianese. So we’re trying to make sure that any work community can feel comfortable to come out and express what their concerns are not just as an individual, but maybe as a community itself.


    Alexander Morse  09:55

    That’s quite an array of language access services.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  09:58

    It’s tough when we have the same budget as everyone.


    Alexander Morse  10:01

    Yea, no kidding.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  10:02

    You know, as a diverse community. I’ll tell you is it’s quite a puzzle to fit that one.


    Alexander Morse  10:06

    Now, was there a moment like a defining moment in your life that said you wanted to, a call to action for public service? Or was this something that you were always just interested in maybe like a civics class or…


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  10:16

    A piece of it. A piece, I think we’re all engaged in politics in one way or the other. And I would envision myself until very, very recently to be on the other side of it, not as an elected office, but on the advocacy side and the nonprofit side trying to nudge and guide our quote, unquote, you know, our leaders in elected government to do the right thing by our communities. I didn’t think I was gonna be elected. I was I wasn’t a big fan of politicians and elected officials for for a lot of my work. So to be on this side of this a bit more alert on on making sure the younger version of myself is not hating on this version of myself. So, but on the other hand, also, real things did spirit along a few years ago, with the rise of anti-Asian hate in our city, there were multiple examples. But one specific instance kind of cut deep and it’s when a member of our Filipino American community, he was just going from one community event to church or I think he was going to church to a volunteer event, one or the other, on the L train and he was slashed across his face. No one helped them at all, no one there helped them. He had to go to NYU Langone by himself. And it was, it feels like there was no support, even from government at that time. And so a lot of our community in the API community, specifically the Filipino community was saying, this is a time this is it. Now or never and, and that’s kind of the last nudge that that I had in that. But before that, I was totally willing to support any other person to run for office and play my part from the sidelines.


    Alexander Morse  11:54

    I do remember that event. That was pretty tragic. And it was all over the media.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  11:57

    Yeah, it was pretty sad. And then also, in that light, too, I I know a lot of just not the community members, and my friends and family. A lot of them are nurses and healthcare professionals, and during the height of the pandemic, and the months after, there was a lot of violence towards them that they did not express publicly. So these are folks that are going to go to Elmhurst Hospital at the you know, the the epicenter of the epicenter of the pandemic and try to help New Yorkers feel better. But they’re getting shoved down the stairs at the train stations two blocks away. That’s how we should be treating our folks. And they wouldn’t come out publicly on it. But they would call me and say, Steve, this happened again, just don’t tell anybody. And that was what we were dealing with. And to a certain degree, it’s still happening today. But thankfully, to a lesser degree.


    Alexander Morse  12:46

    I’m sure your constituents are very happy with your commitment to their concern and being in a position that can affect change. So let’s talk about some of your legislative priorities. You’re entering your second year, 2024. Assembly terms are two years. And so what is it that you accomplished last year that you’re happy with or maybe not satisfied with you want to keep pushing forward?


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  13:08

    I think, for the most part, what I’m proud of myself for doing that at our office is not just coming in and shooting from the hip and creating bills that have similar end goals that are already in the process. We sat down and we read every other legislators bill to make sure we’re not doubling up, to make sure we’re not just wasting everyone’s time. And if we liked their version of the bill, we didn’t make our own, we just signed on to theirs. And said hey, let us know what we can do to support. And that’s why if you look at our our site, you see all the bills that we co-sponsored, we read every piece of that legislation, and every page of that to make sure that we’re there in full support. Now with that there are things that we are going to start focusing on the next few weeks of next few months to try to make sure we’re adding value to the legislative process before June ends. And we’re looking for a safety on college campuses. We’re looking to see how we can have more digital literacy resources for our US veterans, and also looking for how we can support our nonprofits get the resources that they need, even quicker within the procurement process. Like you had mentioned my most recent job before an elected office, I was the executive director of a nonprofit here in western Queens, Woodside on the Move. And a lot, being a smaller nonprofit, whatever money or awards we get financially, any nonprofit would need that as soon as possible, not a little later. And so your programming could get destroyed. You could lose staff, you might be able to hire great and competent staff that can move forward just because the government part is kind of dragging. And so whatever we can do to increase that process not only just helps nonprofits but ultimately helps all New Yorkers that need that service. I can keep going.


    Alexander Morse  14:56

    Oh, let me, just I’m trying to think of what the appropriate segue and follow up is, but, yeah, please continue.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  15:02

    Yeah, for sure. So we some of our big priorities that we’re creating. But because a lot of the things we care about, we already have champions, they’re doing it every day and fighting for New Yorkers anyway. So this is on top of supporting bills that can help tenants in New York. Also, small homeowners, also those new New Yorkers that are coming into our city and our state, those that need health care, all of those things, you already have great champions already in the Assembly and I’m happy to fully support the initiatives that they can improve the livelihood of all New Yorkers do that.


    Alexander Morse  15:38

    Now, is there anything about being a staffer that you miss, that’s not part of the Assemblymember portfolio?


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  15:45

    Absolutely. It’s called the weekends and evenings. I remember those very fondly. But I think, for me, the thing I miss about being a staffer is that you really get to do the good work to help the community to help New York, without all necessarily like the backlash, like the lightning rod is the elected official, you get checked out on Twitter and social media. But the everyday good work, it’s whether you’re doing a community event. So a community feels recognized whether you’re drafting a resolution or a bill that can impact a certain number of New Yorkers, or whether you’re doing constituent cases, which is kind of the bread and butter, what I what I believe should be bread and butter of elected officials office, that’s helping people right in front of you here and now. And you can just focus on that and improve the lives of your friends and neighbors around you. And the elected official side is kind of the that’s where the lights and cameras are. But to a certain degree, do less of the groundwork that you get to see the faces of folks who help every day.


    Alexander Morse  16:52

    Right. And then the campaigning to boot. Oh, yeah. Oh, my. Yeah, don’t remind me. I thought I went about two hours without thinking about that. But yeah, campaigning for sure. It’s, that’s another difficult cloud over your shoulder, especially if it’s every every other year. So like, think about that. We’re doing great work for one legislative session of of six months of the year. And now it’s summer in the fall and tried to do my local outreach to schools, community education council districts, all nonprofits and stakeholders locally. But there’s an election in like, eight months or something like that. It’s truly tough. But again, that’s that’s the system we have now. I wish it was not as frequent as every other year. That would be great. So we could focus on on getting these bills through and not make legislation for New Yorkers become a political thing, or campaign related. But yeah, that’s always a over your head. And so far, hopefully, the constituents and or at least the residents of District 30 think I’m doing a good job and and look to see me back in office for a second term. All right, that’s your official campaign announcement?


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  17:57

    Yeah, if you want yeah, go ahead.


    Alexander Morse  18:01

    Breaking here on Rockefeller Institute of Governmentand.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  18:02

    Do it. That No, no, that’s a good. That’s a good podcast title without breaking news. Listen to this.


    Alexander Morse  18:11

    We appreciate your time. I guess I you know, I’ll open up the floor if you had anything else that you wanted to say. But last question I have here is advice for other staffers or folks who are considering a run for office, what would you, what what advice would you give them?


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  18:25

    You mean, if they’re already staffers or just any anybody? Well, we could start with staffers but anybody more broadly, to finish off with, I think when you’re a staffer, what you’re doing is, is very similar. Public service really is sacrifice. And, and I’ve seen a lot of people not take it like that they take it as a jumping point to them getting a blue check sometime in their life. And that’s not what it should be. It really should be what we’re doing to improve our community and dedication to the folks who really, really, really need it the most in our community. So I think if that’s really your, your centerpiece, go for it. Where I take it back is I just did a talk at at a program. And they asked me what do I look for when I hire people? And it kind of goes back to what you’re saying, because it’s not expertise in a specific thing, or a specific field of law or policy. I’m looking for a few things A) positive attitude, B) you’re actually dedicated to community work, like you’re on the board of nonprofits, or you volunteer your time with things and C) just you don’t repeat mistakes more than twice, you know, if I if you have those three things, Hey, man, I could teach you how to write a bill. I could teach you to talk to an agency and about a pothole on the street or a light. I could teach you how to put together an event and just follow a timeline. The most difficult things I’ve seen is that when you have someone on your team that thinks of themself more than the team itself, and that’s why I’m always looking for team players. And I think not only do they win championships, the locker room is better for it. So I’m always looking for that. So if that’s in your wheelhouse as your priority, I think you’d be a great not just staffer, but a great elected official. Because that type of attitude and connectivity and making sure you’re you’re prioritizing, working together is guess what, you’re not running for dictator, you’re running for a legislator and you to work with other people to pass laws. So that same skill set is what you’re going to need, when you’re in that what they call, you know, a cafeteria and you got to you got to lobby folks to push a bill and get on a bill and be in a press conference. It’s the same skill set, so might as well keep those good vibes, don’t make the same mistake, and and love what you’re doing.


    Alexander Morse  20:48

    I think that’s a really great summation of what it takes to be working as a staffer in legislature or as an elected official. Assemblymember Steven Raga. Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us about your work today.


    Assemblymember Steven Raga  21:01

    Alex, it’s truly been a pleasure. Anytime, if I can get an invitation back, I’d love to join. But I think this has been amazing time this afternoon and have a good rest of the day and I look forward for the day we could do this again.


    Alexander Morse  21:15

    Thanks again to Assemblymember Steven Raga, representing the 30th Assembly District in Queens for stopping by to talk about his love of public service and how he tackles legislating in Albany and constituents services back home, and also what his priorities are for the State and New Yorkers. If you liked this episode, please rate subscribe and share. It’s the best way to spread the word about the latest from the Rockefeller Institute’s public policy research. You can stream all of Policy Outsider’s episodes for free wherever you find your podcasts, just search Policy Outsider. Transcripts are available on our website. Special thanks to Rockefeller Institute, Bob Megna, Heather Trela, and Laura Rabinow for their contributions to this episode. Thanks for listening. I’m Alex Morse. Until next time. Policy Outsider is presented by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York. The Institute conducts cutting-edge, nonpartisan, public policy research and analysis to inform lasting solutions to the challenges facing New York State and the nation. Learn more at Rock institute.org or by following at Rockefeller inst. That’s Rockefeller i n s t on social media. Have a question comment or idea? Email us at [email protected]

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