Jan. 30, 2024 By Iryna Shkurhan
A political newcomer from Astoria announced last week that he is running to represent western Queens in the state assembly—drawing a swift rebuke from incumbent Zohran Mamdani.
Steven T. Beard, in an extensive declaration on X, outlined his vision for the 36th District in an almost 4,000-word post that discussed issues ranging from the housing shortage to animal rights. But several paragraphs towards the end pertained to his pro-Israel stance, which jolted the incumbent assembly member, who has been vocally pro-Palestine.
Beard expressed solidarity with Israel under a section of his post that he labeled “miscellaneous policies” and expressed opposition to a bill introduced by Mamdani, called “Not on our Dime!” that seeks to prohibit nonprofit organizations from financially supporting Israeli settlement activity. He also expressed his opposition to BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), a movement that seeks to apply pressure on Israel until it withdraws from the occupied territories.
“BDS policies will not bring peace to the Middle East, nor will such policies bring an end to the violence or the policies which are the subject of the “Not on our dime” bill,” said Beard on X. “I believe we must stand with Israel in their response to the October 7th terrorist attacks.”
Mamdani, who was arrested at a rally calling for a ceasefire in October, and later participated in a five day hunger strike in Washington D.C for the cause, responded to Beard’s announcement with a video message on Instagram two days later.
“In his announcement, he didn’t have a coherent vision for the future of our neighborhoods. But he did make it clear that he’d spent some time on one issue in particular, Israel and Palestine,” Mamdani said in the video he shared on Jan. 28. “Now for months we’ve known that right wing billionaire backed PACs have been looking to make an example out of me, and any politics that seeks to extend humanity to Palestinians. And that they’re willing to spend buckets of money to do so. And here we how have that opportunity for them.”
He also criticized Beard for referring to the casualties in Gaza as “collateral damage.”
This will be the first time since getting elected in 2021 that Mamdani, who identifies as a democratic-socialist, faces a primary. Mandani has taken on a range of progressive causes since taking office such as spearheading a fare-free pilot bus program that successfully launched in September and advocating for taxi workers saddled with extensive debt.
But Beard says that “the district needs an advocate, not an activist” to represent western Queens in Albany and promote a vision for the state.
Currently Beard is an attorney at Coran & Ober, a small law firm based in Flushing that focuses on commercial and real estate cases. He graduated from CUNY Law School in 2012, and received a bachelor’s in political science and women’s studies from Hunter College in 2009.
Beard ran unsuccessfully for office earlier this year for the Queens 6th Municipal Court District judge position.
His lengthy announcement discussed supporting small businesses in the neighborhood via commercial rent stabilization, increasing transportation options in the form of high-speed rail across the state and benchmarking the minimum wage with inflation.
The majority of the other issues listed under his miscellaneous section had to do with animals, such as advocating for legal protections for street cats and making all animal shelters across the state no-kill shelters. Tucked between the animal rights issues, he proposed increasing taxes for those who earn more than $1 million a year.
For housing, he expressed support for legalizing accessory dwelling units and basement apartments across the state to create more housing stock. He also expressed support for Good Cause Eviction legislation, which Mamdani also rallied for last year to be included in the state budget.
Since Beard announced his run, Mamdani has asked his supporters for campaign donations ahead of this year’s election on social media. His team also sent out a text blast on Monday asking for campaign donations now that a challenge to his campaign is “officially real” after months of rumors.
“Now we have an entirely different campaign that we have to run,” voiced Mamdani in his video response. “One that demands supplies, staff, technology, and all of these things immediately so that we can not only get on the ballot but make it clear that we’re going to be contesting this primary in a very serious way.”