Democrat Kevindaryan Lujan was elected to represent legislative District 4 last week. Lujan made history as one of two of the first Latino candidates ever elected to the Orange County Legislature.
According to unofficial results, Lujan brought in more than twice the votes of his opponent, Independence candidate Anthony Tarsio: Lujan drew 894 votes compared to Tarsio, who collected 432.
Lujan joins Joel Sierra, of the City of Middletown, to become the first Latinos to win seats on the county legislature. District 4 covers Balmville and the east end of the City of Newburgh, which has a population that is roughly 50 percent Latino.
“I was raised by strong independent women, and my Colombian heritage and their work ethic are very much a part of this accomplishment,” Lujan explained Monday. “I am honored to represent the Latino community and hope that this historic achievement will inspire other young leaders to find their voice.”
However, Lujan said, he represents a diverse community and he focused on the issues, not on his ethnicity during the campaign. “We had an aggressive ‘get-out-the-vote’ strategy,” Lujan said, and knocking on doors that included Balmville. “We were out at 4:30 in the morning until 8:55 at night on Tuesday.”
Lujan said he would work on creating livable-wage jobs in the district. “We need to create opportunities,” he said, in well-paying fields such as high-tech manufacturing and renewable energy.
If residents can find decent-paying jobs, they will buy homes, he said. “We need to bring in businesses that will put them on the tax rolls and help lower taxes,” said Lujan. “We need to think in long terms, not short terms… we need to create industries and a workforce that is prepared for the future. It will require thinking outside of the box.”
Economic development and sustainability do not have to be mutually exclusive, he said. “We’ve constantly had a trade-off between those two things,” Lujan said, citing the CPV power plant in Wawayanda as an example. “We can have economic development and still be environmentally sound.”
“We’re right in the middle of some catastrophic environmental issues,” Lujan said, including drinking-water contamination and trains carrying flammable fuels through residential areas. “We need access to our water source,” Lujan said, speaking about the city’s drinking-water reservoir at Washington Lake in the towns of Newburgh and New Windsor.
Lujan promised to be a strong advocate for town and city. “Newburgh has not had a vote on that legislature for a long time,” he maintained.
Lujan, 30, is a member of the Orange County Young Democrats. “We didn’t expect to be such a small minority,” he said, on several seats lost by Democratic county legislators. “We were hoping to hold more seats. On a national level, however, we were very successful.”
“As a party, we’re going to have to learn how to inspire again,” he added. “We need to get people away from the apathy of voting and connect with people on the most basic needs – jobs, water, public health, taxes, affordable homes…”
Democrats will also need to work to address low voter turnout, he said, especially when it comes to young people and minorities. “We need to ask how we can engage and inspire,” Lujan said. “It’s going to take a lot of work.”
Lujan insists that his focus was “never partisan.” Sustainable economic development, improved mental-health and opioid-addiction-treatment services are among the many goals shared by Republicans and Democrats around the county, he said.
“I intend to sit down with every, single legislator between now and the next six months, so I know where they stand,” Lujan said. “It’s not about party. It’s about getting things done for our community. If we can get away from party politics and focus on people, we’ll be just fine.”
By SHANTAL RILEY