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Persona non grata: Scandal-scarred Queens Assemblymember blasted for social media posts following uninvited appearance at community event

Assemblymember Juan Ardila

April 26, 2023 By Christian Murray

Juan Ardila, the Queens assemblymember who has been accused by two women of sexual assault and refused to step down from office, has come under fire for posting photos of himself at a community event without the permission of the attendees and the organizers.

Ardila attended an Earth Day gardening event in Long Island City last week and posted photos of himself with several of the participants at the Smiling Hogshead Ranch on Instagram. According to attendees, he was not invited but showed up.

The assemblymember and his staff circulated among the gardeners and took photos, which were subsequently posted on the lawmaker’s Instagram.

“I had a great time spending #earthday with my team at @smilinghogsheadranch in #LIC,” one post reads, with photos of attendees.

One photo included Frank Wu, a Community Board 2 member and president of the Court Square Civic Association, who was at the event with his young son. Wu requested Ardila to delete the post when he saw it.

“I asked him [to take it down]…because people might assume that I am condoning or approving or supporting him,” Wu said. “There have been some bad things reported, unacceptable things. I didn’t consent to have my photo taken.”

Ardila’s staff did take it down, although it had been up for more than a day.

Assemblymember Juan Ardila with attendees at the Smiling Hogshead Ranch on Earth Day last week as shown on Instagram. This is a screen shot that has since been taken down by Ardila. Frank Wu is also in the photo.

Ardila, who first took office in January after winning the 37th District assembly seat vacated by the now-retired Catherine Nolan last year, has been accused by two women of sexual assault that allegedly took place at a party in October 2015.

The accusations were made public in March when one of the victims reached out to local media—including the Queens Post—and said that Ardila “got physical” with her – and was “touching her” — while she was drunk on a couch at the party. Another woman at the same party has also accused him of groping her.

Ardila apologized for his behavior in a statement shortly after the accusations were made public.

“I fully take responsibility for my actions…and I am interested in and eager for a restorative justice-centered process, so that we can heal and repair the damage done.”

Community outrage

But many in the community remain unsatisfied with Ardila’s apology, as evidenced by the fallout from the Earth Day event.

Gil Lopez, a co-founder of the Smiling Hogshead Ranch, took to Instagram to distance himself from the troubled lawmaker following his appearance.

Lopez said that Ardila did not introduce himself as a politician when he spoke to garden members and said he felt they were misled. He also made it clear that they didn’t endorse him, despite allowing him onto the garden.

“Allowing Juan to attend the garden’s public event was and is not a sign of support,” Lopez wrote. “It has been misconstrued that way by his office and press team to curate this trite self-promotion by visiting a local community garden for Earth Day.”

Lopez added that Ardila spoke to “individuals and never addressed the group as a state representative. He then proceeded to post images and text on social media asserting that he had engaged the community at large and continued to mention and tag me specifically. I am upset that any politician would ever use any garden, mutual aid project or other grassroots group as a prop…”

“This lack of care is indicative of his refusal to accept accountability,” Lopez continued. “He has repeatedly overstepped boundaries and seemed to only visit the Ranch to greenwash his image.”

Ardila’s Instagram and Twitter posts

Danielle Brecker, the chair of Queens Community Board 2, said that Ardila has been posting on Twitter and Instagram in recent weeks “acting as if everything is normal and the community is fine.”

She said that he is attempting to make it appear that he is doing his job.

In recent weeks, he has posted photos of himself at various events and has been greeting his constituents on religious holidays. He has also posted about legislation that he has helped pass.

“My colleagues in the State Assembly & I passed a resolution proclaiming March 22 as #WaterDay in the state of NY!” he tweeted last month.

But Brecker said that he is failing to represent the district. She said the state budget is being worked on in Albany, and Ardila is not on the budget negotiation committee.

“He is not doing his job. What is he doing for the people in his district?”

Ardila, according to reports, is also struggling to work with his fellow lawmakers in Albany since the sexual assault accusations were made public. The Queens Eagle reported that his colleagues are distancing themselves from him.

Ardila has not responded to reporters about the accusations other than to say that he had issued a statement. He was recently ambushed by a New York Post reporter in an elevator in Albany but failed to address the sexual assault allegations. The encounter was posted on Twitter.

Brecker said that the controversial assemblymember has failed to address the accusations.

“I do not think the statement he has made is adequate,” she said.

Brecker made this clear at the Community Board 2 meeting earlier this month when she addressed a representative of Ardila’s during the meeting that was held via Zoom.

“I don’t want to make this awkward,” Brecker said. “But there is a lot of frustration with the feeling that the assemblymember has not properly or fully addressed the allegations against him.”

Brecker told Ardila’s representative that the Assemblymember should resign.

Brecker, in an interview after the meeting, said Ardila should have been at the meeting himself to address the accusations.

“He knows the board, he must have known that it was going to come up. Yet he sent her [a staff member] in to do what he should have been doing.”

Brecker said that she is hearing from many people who want him to step down.

“I’m getting a lot of people in the 37th District saying to me, ‘What’s going on? Why is he not addressing this? Why is he not stepping down? And what is he doing for us in Albany?’”

More than a dozen elected officials have called for Ardila to step down, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, State Sen. Kristen Gonzalez to local councilmember Julie Won.

One of the alleged victims is also calling for him to resign and has said she is pressing charges. The woman has spoken with a detective with the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit working with Manhattan District attorney’s office.

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