Illapa Sairitupac looks to carry activism background to Albany

Canvassing – credit Kara McCurdy (1)
Illapa Sairitupac is competing in the 65th Assembly District.
Kara McCurdy

Equipped with a background in climate activism and social work, Illapa Sairitupac took a look around his neighborhood on the Lower East Side and decided to take his own shot at making a difference in the community.

Sairitupac, an out gay and non-binary child of Peruvian immigrants, unveiled a progressive political platform and first sought to run for State Senate by challenging incumbent State Senator Brian Kavanaugh. Sairitupac felt he was “not doing enough” when it came to issues like parole justice and good cause eviction. Soon enough, though, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou launched her own campaign for State Senate in the same district, prompting Illapa Sairitupac to shift gears and mount a bid for the overlapping Assembly District 65 because that district includes parts of the same State Senate district.

In the midst of redistricting chaos, Niou has since changed gears again to run for Congress in District 10, but Sairitupac remains all-in on his quest for the 65th Assembly District, where he said he had knocked on at least 40,000 doors as of mid-June.

Sairitupac’s platform is focused on broadly refocusing the political conversation on the needs of working class people and those requiring the most assistance — both inside his district and across New York State — and he connects many of the policy points to his own experience. On the housing front, for example, he said he has had to navigate housing instability throughout his life — and his campaign has championed legislation like Good Cause Eviction, which would bar landlords from evicting tenants without good reason and implement other regulations to support tenants.

“Good cause is very personal for me,” said Sairitupac, who noted that he and his family were displaced when he was a young child after the building they lived in was purchased.

Sairitupac’s background also influences his perspective on other issues — including climate justice. Sairitupac’s platform calls for ending dependence on fossil fuels and fracking, transferring utility companies like Con Ed to public ownership, and passing legislation like the NY Build Public Renewables Act, which would pave the way for renewable energy projects and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

That bill has passed the State Senate, but Sairitupac places blame on Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie because the measure has not been brought up to a vote in the lower house.

Sairitupac believes his climate concerns are particularly relevant in District 65, which encompasses neighborhoods in lower Manhattan like the Financial District, Chinatown, and the Lower East Side.

“Lower Manhattan is extremely vulnerable to climate change and rising seas,” said Sairitupac, who pointed to instances when storms have left the subway system submerged in water. “More of this will happen. Our district is at serious risk of flooding.”

On these issues and others, Sairitupac stresses that many of the systems operating across society are interconnected and should be addressed accordingly. Some of the families struggling to pay rent are also struggling to pay for healthcare, and healthcare needs are even more urgent when pollution is already known to have a disproportionate impact on the health of marginalized communities. To that end, Sairitupac’s belief is that the healthcare system would better serve the people if lawmakers pass the New York Health Act — a bill that would create a single-payer system in the state.

“The decision to access healthcare should not be in the hands of anyone’s employer,” Sairitupac said.

Speaking broadly of the goal of his progressive vision, Sairitupac said his goal is to “advocate for those who are forgotten about and center those who need to be centered.”

Among those often forgotten about by government leaders include people in the LGBTQ community — especially transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Earlier this year, advocates managed to convince the state to allocate $1 million for a Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund aimed at providing much-needed resources for trans folks and addressing the gaps of funding for trans-led organizations. Advocates originally asked the state to allocate $15 million for the fund.

“$1 million is not enough,” Sairitupac said. “As a social worker, I have proudly [worked] with many trans people. It’s personal for me. We must protect our transgender folks — there is a real upheaval and hatred towards trans folks lately, and it’s a very upsetting and coordinated effort to ‘invisabilize’ them.”

Sairitupac supports the full decriminalization of sex work, which rose up as a major issue in New York City politics in 2019 when the DecrimNY coalition first formed in an effort to advance the fight for decriminalization. That same year, a full sex work decriminalization bill was proposed in the State Legislature, but it has yet to advance in either chamber.

As for his own experience as an LGBTQ individual, Sairitupac said he feels privileged and fortunate that his family was tolerant when he came out to them. He grew up in a “strict Catholic Church” and was, at times, discouraged from attending Sunday School because he was out. He said, however, that Manhattan’s LGBT Community Center served as a refuge for him during his youth.

Sairitupac wrote about that experience in his responses to a questionnaire for the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club — a citywide LGBTQ political club that endorses candidates for political races in the city. Interestingly enough, the club snubbed Sairitupac and instead endorsed Alana Sivin, who pulled out of the race in May.

“I’m disappointed that Jim Owles didn’t endorse me,” Sairitupac said. “I think that’s a failure of the club.”

The Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, which is another citywide LGBTQ political club, also opted against endorsing Sairitupac. The club instead endorsed a different candidate in the race, Grace Lee, who co-founded an organization called Children First and has the backing of powerful Congressmembers like Jerrold Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries. Denny Salas, who unsuccessfully ran for City Council last year in the First District, is also running for the same seat.

The Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party, meanwhile, have endorsed Sairitupac — and he has the backing of a slate of sitting lawmakers, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Queens as well as out LGBTQ lawmakers like State Senator Jabari Brisport of Brooklyn and Councilmember Tiffany Cabán of Queens.

“All of these things falling beautifully into place right when they are most needed,” Sairitupac said.

Early voting is already underway in State Assembly competitions and voters will have until June 26 to cast an early vote. Voters can also vote on Primary Election Day on June 28.