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Big questions at center of Assembly race in 35th District in Queens. Here's more on the candidates and issues.

Hiram Monserrate, Larinda Hooks face off in hotly contested Democratic primary in Queens
Hiram Monserrate, Larinda Hooks face off in hotly contested Democratic primary in Queens 02:35

NEW YORK -- Former state senator and convicted felon Hiram Monserrate is again seeking a political comeback, this time in the hotly contested Democratic primary for a Queens Assembly seat.

There are two big questions for voters in the 35th District, which includes Corona, East Elmhurst and Citi Field:  Do they want to take a chance and elect a man in Monserrate, who for years came to symbolize the dark underbelly of New York politics? Or do they want to roll the dice on a candidate in Larinda Hooks, who supports Mets owner Steve Cohen's proposal for a casino in a parking lot at the stadium?

Monserrate's checkered past

Monserrate was expelled from the Senate after a domestic assault conviction and later sent to jail on federal corruption charges for misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money as a city councilman.

He says he deserves a second chance because he learned a lot in jail.

"I did a lot of self-reflection about how I can be a better human being. I also learned a lot about the system and how unfair it is," Monserrate said. "A person in my capacity, with my experience, is one of the best-equipped persons to go into government and deal with the issues of policing and criminal justice reform."

"I believe in second chances. Everyone deserves a second chance. But I am going to say if someone stole from a bank, they wouldn't work at a bank, you know? You wouldn't put them is the same place where they actually did the crime," Hooks said.

Hooks, who worked as a nonprofit executive and community activist, has the backing of retiring Assemblyman Jeff Aubry and the Democratic party.

"When they did give me their backing, it just proves, this proves I'm the right person for this position," Hooks said.

Monserrate said he is undeterred.

"They've endorsed my opponents in the past also. I'm here still standing, and the fact of the matter is that old school Tammany Hall really is passé. People want leadership," Monserrate said.

The proposed casino at Citi Field

The proposal, dubbed Metropolitan Park, would transform 50 acres of asphalt around Citi Field into a sports and entertainment park. Developers say the project would bring 23,000 union jobs and provide 25 acres of public park space.

The asphalt is technically designated as public park land, so the plan needs state legislation to move forward.

Metropolitan Park would also be home to a Hard Rock Casino, which is unacceptable to some.

Jessica Ramos, a state senator from Queens, has already said "no deal" to a casino in her district, released a statement in late May saying she will not introduce legislation that would pave the way for the casino.

Hooks says she's all for the project.

"There's 23,000 new jobs stand to come, which would be a windfall for my community," Hooks said.

Monserrate is against the idea.

"I made this clear publicly many times over -- I'm no fan of the casino," Monserrate said.

Another primary where the gloves are off is the in the Bronx and Westchester, where Congressman Jamaal Bowman is fighting for his political life against a strong challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer. A record-setting $23 million in television ads are all over the airwaves.

Early voting runs through Sunday. Primary Day is Tuesday, June 25.

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