For the better part of a decade, the name Hiram Monserrate has been shorthand for the darkest side of New York politics.
In 2009, Mr. Monserrate, at the time a state senator, was convicted of domestic assault, and soon after he was expelled from office. In 2012, in a separate case, he pleaded guilty to misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money and was sentenced to two years in prison.
And yet, 10 years after becoming the first person in nearly a century to be kicked out of the State Legislature — and fresh on the heels of the emergence of the #MeToo movement — he may be poised for a political comeback.
Mr. Monserrate, a Queens Democrat who is also a former City Council member, raised more than $68,000 from November to January, according to state filings, for an expected run against Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry. Mr. Aubry, who represents a district in north central Queens, raised about $8,000 in the same period.
This is not the first time Mr. Monserrate, 52, has tried to make a comeback. But it is his most high-profile bid since the #MeToo movement forced the world to confront the way powerful men treated women, and since the progressive Democrats now ascendant in Albany promised to clean up its politics.
“I am so appalled and so angry at even the possibility,” said Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, a Democrat who represents a neighboring district in Queens and who sponsored a package of anti-sexual harassment laws last year. “We elected so many young progressive women to fight for us. The last thing we need is to take a huge step backward.”
Yet even Mr. Monserrate’s most fervent opponents concede that it would be unwise to dismiss his chances.
Such an assessment stems, in part, from circumstances: a potentially vulnerable incumbent, a district with changing demographics and Mr. Monserrate’s reputation as an effective retail politician.
He has already proven his resiliency: In 2018, he was elected as a district leader for the Queens Democratic Party, an unpaid, hyperlocal position that gives him access to highly engaged voters.
Mr. Monserrate said that his story was one of second chances. He said his experience with the criminal justice system should recommend, rather than disqualify, him for public office, especially as the Legislature continues to debate changes to bail and incarceration laws.
“Having been one of the few people who has been on both sides of it, I think that I have some moral authority to speak to these issues,” he said in an interview.
But for some people, the prospect of a victory by Mr. Monserrate highlights the political system’s failures.
“I had said that this challenge was a joke,” said Francisco Moya, a Democratic City Council member who defeated Mr. Monserrate in several of his previous comeback attempts. “But the reality is that it’s actually a bad joke, and it really might be on us if this becomes a reality.”
Even among New York’s many disgraced politicians, Mr. Monserrate stands out. A month after being elected to the State Senate in 2008, he was accused of slashing his partner at the time, Karla Giraldo, with a broken drinking glass.
Surveillance video showed Mr. Monserrate dragging Ms. Giraldo down a hallway and out of the building where they had been fighting. He then drove her to a hospital 30 minutes away, despite there being another one within blocks. There, she received 20 stitches.
Although Ms. Giraldo told doctors that Mr. Monserrate had attacked her, she later testified in his defense, claiming that the cuts were accidental.
A judge found Mr. Monserrate guilty of misdemeanor assault for dragging Ms. Giraldo; Mr. Monserrate escaped a felony conviction for slicing her face. Still, the judge said, “He did indeed cause injury to Karla Giraldo without a reasonable doubt.”
Soon after, the Senate voted 53-to-8 to expel Mr. Monserrate — the first time in nearly a century that the Legislature had forced a member out of office.
His legal troubles did not end there.
In 2010, fresh off two failed bids to regain elected office, Mr. Monserrate was indicted by federal prosecutors who accused him of steering more than $300,000 in city funds to a nonprofit group he controlled while serving on the City Council. He had used about a third of the money to support his first run for the State Senate, prosecutors said.
Mr. Monserrate pleaded guilty in 2012.
Yet to the astonishment of many people, his record has not stopped him from trying to re-enter politics, or, more recently, from enjoying some success.
He suffered decisive losses in campaigns for State Senate and Assembly in 2010, and he was defeated in 2016 in an earlier bid for district leader in Queens. In 2017, he lost a bid for City Council by 11 percentage points. (State law does not prohibit most felons from seeking public office.)
The next year, Mr. Monserrate ran for district leader again and won.
As Mr. Monserrate prepares for a potential Assembly campaign, he has been using the platform to raise his profile.
He attended a recent event hosted by a progressive activism group in Queens that had invited all of the county’s district leaders. At another event, Fernando Cabrera, a Democratic City Council member from the Bronx, and at least one other district leader were photographed with Mr. Monserrate and a “Hiram 2020” sign.
In January, Mr. Monserrate visited a senior center in Corona, in the district where he would run, and handed out cookies to dozens of older guests. He denied that he was actively campaigning, saying in an interview that he was there in his “capacity as district leader.” He said that he would formally decide whether to run within a few weeks.
Mr. Monserrate’s lasting popularity with some voters is especially striking given his rejection by the state’s most powerful Democrats, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Asked about Mr. Monserrate’s potential 2020 campaign, Mr. de Blasio called him a “vampire.”
Still, in a possible sign of Mr. Monserrate’s deep support among some voters, some elected officials in the area where he might run have chosen to stay silent. Of the six Assembly members from Queens whose districts border Mr. Aubry’s, all but Ms. Simotas declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
Senator Jessica Ramos, whose district includes that Assembly district, also declined; she has said in the past that voters should get to decide.
The Assembly speaker, Carl E. Heastie, said in a statement that Mr. Aubry was “undoubtedly” the best person to serve his community. Mr. Heastie did not mention Mr. Monserrate. In an email, Mr. Aubry declined to comment on Mr. Monserrate or any other potential challenger.
Mr. Monserrate dismissed the high-profile criticisms.
“I’m glad that they don’t live in the district and they can’t vote,” he said. “People in government are not really in tune and believe that their reactionary voice, the reactionary voice of condemnation, should rule the day.”
Mr. Monserrate’s supporters pointed to the demographics of the district, which includes East Elmhurst and Corona and has a growing Hispanic population. Mr. Monserrate, who is Hispanic, leads an influential Democratic club there; Mr. Aubry is black.
Further fueling Mr. Monserrate’s support is a history of distrust toward the local political establishment, and deep cynicism about political and legal processes, some people said.
Virginia Ramos Rios, an activist who served as campaign manager for Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, said that when she was courting support for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, some voters called Mr. Monserrate the only politician they trusted.
“Especially with the Spanish-speaking, they’d be like, ‘Whenever I’ve had an issue, the only elected official I’ve ever had actually do something and help me was Hiram Monserrate,’” Ms. Ramos Rios said.
Bertha Lewis, the president of the Black Institute and a prominent civil rights activist, said that corruption was so endemic to New York politics that Mr. Monserrate, after serving time in prison, had actually demonstrated more accountability than most public officials.
Asked whether she would prefer someone who had not committed crimes in the first place, she scoffed. “They just haven’t gotten caught,” she said.
Still, others dismissed the idea that Mr. Monserrate had changed as a result of his prison stint. Court records show that he had repaid just $8,400 of more than $79,000 in restitution ordered by the judge in 2012 for stealing public funds. Mr. Monserrate said he planned to finish repaying the restitution in the coming weeks.
Cecilia Gastón, the former executive director of Violence Intervention Program, an organization that helps Latina victims of domestic violence, said that even if Mr. Monserrate paid his debt in full, he still would not have earned back the right to hold office.
“I cannot accept that the only candidate that we have to represent Latinos in Albany,” she said, “is somebody that is a domestic violence abuser and somebody that has been in jail for theft.”