Where Do You Live And When Did You Live There?
Republican Lester Chang, a new, duly elected member of the state Assembly, may be in a heap of trouble for running for office in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn but living in a rent-stabilized apartment in the Nolita (North of Little Italy) area of Manhattan bordering on Chinatown.
The Brooklyn district also includes the neighborhoods of Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Bensonhurst and Sunset Park. The law states that in a redistricting year, which this is, a candidate must reside in the county where he is running for office but not necessarily in the district. The candidate must also demonstrate proof that the residence is his primary domicile. Chang lists 1015 East 29 Street in the Midwood section of Brooklyn as his residence, but this Assembly district does not include Midwood.
“Rent stabilized is a regulated rent,” Stanley Schlein, the attorney for the Democrats, told The Jewish Press last week. “In order to have that regulated rent benefit, which limits rent increases per year, you must maintain it as your primary residence. We all recognize you can have multiple residences but only one electoral residence that is also a domicile. [The residence] has to be by objective evidence – not just a state of mind.”
At a hearing in Albany on Wednesday, December 21, Chang told the Assembly Judiciary Committee, “Home is where the heart is and my heart is in Brooklyn, not Manhattan.”
Chang told the committee in sworn testimony under oath that he felt he was a Brooklyn resident so he therefore was, even though he did not change his mailing, voting or utility address to the Brooklyn domicile within the proper time.
This was a point Chang’s attorney took exception with. “His physical presence. He was spending his time in Brooklyn at his childhood home. It is not a stretch. We’re not playing that kind of game, ‘Oh, it’s in my mind that Brooklyn is home,’” Chang’s attorney, Hugh Mo, told The Jewish Press. “He made a factual convincing presentation or testimony that at some point in time life took a turn that he went home to be with his mother who is 95 years old and suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s. C’mon. I don’t need a medical record. All he has to do is establish his physical presence, and he considered Brooklyn as his residence, where he lived. Brooklyn is written all over him. We have the paperwork. We have the tax return, for crying out loud. We’re not coming to this committee and saying, take my word for it; it’s a state of the mind type of justification.”
A point lost on Mo and Chang is that the change in residency had to be made at least 12 months prior to the 2022 election, not within the 12 months leading up to it. Chang provided the committee with several examples of his growing up and attending public school in Midwood as well as Brooklyn College. He also provided evidence, including tax returns, that he changed his address during November 2021 – not a year before the 2022 election.
“We also have other documents that he started registering to vote during the period in question, during the 12-month period,” Mo said. “We want you to start making changes to your electoral residence as of November 2021. When you do it during the 12-month period we don’t care. That’s not it at all. That’s not the evidence. That is why I’m saying that this entire inquiry is purely based on an insinuation, rumor or a call to judgement or a certain bias. Why are you doing this? Leave him alone. He’s duly elected. Let the Brooklyn electorates who elected him deal with this issue of disqualification. This is not a court of law. This doesn’t have judicial review.”
It was brought out during the hearing that Chang wrote a check to the gubernatorial campaign of Congressman Lee Zeldin in November 2022 with the address of 19 Cleveland Place, New York, N.Y., a rent-regulated apartment building listed on Zeldin’s financial disclosure form. Chang said this could have been a clerical error.
Rabbi Joseph Rabinowitz, 87, signed a notarized affidavit stating: “As neighbors, I have seen Assemblyman-elect Lester Chang regularly entering and exiting the premises morning and night and during the day on a regular basis.”
When contacted by The Jewish Press, Rabbi Rabinowitz said, “I don’t know anything about him. I know he lives there (next door) so I signed the affidavit. He’s a nice fellow…. He looks like a nice guy. He once helped me fix something in my house and that’s all I know.”
Both Schlein and Mo will write a report and recommendation to the committee. Then the members of the Judiciary committee will meet before making a decision on whether these violations are serious enough to bar Chang from being sworn into office. If the Assembly majority, the Democrats, decide against seating Chang, it will be up to Governor Kathy Hochul to call a special election, giving the Democrats a second chance to pick up a seat.
Chang defeated longtime Assemblyman Peter Abbate, who served for 36 years.
Hochul to be Sworn in at First Inaugural, January 1
Governor Kathy Hochul will begin 2023 with a party as she takes her ceremonial oath of office on Sunday at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, following a formal swearing-in and signing of all the necessary documents at the stroke of midnight at the Executive Mansion. It will mark the official beginning of her first full four-year term in office.
Dignitaries, high-ranking elected officials and a plethora of who’s who from across the state are expected to be in attendance despite a rainy forecast – a better prospect than the several feet of snow her hometown of Buffalo received this past week.
The governor’s speech at such events often includes broad, lofty, sweeping ideals – a wish list, if you will – of goals for the next term. Love, peace, harmony and good will towards all are typical themes. The remarks usually last 45 minutes to one hour.
Inaugurations are often the highlight of a governor’s career. It is a time for a chief executive to loosen up and enjoy the experience after hard fought battles on the campaign trail several months prior.
The official legislative session begins on Wednesday, January 4, and the governor is scheduled to give her State of the State address on Tuesday, January 10, in the Assembly Chamber before a joint session of the state Legislature. At that time the governor will outline her legislative priorities.
The makeup of the state Legislature will be more diverse in the new session than at any previous time. The 150-member state Assembly will include 20 Jewish members, down one member from the previous session. Seventeen of the Jewish members are Democrats and three are Republican – the most Republican Jews ever. There is still one undecided race in Queens, which involves an incumbent Jewish lawmaker, Stacey Pheffer-Amato. She is up by one vote. If she pulls out a victory, the number of Jewish members in the Assembly will hold steady going into the new session.
The 63 members in the upper house will include five Jewish Senators, all Democrats, down one member from the previous session.
On a personal note, as I begin my seventh year writing for The Jewish Press, this will be my 44th year covering government and politics for broadcast, print and online news outlets across the state.