Photo Credit: Jewish Press

State Legislature Passes Flurry Of Bills And Amendments

January was a busy month in government and politics. Governor Kathy Hochul delivered her State of the State address on Tuesday, January 9, and a week later laid out her $233 billion spending plan for 2024-25, which many lawmakers found fault with. As in years past, it is likely state lawmakers will add a few billion dollars to restore program cuts Hochul proposed and add pet projects not included in the proposed budget.




Several lawmakers announced their retirement last month, and one Assembly member up and left on January 8 for another job in the nonprofit sector, Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner, 37, who represented the Claremont, Concourse, Highbridge, Mount Eden and Morris Heights sections of the Bronx. Governor Hochul scheduled Tuesday, February 13, as a special election for the seat. An attorney specializing in cannabis law, Landon Dais, 42, is backed by the Democrats, and Republicans are backing local public housing tenant activist Norman “Sobie” McGill, the president of the Highbridge Gardens Residents Association.

Another special election on that date is the matchup between Tom Suozzi and Mazi Melesa Pilip. Both are vying to replace George Santos, who was ousted from Congress last year. Pilip is an enrolled Democrat running on the Republican and Conservative lines. Suozzi is an enrolled Democrat running solely on that line. Suozzi has been complaining that Pilip won’t debate him or appear at community forums, taking away valuable time for Suozzi to talk about the issues. Meanwhile, Pilip has been holding fundraisers and playing it safe by talking to select groups who are friendly to her cause.

A total of seven members (six Democrats and one Republican) of the Assembly are either retiring or trying to elevate themselves to a higher position. In the Senate, only three members, all Democrats, are trying to move up the political ladder in making a congressional bid.

The most interesting race to fill an open seat later this year is in Manhattan’s Upper West, which is currently held by Daniel O’Donnell, the brother of entertainer Rosie O’Donnell. All four candidates vying to fill the open seat identify as being Jewish: real estate lobbyist Melissa Rosenberg; Eli Northrup, a public defender serving as the policy director of the Bronx Defenders’ criminal justice practice; Hochul’s former policy director Micah Lasher; and former community board chair Barry Weinberg.

Another retirement of interest is that of Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D – Clarkstown, Rockland County), a 17-year incumbent who took over the seat from his father. The district currently includes the entire towns of Clarkstown and Haverstraw and a portion of the town of Orangetown. The 43-year-old Democrat was first elected in 2007 at the age of 27 to fill the Assembly seat held for less than one term by his father. Shortly after being elected, the senior Zebrowski was diagnosed with Hepatitis C resulting from a blood transfusion in the 1970s. On March 18, 2007, he died of liver cancer and kidney failure at the age of 61.

Clarkstown Town Council member Patrick Carroll, a Democrat, announced his candidacy to succeed Zebrowski almost immediately after the incumbent said this would be his last term in office. Republicans have not chosen a candidate as of this writing, according to Rockland Republican Chairman Lawrence Garvey.

Zebrowski has labeled the district a purplish district, meaning the seat is winnable for Republicans or Democrats. Praise for Zebrowski’s record and camaraderie came from the other side of the aisle.

“It is definitely an opportunity for the Republican party to put up a viable candidate and have a shot at it,” said Assemblyman John McGowan (R – Pearl River, Rockland County). “I’ll say this about Ken. He is a good, fair member of the legislative body. He kind of exemplifies what you would want your state representative to be. We have a good relationship and he’s a very reasonable person, very respected, very diligent legislator. We’re on different sides of the aisle but we both represent Rockland County. Where our voting record may look different at the end of the day, we were always in lockstep on Rockland County issues. He is a good friend and someone I look up to and respect greatly. He will be missed. It’s going to be a loss for Rockland County.”


Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg Introduces Her Mother, a Holocaust Survivor

Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg didn’t wait until May, Mother’s Day, to bring her mother to the Capitol to look around. Levenberg also introduced her mother to the members of the Assembly before session started. She spoke about her mother’s heritage:

“My mom’s name is Lore Baer. She was born in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1938. She’s 85 years old and looks fabulous and she is fabulous. During the war, my great-grandfather was taken away, and through the underground my mother was actually hidden in a countryside home. It turned out to be about eight miles from her parents, who were also in hiding. And thankfully, they all survived. My mom lived on a farm. She was hidden under bales of hay when the Nazis would come to look for her. She did go to school, so she was raised Catholic for two years until the war ended. When she was reunited with her parents, who she didn’t really want to go to because she had formed a relationship from age five until seven with this wonderful family of righteous Christians who took her in and many others who came through as well, and put their own lives at risk.

“She came to this country in 1947. She grew up in the Bronx first, then in Queens. She graduated from Forest Hills High School, then went on to study art and graphic design at Pratt Institute. “She became an art therapist, she studied at NYU. She has been living happily on the Upper West Side and Florida and has a lovely place in the Poconos. She started welding large sculptures when she retired in 2003 at age 65. She also ran the New York City Marathon that same year.”

Acting Assembly Speaker Jeff Aubry (D – Queens) was impressed by Levenberg’s mother’s life story. “I’m reminded of why they call your generation the Greatest Generation. What you have endured, what you have built in your life is remarkable, a story that all of us should know here and remember. Thank you so very much for being here.”


Posting Names of Physicians Who Do Not Work on Certain Days

There aren’t many times you hear a non-Jewish assemblyman from the far-reaches of western New York, where the Capital of Ohio is closer than the Capital of New York, speak about Orthodox Judaism during a debate. Such was the case last week when Assemblyman Andy Goodell (R – Jamestown, Chautauqua County) was debating Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D – Scarsdale, Westchester County) about providing medical care on Shabbos.

“Orthodox Jewish physicians have a moral and ethical obligation to perform life-saving medical care even on the Sabbath but they generally do not perform routine medical care on the Sabbath because they recognize the commandment not to work on the Sabbath and to honor the Sabbath,” Goodell said in speaking to The Jewish Press. “This legislation would require facilities to notify the health department of policy-based exclusions through health care. Those facilities that have a lot of high-quality, very capable, competent Orthodox Jewish physicians would have to notify the health department that those particular physicians will not work on the Sabbath. They will save your life but if it is not life-threatening, they have a moral and ethical obligation consistent with their religious belief not to work on the Sabbath and they will address those non-threatening medical care issues the next day.

“There is a process for an evaluation as to what is a life-threatening illness. That is a process that typically involves a physician, the patient and the facility. There is some ambiguity for sure. I’m hopeful in a situation where there is a realistic and serious issue of a life-threatening situation we’ll err on the side of safety and make sure the patient is alive the next day. If you got a bump and bruise, take care of it the next day,” Goodell concluded.

Goodell responded to a response from Paulin, which he found surprising.

“She said the facility would just put in a general disclaimer in the report to the Board of Health,” Goodell said. “The entire statute itself makes virtually no sense because I am not aware of any patient who is facing a healthcare issue that would go on the Department of Health [DOH] webpage and try to navigate that massive amount of information to determine which healthcare facility to go to for medical care and instead of talking with their physician.”

Paulin said, “I agree that navigating state websites can be burdensome. One of the rationales for requiring DOH to gather that information and put it out there is so that it [the information] actually gets presented publicly. If we just left it up to the hospitals individually, we may not have the same degree of compliance, but if we find women coming forward in particular on a particular procedure, that it is not as public as it should be. Another way to get public disclosure is to require the hospital to have that posted somewhere. For the time being, we’re going to assume or hope that the Department of Health would put it in an obvious place on their website. If it becomes difficult, we may see that in a chapter amendment now that you’re bringing it up on the floor.”

The measure passed both houses. The Assembly passed the measure 97 to 49.


Queens Assemblyman Receives Warm Welcome

Assemblyman Sam Berger (D – Kew Gardens Hills, Queens) received a warm welcome from the Assembly Speaker on the first day of session on January 8.

Newly-minted 25-year-old Assemblyman Sam Berger (D – Kew Gardens Hills, Queens) received a warm personal welcome from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on the first day of session, January 8.

“Sam, it’s really your first day at work, so congratulations to you. And I see your dad and your wife and your two beautiful daughters are here. As I promised her on election night, I promised your wonderful wife I would take very good care of you. We’ll send you home so you can make sure you’re doing the right thing by you and your two beautiful girls,” Heastie said from the Assembly rostrum.

“It’s just you’ve become part of this wonderful, amazing family. We have two sides of the aisle, but we all stand up for the same thing; wanting to do right for the people of the state of New York. One side is right more than the other side [laughter] but we’re all still one big happy family even though we may have political differences. So, I officially welcome you to your family. I hope this is the beginning of an extraordinary career for you.”

At an event in Whitestone, Queens, last week, Berger offered his philosophy on being an Assemblyman.

“I’m not really into the whole Democratic versus Republican thing – the blue team, red team,” Berger told members of the Whitestone Civic Association. “If you’re in this district, I don’t really care if you voted for me or if you didn’t; I represent you. To the best of my ability, I want to help wherever I can.”



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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].