Photo Credit: Jewish Press

News Tidbits From November



A little bit of this. A little bit of that. You take the good, you take the bad. That’s what November had.


Rep. George Santos Headed to the Political Graveyard

It appears the political career of Congressman George Santos (R – Elmhurst, Queens) is in its final days, as the freshman elected official has been found to have allegedly committed 13 felonies including seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives. His legal troubles were also outlined in a scathing report by the House Ethics Committee and may force him to resign from Congress. A vote to expel Santos, 35, is scheduled to be held next month. Two-thirds of the 435-member House of Representatives is needed to oust the Republican.


Rep. Brian Higgins Retiring Next Year

Another Congressional seat will open up soon, this one in a deep blue district in western New York. Brian Higgins, 64, who has served in the House of Representatives since 2005, 19 years, has announced he will step down in February. One of Higgins’s prospects upon leaving Congress is to become president of Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo, Higgins’s hometown. Higgins (D – Buffalo, Erie County) said he is still mulling over several offers and has not made a firm decision.

Higgins has been uncomfortable with the lack of decorum among Washington lawmakers in recent years. The “institutional norms have been compromised,” Higgins said. State Senator Tim Kennedy, 47, is the only announced candidate to fill the seat, which will be decided by local party leaders if the governor calls for a special election. Like Higgins, Kennedy, a Democrat, is a resident of South Buffalo.


Alison Esposito Considers Dipping Her Toe in Political Waters Again

Former Lt. Governor and Republican candidate Alison Esposito has caught the political bug after her statewide race last year as gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin’s running mate. After losing that race to the Hochul-Delgado match-up, Esposito is now pondering whether she should run for Congress in a purplish Hudson Valley district to attempt an upset against incumbent Congressman Pat Ryan (D – Kingston), a former Ulster County executive. The two have something in common. While Esposito was on the losing side to Delgado last year, Ryan lost to Delgado in 2018 in his bid for Congress.


Kagan Loses City Council Seat to Brannan

In a heated contest for New York City Council between two Brooklyn incumbents, Ari Kagan, a Republican, and Justin Brannan, a Democrat, Kagan came out on the losing end, with 41.5 versus 58.5 percent of the vote. The two squared off in the newly re-drawn 47th council district, one of the most significant gerrymandered districts in modern New York City politics, connecting Bay Ridge to Coney Island through a one-block stretch, which included dividing a Coney Island housing complex between two districts. Kagan, 56, is a Russian immigrant who was enrolled in the Soviet Communist Party before 1991. He was a Democrat for one year in 2002 and then switched to the Republican Party last year when he ran against Brannan. Kagan served as a military journalist working in Soviet Latvia with the newspapers Sovetskiy Tankist in Dobele and Dlya Rodiny in Riga, Latvia.


Hevesi Dies at Age 83

Alan Hevesi served as a New York State Assemblyman (1971-1993), New York City Comptroller (1994-2001) and New York State Comptroller (2003-2006). Hevesi was also a convicted felon, resigning from office several weeks after winning a second term as state comptroller, effective December 22, 2006. He settled for a plea bargain with the Albany County Court related to his unlawful use of state employees to care for his ailing wife. In February 2007, Hevesi was sentenced to a $5,000 fine and permanently banned from holding elective office again; he received no jail time and no probation.

In a separate case, Hevesi pleaded guilty to corruption charges surrounding a “pay to play” scheme regarding the New York State Pension Fund. On April 15, 2011, he was sentenced to one to four years in state prison.

Hevesi’s parents were Jewish immigrants who left Hungary in 1938 to escape the Nazis. Hevesi’s father, Eugene Hevesi (1896-1983), was a Hungarian-born American Jewish leader who served as foreign affairs secretary for the American Jewish Committee and as representative to the United Nations for several Jewish NGOs (Non-Government Organizations).

Emerging from this prominent Jewish family, Hevesi married Carol Stanton, a Catholic, in 1967 and remained married until her death in 2015. One of their three children is New York State Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D – Forest Hills, Queens). All three sons were brought up Catholic.

After being released from prison, Hevesi lived out his days in Forest Hills, Queens. Hevesi died from Lewy body dementia at a care home in East Meadow, Nassau County, on November 9, at the age of 83.


‘Clean Slate Act’ Signed into Law

Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law this month a measure giving certain convicted felons a second chance at life outside of prison. Known as the Clean Slate Act, the law is aimed at helping “to reduce recidivism by ensuring that people who have served their sentences can access educational opportunities, jobs, and housing, which are all essential ingredients to success,” New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner Rossana Rosado said.

Assemblyman Eddie Gibbs (D – Harlem, Manhattan), the first formerly incarcerated member of the New York State Legislature, earned a degree from Cayuga Community College while incarcerated. He spent 17 months on Rikers Island beginning when he was 17 years old.

“Receiving a college degree in prison was a turning point in my life,” Gibbs said. “It made me realize that a better path was available for me and gave me the knowledge and skills to take that path. The goal of prison should be rehabilitation. New York State must ensure incarcerated people today have access to financial assistance to pursue a college education like I did.”

On a side note, “formerly incarcerated prisoners” is the proper term these days. The term “ex-cons” is not acceptable.


Another Delegation of Democrats Tours War-Torn Region

A delegation of a dozen Democrats from the New York State Assembly, Senate and New York City Council returned Friday, November 17, from a week-long trip in the Holy Land. The trip was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council [JCRC].

Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D – Far Rockaway, Queens) was among those on the tour. Nine months earlier, in February, the JCRC sponsored an educational trip to Israel which included a stop at the kibbutz Kfar Aviv.

“I got a call and I didn’t hesitate. The only one I called was my mother,” Pheffer Amato told The Jewish Press. “We went back to the kibbutz Kfar Aviv that we saw in February as a vibrant, lively place with children-filled families. To go back nine months later, there were two security checks, helmets, bullet proof vests and shell casings. To go see the destruction that terrorists left behind was very, very overwhelming personally to me because there was no life there. A woman we saw in February survived all the bombing. Babies were murdered, kidnapped, houses burned down. It looked like a movie set. That was unbelievable to see what was once alive that is now dead.”

Israeli pride is contagious.

“Human spirit, unity, the entire state of Israel are together with maybe a small squabble here and there. We met with people from the Parliament. We are on the same side. We heard a lot about what is happening with the judiciary and everyone’s together,” Pheffer Amato said. “Their goal is to defend themselves and eliminate Hamas. You come home with the pride the Israelis are feeling. Their spirit is not broken. They’re down but they’re not out and we’re going to win.”

The emotions were also uplifting for the assemblywoman.

“The positivity in the face of extreme measures of terror and drama and trauma, they still had such a bold, sharp heart. It was unbelievable. It was almost contagious. The determination was unreal. That’s the positive takeaway,” Pheffer Amato said. “I didn’t come home sad. I came home feeling the strength of Israel. We bear the heaviness here. I support Israel and I look forward to going back. I just pray for the hostages, the families and all the military folks who are still out there fighting. I pray for their survival and to rebuild to be stronger and that we will all band together. That’s for sure.

“The hostages need to be freed before there can be a ceasefire of any length of time. Every building we went to were all the posters of all the kids and the families. I don’t even know if a ceasefire makes sense.”

On the state level, “Tom DiNapoli, as state Comptroller, is investing New Yorkers money in State of Israel bonds. That’s a great way to help Israel to rebuild,” Pheffer Amato said. “I’ll be watching that no more antisemitic legislation comes out and keep an eye on colleagues that choose to be boldly antisemitic.”

There were several other trips to Israel sponsored by various Jewish non-profit groups but the most frequent sponsor has been the JCRC.

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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].