Jews Lose Seats In NY State Races
ALBANY – The contingent of Jewish lawmakers at the state Capitol in Albany just got a bit smaller as a result of retirements, resignations, and last week’s elections.
Last year, the 150-member Assembly boasted 27 Jews among its ranks, with 11 women and one Republican.
After this most recent election, there are four fewer Jewish members of the Assembly. Only one retiring Jewish member, Harvey Weisenberg (D-Oceanside) is being succeeded by another Jewish lawmaker, Todd Kaminsky (D-Lido Beach, Nassau County), the great-nephew of comedian Mel Brooks.
There is one Jewish member from the mid-Hudson Valley whose race is still too close to call. Assemblywoman Didi Barrett (D-Hudson, Columbia County) is ahead by 137 votes with approximately 2,000 ballots still to be counted. Her opponent, Michael Kelsey (R-Salt Point, Dutchess County) is not Jewish.
At the beginning of the new legislative session, the State Assembly will include at least 106 Democrats, maintaining the veto-proof majority the party has enjoyed for several election cycles.
If Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side), 70, is elected Assembly speaker for a 10th time by his colleagues in January, he will become the longest-tenured speaker, serving as leader of the people’s house since 1994. Silver would eclipse the record of Oswald D. Heck (R-Schenectady) who served as speaker for 22 years from 1937-1959 and was the last speaker elected from upstate New York.
Over in the 63-member State Senate, which Republicans now control, one Jewish seat was lost, that of Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley, Suffolk County), who ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which he won, defeating a non-Jewish incumbent. There were no newly elected Jewish state senators this year.
Overall, State Senate Republicans had a net gain of two seats, pushing them into a majority by one as their ranks swelled to 32 seats. Senator Simcha Felder (D-Boro Park), who ran unopposed, caucuses with the Republicans, so in essence there are 33 members of the GOP conclave. Of the six Jewish members in the Senate, one is a Republican and two are women.
There are more observant Jews in the state legislature than any other time – at least five in the Assembly and one in the Senate. One Jewish assemblywoman, Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows, Queens), 28, was born in Jerusalem.
The incoming freshman class in the Senate includes 10 new members, a 15 percent turnover rate. The freshman class in the Assembly includes at least 18 new members, a 12 percent turnover rate. Depending on the outcome of the four races still to be decided as of early this week, the turnover rate could be as high as 14 percent.
Overall, of the 18 members leaving the Assembly, eight were caught up in scandal and booted from the lower house. Ten left willingly. In the Senate, nine of the 10 members left with a clean record and one was caught up in a scandal, losing his seat after the September primary.
Since 1976 there have been more than 40 legislative bad apples, most of whom were caught up in scandal after the ethics and financial disclosure laws were changed more than a decade ago.
Once the legislative session is kicked off with the governor’s State of the State message on January 7, one of the first orders of business will be for the Senate to confirm a Jewish woman, Leslie Stein, to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. Governor Andrew Cuomo nominated Stein to the high court last month. The Court of Appeals is composed of a chief judge and six associate judges, each appointed to a 14-year term. The only other Jewish judge on that bench is the chief judge, Jonathan Lippman.