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Governor Kathy Hochul

Hochul’s Pledge

New York is a rough and tumble landscape politically, and New York Governor Kathy Hochul wants to portray the image that she is no shrinking violet.

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“Don’t worry about me. I am in a very good mental, physical and emotional place right now because the people of New York need me and I’m going to be there for them,” Hochul told The Jewish Press last week. “I exercise first thing in the morning as early as the day starts. I have a loving husband, the first gentleman, who lifts me up every day and I have children I get the chance to see on Zoom every once in a while. I am blessed with the support system I have personally so I am in a good position there, better than many.”

Hochul then invoked the pledge that shows she is constantly thinking she is a role model for many women in office and those who aspire to become elected officials.

“This job is so important and I’m going to get it, not just right, but exceed all expectations because women often know they are held to a higher standard,” Hochul said. “My job is to not just meet that standard but blow it out of the water so no one will ever question the ability of a woman to govern a rather rough and tumble complicated place like New York. We’re governing very differently. Don’t underestimate the strength that lies behind this individual and my willingness to make tough decisions. That is what allows me to sleep at night although it’s not as many hours as I used to get.”

Hochul might use this theme when the political season begins in late February. Her opponents – Republicans, Conservatives and some from within her own Democratic party – are gearing up to use the Cuomo-Hochul team as their mantra, tying the current governor to her scandal-scarred predecessor whom she served for seven years as his number two.

Hochul appears not to be swayed by those criticisms. “I have this sense of calm within me because my whole life I’ve been prepared for this,” Hochul said. “My time in Washington, working for individuals like Senator Moynihan, a member of Congress myself, working in county and local government, Lt. Governor for seven years, gave me the clarity, the knowledge, I know the places, I know the people, I know what has to be done.”

 

Covid Deaths Explode

Another issue weighing heavily on the governor is the Covid pandemic and communicating the winter resurgence to those reluctant to wear masks or get vaccinated. Last month saw the fourth highest death count all year with 1,869 people perishing from Covid. In 2021 there were just shy of 18,000 deaths from the virus, averaging 50 deaths per day. December saw an average of 60 deaths per day on average. (June and July saw the lowest death counts of the year.)

 

Blooming Grove Update

Last week I reported on a veto the governor signed regarding preserving open space in the town of Blooming Grove, Orange County. The town is adjacent to the town of Monroe, which includes the Satmar-populated village of Kiryas Joel. The residents of Kiryas Joel saw this legislation as having antisemitic overtones since it made it more difficult for Kiryas Joel residents to expand their footprint to the neighboring town. Blooming Grove town officials maintain this was nothing more than a request by a local government to get state approval to preserve the rural character of their town. Without specifically using the words antisemitism or land preservation, the governor explained how she decides whether to sign or veto legislation.

“I’ll tell you what I look at when I’m deciding on legislation,” Hochul said. “In the past four months I have had to examine 400 pieces of legislation, and you talk about the responsibilities I have. I’ve had to make very hard decisions, and what I look at is the clarity of purpose. What I look at in every bill is what is best for every community and those are the only influences I have. I will listen to people on both sides of a debate. I always do. I’m a lawyer. I weigh both sides. I’ll always do what I believe is right for a community and certainly I’m willing to have future conversations but I’m not going to speak about people’s motivations behind what they do. My job in front of me is to examine the facts that lie before me and make the best decision. When I’m looking at a piece of legislation, I’m weighing all the factors that are out there. I was looking at all the factors. I was hearing from a lot of people on both sides of the issue.”

 

Jewish Officials Sworn In

This year posed a seemingly difficult issue for Jewish elected officials because January first coincided with Shabbos. The swearing-in and taking the oath of office is often seen as a rite of passage for those who won election in November. What many people in the public do not know is the legality of assuming office does not have to be done on January first.

David Kirschner was sworn in on Nov. 14, as the first frum state Supreme Court Judge from central Queens by Judge George Grasso, administrative judge for judicial matters in the Queens County Supreme Court.

“A formal induction is just done for the public,” David Kirschner (D-Kew Gardens Hills), a shomer Shabbos Jew who won election to state Supreme Court in Queens, explained to The Jewish Press. “I signed my oath card six weeks ago, so as soon as midnight came Friday night I was automatically in my new seat, serving in my new role. You don’t have to be formally inducted. When you do it formally, verbally, that’s the public display. That can be done before. That can be done after. The oath card becomes effective 12:00 midnight on January first.

On Sunday, November 14, 2021, Kirschner, 58, held a reception at Queens Borough Hall with local government and political leaders in attendance to acknowledge the folks who helped him get to what appears to be the final stop on his judicial train. (State Supreme Court judges earn $210,900 a year and serve a 14-year term. There is a mandatory retirement age of 70.)

“When I received my mayoral appointment a little less than five years ago, it reminded me of something my father said to me as a young man,” Kirschner told those present. “Always be the hardest worker, always be the most prepared and always remember you have to be in the right place at the right time. The simplistic meaning of that is I need to have good luck.

Kirschner then paraphrased Exodus 33:21, “Where there is an interaction between Moses and G-d. Moses says to G-d, show me Your way. No one can see my ways; you have to live it. There’s a place near me where you may stand on a rock. I will cover you with my hand until I pass by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my magic.”

Translated, the passage reads: “There is a place near Me where you are to stand upon a rock, and when My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen. You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.”

“One commentary suggests the illusion here is that sometimes you can look backward and get a glimpse of just maybe of what was going on. It certainly is not luck or happenstance and yet our recognition of this doesn’t relieve us from the obligation to express sincere heartfelt appreciation of Moses to open the door each and every time along the way.

“Being a Supreme Court Justice isn’t something I ever expected. It’s like being in a parallel universe. Looking back, many people have opened wonderful doors through which I’ve walked. I will work tirelessly to justify the faith all of you have placed in me,” Kirschner said.

Bruce Blakeman, a Republican and Orthodox Jew, was sworn in as the first Jewish Nassau County executive on Monday, January 3, at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. Flanked by Republican Congressmen Andrew Garbarino and Peter King, former U.S. Senator Al D’Amato, also a Republican, as well as Congressman and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Tom Suozzi and Democrats Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Hempstead Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby. Blakeman, 66, was given the oath of office by his wife, lawyer-actress Segal Magori, with Blakeman’s son Arlen at his side. The couple lives in Atlantic Beach. On Friday, December 31, Blakeman installed a mezuzah on the doorpost to his new office digs.

Other Jews holding office for the first time from around the state include Israeli-born, shomer Shabbos Benny Goldstein, 44, who won a close election for Canajoharie Town Supervisor in Mohawk Valley’s Montgomery County. Goldstein, a Republican, signed his oath and got sworn into office on Monday, January 3. The town population is approximately 3,600. He won his election by four votes.

Although she is not Jewish, Katherine Rappaport (R-South Fallsburg) won the election for Fallsburg Town Supervisor in the Catskills’ Sullivan County with the help of Orthodox Jewish voters, who voted via absentee ballot. Many of the voters reside in Brooklyn and have second homes in Fallsburg, population 13,000. Rappaport, 52, won by 271 votes. She signed her oath and was sworn in on Friday, December 17.

Deborah Zamer, 46, the daughter of long-time Democratic city and county court judge Larry Rosen, took her oath of office at noon on Saturday, January 1, with other newly-elected members of the Albany Common Council. Zamer will represent heavily Jewish-concentrated neighborhoods of Albany.

Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) took his oath of office for New York City Comptroller at midnight on Saturday, January 1.

Norman Massry and Andrew Sommers, both Republicans, were re-elected as Colonie Town Justices near Albany. Massry and Sommers took their oaths at noon on Saturday, January 1.

 

State of the State Preview

            Hochul delivered her annual Message to the Legislature on Wednesday, January 5, after our newspaper deadline, in the state Assembly Chamber. The State of the State message, as it is commonly known, was a combined virtual and in-person presentation detailing needs and wants for the coming year.

After many decades of hearing these speeches, state lawmakers usually react by stating a familiar refrain: “What the governor said was nice but let’s see how it will be paid for when the state budget is presented in two weeks.”

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Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.