Four of the candidates vying for the vacant 48th District seat on the New York City Council spoke with COJO Flatbush board members earlier this month. The event – an informal get-to-know-you meeting during which each of the candidates appeared separately, spoke for several minutes, and then answered questions – was held at COJO’s Midwood headquarters. (The 48th Council District is comprised of Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Homecrest, Trump Village, Luna Park, and Brightwater Towers.)
COJO Flatbush CEO Louis Welz got the session started by noting that this year’s City Council elections will affect the city’s future for years if not decades to come, with New Yorkers still reeling from the impact and fallout of the COVID pandemic and with 35 of the Council’s 51 seats up for grabs due to term limits. (Primaries to determine the general election candidates will be held on June 22, with general elections to follow on Nov. 2.)
There was little disagreement among the candidates, all Democrats, regarding the big issues, and so each stressed his or her personal and professional qualifications. All agreed that defunding the police is a bad idea; that the rise in hate crimes is especially worrisome and unacceptable in a city as diverse as New York; that new and creative approaches to childcare and after-school programs are badly needed; and that the city must ease the financial burden on non-profit agencies caused by long delays in making payments and a punitive cap on overhead spending.
For Mariya Markh, whose family fled the Soviet Union to escape religious persecution, the increase in anti-Jewish violence and vandalism in New York elicits frightening early-childhood memories as well as a determination to address the issue head-on, through a combination of educating students about the history of racial and religious bigotry and an increased presence of police officers on streets and in the subways. Markh worked for three City Council Members – the late Lew Fidler, Alan Maisel, and Chaim Deutsch – before moving on to represent the communities of southern Brooklyn at City Hall, serving as senior liaison to Brooklyn Community Boards 13 and 15 and the Russian-speaking community.
Amber Adler, known for her civic engagement and volunteer efforts, serves as chair of Neighborhood Advisory Board 15. She’s directed operations for both corporate and non-profit organizations, and her activism includes regularly partnering with organizations to provide vital necessities for community members in need. With regard to childcare, she’s calling for the expansion of 3K and universal pre-kindergarten, summer camp for all children ages 5-13, and broadened opportunities for participation in the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program. If elected, she would like to allocate funding to support community organizations which aim to bring together people from diverse backgrounds to work on solving shared problems.
Binyomin Bendet, a litigation attorney (real estate and commercial) with a long involvement in community service, says his experience engaging with others who don’t necessarily share his views will serve him well on the City Council, particularly in finding common ground with left-wing Council members open to quiet, behind-the-scenes compromise. He supports stricter enforcement of hate-crime statutes against Jews and other victimized groups, along with increased community policing and greater coordination with local safety patrols. He would increase community outreach to educate the public on what New Yorkers are entitled to in terms of city services and make every effort to foster cooperation and understanding between various sectors of the community, based, he says, on the ideal that when quality of life improves, everyone benefits.
Steven Saperstein, a community activist who co-founded the Shorefront Coalition – where his communal endeavors included combating the opioid epidemic, hosting school supply drives, and coordinating food deliveries to support those in need during the pandemic – works as a special educator dedicated to empowering students with disabilities. Calling a safe and secure city his top priority, he says the NYPD must be able to do its job without politically correct micromanagement from City Hall. A vocal advocate for seniors and for strong and responsive constituent services, he describes himself as someone with a “common sense” approach to the issues.