Republicans appear to have more winning races than losses, as results slowly emerge from last month’s contests. Even though the outcome of a few key contests remains undecided as of deadline for this week’s edition, one race in Brooklyn could even be determined next month after the new session begins.
When the next legislative session begins in January, 12 percent of the state Assembly, 19 members (three being Republicans), will be Jewish. In the state Senate, seven one-hundredths of one percent (.07), five lawmakers out of 63 members, will be Jewish, all Democrats. This is down from last year’s totals with the defeat of two incumbent Jewish senators. While several Jewish members of the Assembly bowed out from seeking reelection, there is one new Jewish Democrat and two new Jewish Republicans. Eleven percent of both houses will include Jewish members.
Helene Weinstein, a 41-year incumbent from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, is the most senior member in the state Assembly. She had an easy time beating her nominal opponent this year, but the reelection fortunes were not so kind to the second and third most senior members of the lower house.
In Brooklyn, three Democrats lost their seats. Lester Chang, a Midwood Republican, knocked off the second most senior member in the Assembly, 35-year incumbent Peter Abbate, a lifelong resident of Bensonhurst. The district includes a part of Borough Park. Assembly Democrats are considering not recognizing Chang’s win and not allowing him to take the oath of office in January due to questionable residency requirements. Opponents maintain he voted in Manhattan last year and did not change his residency for voting in this year’s election until after the deadline passed. Democrats didn’t care about the lapse until Chang won.
Chang, 61, told The Jewish Press, “What makes me unique is my Asian background and I’m the only Republican Asian on the state level and the only one right now. The shoulder’s on me now, that as an Asian you don’t have to be a Democrat. You can be a Republican, and that’s what I felt during the campaign and the election. A lot of people whispered to me ‘Oh I’m a Democrat but I’ll vote for you.’ That means they vote Republican.”
Chang is a first-generation American. His father is from Guangzhou, China, and his mother is from Hong Kong. He joined the Navy and fought in the Afghanistan war as a Chief Warrant Officer. He was grateful for the support he received from Borough Park voters.
“The Orthodox Jewish community really came out for the party, not only for me,” Chang said.
Ed Flood, a Port Jefferson Station Republican, knocked off 30-year incumbent Steve Englebright, a Democrat from East Setauket, Suffolk County.
Republican Michael Novakhov, a Manhattan Beach resident, handily knocked off 21-year incumbent Steve Cymbrowitz with a 60-to-40 percent result. Novakhov owns a Russian-language radio station, which he credits for catapulting him to his election victory.
“People want more honest people in politics and local politics, not just people who sit there for many, many years basically doing nothing,” Novakhov told The Jewish Press. “They want results, and they see the results of my business. They hear my radio station every single day 24/7 in their native language, in the Russian language. It is very important to bring something for the community.”
Novakhov, a self-proclaimed secular Jew, admits he does not know about the antisemitism occurring at Kingsborough Community College, which is in his district. The controversy was covered by The Jewish Press in its September 1, 2022, edition. “I’ll focus on the safety of my neighborhood, crime. This is what I hear from my voters,” Novakhov concluded. He said he wants to be on the housing, corrections and aging committees when his term begins in January.
In a neighboring district, Republican Alec Brook-Krasny, a former Democrat, knocked off two-term incumbent Democrat Mathylde Frontus, a Coney Island resident. Brook-Krasny, 64, immigrated to the United States in 1989 from Moscow. He currently is a resident of Brighton Beach, which has a heavily Russian-Jewish population. He says he affiliates with Congregation Kneses Israel of Sea-Gate.
Staten Island Republican Sam Pirozzolo, 59, an optician by profession, flipped a seat Democrat-held for the past 40 years – the last 20 years by Democrat Michael Cusick, who did not seek reelection. The district encompasses the Mid-Island area and part of the North Shore. Pirozzolo defeated Democrat candidate Vincent Argenziano. Pirozzolo joins two other Republican Staten Islanders in the Assembly, Michael Reilly and Michael Tannousis.
In Nassau County, Republican challenger Brian Curran, 54, knocked off incumbent Democrat Judy Griffin to get his former Assembly seat back. He lost the seat to Griffin in 2018. The district includes Lynbrook, Rockville Centre, Malverne, South Hempstead, Baldwin and parts of Freeport, West Hempstead, Oceanside, East Rockaway, Lakeview, Hewlett, Hempstead, Franklin Square, and Valley Stream.
Those were the most controversial races with surprising outcomes. The counting is still going on in two Assembly races.
In southern Queens, Republican challenger Tom Sullivan is ahead of three-term incumbent Stacey Pheffer Amato by a mere three votes. It shows that sometimes every vote does count when large numbers of people turn out to vote. Pheffer Amato’s mother, Queens County Clerk Audrey Pheffer, previously held this Assembly seat. Upon Pheffer Amato’s election, they became the first mother-daughter team to hold the same seat in the New York State Legislature. The district encompasses the neighborhoods of Ozone Park, Lindenwood, Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel, Breezy Point, Roxbury, Neponsit, Belle Harbor, Rockaway Park, Rockaway Beach, Arverne, Edgemere, Bayswater and Far Rockaway.
The other seat still being contested includes nine towns in Orange County and Stony Point in Rockland County, where 20 votes separate the two challengers for an open seat. The contest is between Woodbury town councilwoman Kathryn Luciani, a Republican, and New Windsor resident Democrat Christopher Eachus, a former Orange County legislator and former high school teacher. Eachus is leading in the battle for this Assembly district, which includes the town of Palm Tree and the village of Kiryas Joel, a 1.1-mile enclave of Satmar and charedi Jews.
In an open seat in northern Westchester County, to replace Kevin Byrne (R – Mahopac, Putnam County) who is moving on to become the Putnam County Executive, Matt Slater (R – Yorktown Heights, Westchester County) has won that race against Kathleen Valletta-McMorrow (D – Carmel, Putnam County). Slater told The Jewish Press his father is Jewish while he is a practicing Protestant.
Slater, 36, said he has three priorities as a freshman and the committees he wants to serve on.
“People with disabilities is a great passion of mine and something I’ve worked on the local level in the town of Yorktown, where I’m ending my term as town supervisor. Affordability to be able to just survive in this state, whether you’re a young family, a business owner, a senior, everyone is really struggling in a big way to be able to afford to call New York home,” Slater said. “In my district, one of the big things we’re focused on is transportation. That’s a priority of mine. We have state roads that are arteries for all the municipalities I represent. Being able to have a voice for my district when it comes to investments in infrastructure, especially our roadways, it’s critically important for me personally, so that’s going to be a priority of mine. That’s one of the first places I’m going to be looking to put my attention to.”
The Assembly Republican conference is not all white male lawyers anymore, as it might have seemed 20 years ago with few exceptions.
The Republican conference boasts Irish and Italian Catholic and Protestant lawmakers, three Jewish lawmakers [one Orthodox], one Chinese-American member, and one whose ancestry is from Trinidad & Tobago.
Republican Anil Beephan, 54, an East Fishkill town councilman, defeated Jill Fieldstein (D – Dover Plains) in a district that takes in nine towns in southern Dutchess County. The incumbent Assemblyman, Kieran Michael Lalor, opted not to seek reelection. Beephan says he is a nondenominational Christian.
Going into this next session, Democrats will hold at least 99 seats and Republicans will hold 49 seats. If the Democrats win any of the two contested races they will have the psychological advantage of a veto-proof super-majority.
Assembly GOP Leader Will Barclay (R – Pulaski, Oswego County) told The Jewish Press exclusively that the reason for the success of adding more members to the ranks is the messages from the Democrats – the gift that keeps on giving.
“We need to continue to recruit great candidates. The Democrats need to keep giving us great messages to run on, we’ll continue to have success,” Barclay said. “You can’t pass so-called bail reform bills, raise the age, all these social justice type bills and not expect there to be some negative impact. Voters recognize that. They’re not stupid. As a result, some of the Democrats paid the price at the polls. We’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, continuing to point out where the other side is moving in the wrong direction. We’ll fight for the things we believe in. If the Democrats continue doing what they’ve been doing, we’ll be successful in elections.”
In the Senate, there is one seat, in Central New York, that is too close to call between incumbent John Mannion and challenger Rebecca Shiroff, who told The Jewish Press, “I absolutely identify as a proud first generation American Jewish woman, daughter of Cuban immigrants,” she said. Mannion leads Shiroff by 27 votes.
Democrat incumbent Senator Anna Kaplan, an Iranian Jew, lost her race in Nassau County to former Senator Jack Martins. William Weber (R – Montebello, Rockland County), a Catholic and a CPA, defeated Elijah Reichlin-Melnick (D – Nyack, Rockland County), who identifies as being Jewish. Republicans flipped five seats in this past election cycle giving the GOP 21 seats to the Democrats’ 41 seats. The outcome of the Mannion – Shiroff race will determine whether the Senate Democrats can have the veto-proof supermajority where 42 seats are necessary.
The main issues that catapulted Weber to victory were affordability, high taxes and crime.
“I’m here to represent everyone equally and fairly in the district,” Weber, 53, told The Jewish Press. “That’s my commitment. I will work as hard as anybody every day to make sure that we get the money we are entitled to in the district. We pay a lot of taxes. My number one goal is to bring as much money back to the district to support the residents in Rockland County.”
Weber revealed that his wife, Lisa Gravitz, is Jewish and comes from a Conservative Jewish home in Westchester. When her family visits the Webers, they shop for kosher food from area supermarkets. The couple has four children, two boys and two girls.
The number one specific concern Weber heard from the Orthodox Jewish community was education.
“What we heard more about was the ruling from the state education department related to the substantial equivalency that came down in September and that bubbled up as a big issue within Ramapo and the Monsey community. That was the big issue we heard about from our residents and neighbors here in Ramapo. People in my area, in Monsey, are very concerned about that and they have a right to be. I’m a big proponent against unfunded mandates.
That was not only considered a bad ruling but also an unfunded mandate. Essentially, they want the local school boards to monitor the private schools. That’s not the function of public schools and that shouldn’t be the function of public schools to have to increase their budgets and increase taxes to monitor the private schools. The issue is, you have a state aid formula that is not working for our area. It’s something that has been talked about for more than a decade and is continually failing the district in East Ramapo for sure,” Weber concluded.
While Weber wants to fight the ruling by the state education department, he did not know who represents Rockland County on the state Board of Regents, the governing body for public and private schools. The answer is Frances Wills, a resident of Ossining, Westchester County.
Weber says he is seeking to gain a seat on the following Senate committees: education, finance, mental health, veterans, transportation, and two others he couldn’t remember on the spot during our interview.
The new legislative session begins on Wednesday, January 4, 2023. Governor Kathy Hochul gets sworn into office for her first full term in her own right on Sunday, January 1.