He entered office at a young age, and after 17 years in Albany, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, 48, is hoping that the seniority of those years will be recognized by voters for the clout that it brings.
“I’ve been appointed by the Speaker to chair the Committee on Children and Families. I’ve been bringing information from adverse childhood experiences so that children are not doomed or defined by their trauma,” he said.
Based on their districts, personal experiences, and professional interests, lawmakers are often defined by specific issues. For Hevesi, it has been the welfare of young and vulnerable individuals: children, victims of abuse and human trafficking. When a young individual commits a crime, Hevesi argues that with proper resources and funding, there is an opportunity to set that person’s life path in the right direction.
Last year in partnership with State Sen. Jamaal Bailey of the Bronx, he sponsored a law that raised the minimum age for juvenile delinquency from seven to 12 years. He argued that most children who engaged in actions that led to their arrests are victims of trauma, and putting them before a court and in detention facilities would likely result in recidivism rather than addressing their behavior. “New York State has not done a good enough job from this legislation to the kids who need it. I’m working on a law to make sure that $550 million is earmarked so that our counties can provide alternatives to prison.”
Last week, he hosted a virtual forum with two organizations that he regards as partners in crafting legislation concerning juvenile justice, the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, and the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, where he spoke about a bill that he will be introducing, titled Children and Families Reinvestment Act.
“The science tells us that those kids who have been traumatized are going to have a lot more difficulty in life,” Hevesi said. “Preventive service providers have been keeping our families afloat. How can we not invest in children, invest in families, and invest in counties?”
As experience shows, passing a law is often easier than funding it, or amending it as needed. The bail reforms that passed in 2019 barred judges from setting bail for most non-violent crimes, disregarding the suspect’s past offenses, the likelihood of returning to court for trial, and committing additional offenses between the arrest and the court date. Hevesi was among the majority of his colleagues who supported this law.
“Something that looks like the targeting of a minority group, whether or not they have the money, is counterproductive. We need a system that’s free from bias, and we should hold people are a danger to the community.”
Concerning crime on the subway, Hevesi said that it is the result of deinstitutionalization, which released mentally unstable individuals into the streets without an appropriate response. “The staff at homeless shelters are not trained to address mental health,” he said.
With the rise in anti-Semitic attacks, Hevesi said that he was not as outspoken as he could have been, and will do more to speak up for the Jewish community. “I grew up being taught that the hand raised against Israel should be cut off. I will do better and can do better.”
Having visited Israel on multiple occasions, he spoke of the country’s unique programs addressing childhood trauma, partially as a result of the conflicts that it has experienced.
“The Consul General connected me with the Israeli Trauma Coalition, and we’ll learn from the Israeli experts. They are far ahead in following the science and the traumatic experiences of children, families, and responders,” he said. “Israel has resiliency centers, and it is generations ahead.”
Hevesi said that his Jewish experience is informed by his father Alan Hevesi, the former Assemblyman, and comptroller for the city and state, who comes from generations of community leaders in New York and in prewar Hungary. “I am proud to be Alan Hevesi’s son and I am proud to represent my community.”
Concerning the pandemic, Hevesi noted that it has exacerbated trauma as some children and domestic partners have been in lockdown with their abusers, which will result in the need for treatment as society reopens. He expects to have a sympathetic ear from Governor Kathy Hochul, and he supports her reelection this year.
“I have faith in our governor. She is a breath of fresh air, as our previous one had a penchant for lying.” He added that Andrew Cuomo dictated his policies to lawmakers rather than collaborating, often shutting down suggestions from Hevesi and advocacy organizations. If reelected this year with Hochul, Hevesi argues that his voice will be key in passing budgets to support New York’s most vulnerable individuals.
His Democratic primary opponent is attorney Ethan Felder, who argued that Hevesi is not responsive enough on anti-Semitism and bail reform. The incumbent countered that he has been consistent in his views. “Liability matters. This isn’t a job for someone who supported DSA in the past and one who takes conservative positions. I can tell you honestly where I stand on the issues.”
Hevesi will be facing Felder in a Democratic primary on June 28 for the Assembly district covering Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, and Middle Village.
By Sergey Kadinsky