Since my move from Queens to West Hempstead, I’ve had to adjust to mowing my lawn, paying higher property taxes, and encountering a very different political landscape. In Queens, elected officials and candidates have a high degree of visibility, making themselves known to voters by attending community functions, and retail politicking outside stores, shuls, and schools. To my dismay, the visibility of candidates in West Hempstead has been limited mostly to lawn signs, and the vast majority of them are for the Republican contenders.
Lacking information on the candidates, many of my neighbors will be voting down the party line, knowing next to nothing about the individuals who will be determining laws and policies on our behalf and paid by our taxes. As a public service to my neighbors, here is the detailed election guide for our readers.
In Queens, many of the incumbents running are familiar to our readers, but as the adage goes, “What have you done for me lately?” For those seeking to unseat them, what are their qualifications and priorities? This guide provides answers to these questions.
Brooklyn-born incumbent Chuck Schumer is seeking to represent our state for a fifth term in the Senate. With seniority, there is clout on Capitol Hill, where he serves as the Senate Majority Leader, effectively making him a leader of the national Democratic Party. Schumer’s pro-Israel views serve as a much-needed counterweight to the vocal progressive caucus within the party. With a narrow majority, he was successful in passing legislation that brought home the bread amid economic uncertainty.
At the height of the pandemic, Schumer’s relief package kept small businesses and nonprofits afloat, along with funding for infrastructure, transit, and technology. The decades-long imbalance where this state sent more money to Washington than it received in return was reversed by Schumer, as we now have $1.59 coming back to the state for every $1 that we pay in federal taxes. From the Micron Technology semiconductor campus slated for Syracuse to the Brookhaven Laboratory in eastern Long Island, and the nearly completed Long Island Railroad access to Grand Central, Schumer’s clout has benefited our state.
Throughout his four decades in elected office, he never forgot his roots (speaking of his chasidic ancestors in Poland and his great-grandfather in Ukraine who had 18 children), and ensuring the security of our synagogues, yeshivos, and the defense of Israel.
His Republican opponent is 39-year-old Yonkers resident Joe Pinion . In his pitch to voters, he relies on the classic Ronald Reagan line, “Are you better off now...” He notes the high cost of living and rising crime, blaming it on “career politicians.” Prior to his foray into Republican politics, he served as director of youth development at the Morris Heights Health Center in the Bronx, where he coordinated health services and college accessibility for youths in the nation’s poorest congressional district. As the first African American seeking statewide office for his party, Pinion seeks to bring the Republican message to inner city communities that remain plagued by crime and lack of opportunities.
Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul entered the Governor’s mansion by accident, when her running mate Andrew Cuomo stepped down last year amid a harassment scandal and public criticism of his pandemic policies. Instead of focusing on her accomplishments in the state, Hochul pivoted to national issues, highlighting the other party’s opposition to abortion, certifying the 2020 election results, and opposition to gun control measures.
As polls have shown, local issues matter, particularly crime: the failure of state lawmakers to reverse bail reform, repeat offenders attacking commuters on the subway, and the high cost of living in the state. If Hochul could focus on her accomplishments, perhaps the public would appreciate her initiatives to bring clean sources of energy to Long Island, a new transit line for Brooklyn and Queens, childcare subsidies for families of four earning up to $83,250, and $25 billion for affordable housing. Concerning crime, she could confront her party’s leaders in the Assembly and Senate for not doing enough to roll back the bail reforms. She could call them back for a special session, forcing them to take a stand on this matter.
Concerning the Jewish community, she attended community functions such as organizational dinners and meetings at the homes of prominent askanim, while her opponent danced in the streets, shopped at the stores, spoke at shuls, and pressed the flesh on the sidewalks. When the community is concerned about crime and state intervention in private schools, an event at a Jewish museum or a visit to Israel at best misses the point, and at worst shows a lack of concern. Concerning The New York Times investigation of chareidi yeshivos, Hochul cannot avoid the issue as outside the purview of her office. As much as the Orthodox community is concerned about anti-Semitism and Israel, the education of our children hits closer to home than any other issue.
Republican Lee Zeldin is giving up his Congressional seat on the eastern tip of Long Island to run for the state’s highest office. He has the support of former President Donald Trump, but Zeldin has rarely uttered his name on the campaign trail, focusing on crime and inflation. Among his supporters is New York’s last Republican governor, George Pataki, who was voted out in 2006 after three terms in office. His path to victory involved capturing a third of the vote in the city and leading in the suburbs. Should Zeldin win, it would be a shock to the Democrats in one of their historically bluest states.
Democratic incumbent Letitia James is not a stranger to our community, having attended many functions over the years as a Councilwoman, Public Advocate, and as the state’s top prosecutor. On her visits to Main Street, she speaks from the heart with spiritual examples, personal experience, and policy as it relates to protecting vulnerable individuals. Taking on powerful individuals and interests, James investigated sexual harassment allegations against former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, resulting in his resignation. Her campaigns against opioid and gun manufacturers shows initiative in a situation when there isn’t enough action coming from Washington lawmakers. Locally, her office stood up for workers claiming stolen wages and tenants claiming harassment by landlords.
At the same time, her ambitions have been criticized as overreaching. Cuomo accused her of lacking evidence, and her aborted gubernatorial run last year nearly split the state’s Democratic Party. Her focus on prosecuting former President Donald Trump may also backfire as it distracts the public from her long record of successful accomplishments in office, and has the appearance of litigating the past.
Republican Michael Henry is a commercial litigator who argues that James was not active enough in prosecuting looters and rioters, and that she has been too crucial of the city’s police department. Echoing his party’s tough-on-crime platform, Henry promises to be more supportive of police officers. Concerning the pandemic, Henry argues that the incumbent attorney general has not been outspoken enough in confronting Cuomo’s policy of discharging COVID-positive patients to nursing homes that were unprepared for the influx, resulting in patient deaths.
Our Queens readers do not need an introduction to Rep. Grace Meng , the steadfast supporter of our community’s priorities and a rising star within her party. Her Republican opponent is Tom Zmich , who ran against Meng two years ago, each time wearing the red MAGA cap that identifies him as the local voice of Donald Trump.
The 14th Congressional District is presented by incumbent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose hostility to Israel runs deep. There are few Jewish voters in this district; but for those residing in Corona, Co-op City, and Astoria, any vote against AOC would surely put a dent in her inflated sense of importance. The Republican contender in this race is Tina Forte, who has her own social media following, where she sells pro-Trump-themed clothing, along with conspiracy theories doubting Biden’s election in 2020.
Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal is known to our readers as a friend, neighbor, and outspoken defender of our community’s yeshivos, schools, and nonprofits. He is the centrist who bucked his party in opposing bail reforms, and maintains a visible presence in the neighborhood with responsive constituent services. His Republican opponent, Angelo King, is an electrician critical of the state’s pandemic response, the governing party’s “woke ideology,” and corrupt politicians. Indeed, Rosenthal’s career is entirely within the political realm, starting from his internship as a student at Lander College. In his case, it is a career filled with accomplishment, community support, and much more to come.
Assembly District 28 covers Rego Park and most of Forest Hills, where Democratic incumbent Andrew Hevesi is running for a tenth term. He is not the most visible politician in the press or on social media, but when he speaks up, it receives attention because he uses his voice when it matters the most. One such example was his advocacy for the Bukharian community this past summer in regard to the upkeep of graves at the Mount Carmel Cemetery. His Republican opponent is neighborhood activist Michael Conigliaro, who built his reputation on keeping the streets clean and advocating for historical preservation.
State Senate District 11 covers Jamaica Estates south of Grand Central Parkway, Hollis Hills, Oakland Gardens, and Glen Oaks. It is a district of homeowners concerned about quality of life, taxes, and crime. Incumbent Toby Ann Stavisky has been in office since 2000, having succeeded her late husband, Leonard. The 83-year-old former teacher withstood many primary and general election challengers over the years. A reliable vote for liberal causes, this year she was among the sponsors of a bill to provide public health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants residing in the state.
Healthcare coverage is one of Stavisky’s top issues, as she was also a sponsor of a law that would provide insurance coverage for breast cancer survivors seeking to have reconstructive surgery to restore their pre-mastectomy body.
Her Republican opponent, Stefano Forte, a 24-year-old resident of Whitestone, is running as a conservative populist, bringing younger voices into his party, with support from national party donors from far beyond his district. Along with calls for repealing bail reform, Forte is outspoken on social issues, such as opposing the public funding of drag queen performances, and he opposed pandemic-related lockdowns.
Senate District 16 has incumbent John Liu running for a third term. A resident of Queens since age five, he made history as the borough’s first Asian-American elected official in 2001, representing Flushing on the City Council. Since then, Liu has served as the city’s comptroller but then failed in his bid for mayor in 2013. Since his election to the State Senate, Liu has been a reliable ally of organized labor, combating hate directed towards Asian-Americans, and protecting exam-based admissions to the city’s specialized public high schools. The 55-year-old’s athletic accomplishments include biking from Queens to Albany last year, a 164-mile commute that took 16 hours to complete.
His Republican opponent is Ruben Cruz, a party activist and animal lover who volunteered to provide pet supplies during the pandemic. Alongside advocacy for animals, Cruz also regards protection of elderly homeowners as a priority, in light of high-profile cases where seniors were tricked into signing over their property deeds. District 16 covers Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Flushing, and Bayside.
Senate District 14 covers most of Kew Gardens Hills, extending south into Jamaica and Springfield Gardens. Although Democratic incumbent Leroy Comrie is running unopposed, he’s made an effort to understand his new constituents in Central Queens, visiting Main Street, and responding to their concerns.
On Long Island
The Fourth Congressional district has an open seat race after Democratic incumbent Kathleen Rice announced her retirement. Concerning visibility, I have not seen Democrat Laura Gillen nor Republican Anthony D’Esposito campaigning in West Hempstead. Perhaps this community is not sizable enough to impact the outcome, or outspoken enough to merit their attention. On the streets, lawn signs favoring the Republican candidates predominate. For readers interested in the candidates, Gillen is an attorney who served as the Hempstead Town supervisor for one term in 2018.
It was a brief tenure in that historically Republican office, and she speaks of her accomplishments in reducing nepotism, sharing town contracts with the public, reducing taxes, and improving infrastructure. Like her party’s standard-bearers, Gillen also made abortion access a top issue in getting out the Democratic vote. It comes from personal experience, as she had an abortion performed when her fetus was determined to be non-viable. Having to choose between abortion or carrying it to term with the risks involved, she went to the clinic, navigating past a crowd of pro-life demonstrators. She is a mother of four children who admitted in a Newsday-sponsored debate that the high cost of living on Long Island worries her, whether it is her children’s college education, or their ability to buy a home in the town where they were born.
D’Esposito has been serving on the Hempstead Town Board since 2016, alongside his duties as a volunteer firefighter in Island Park, where he lives. Prior to elected office, he was an NYPD officer and detective.
D’Esposito’s expertise in combating crime is deep. His proposal to bolster federal gun task forces and double down on federal gun prosecutions as meaningful deterrents to all kinds of crime makes sense. But his dark vision of a district and a region where criminals wreak havoc and mayhem without fear of retribution just isn’t real. In his debate appearance, he recognized Joe Biden as the elected president and spoke of toughening gun control laws. Can a Republican speak forcefully for gun control in a party whose voters largely support background checks, but whose leading lawmakers mostly oppose it? In this swing district, one hopes that the views of constituents would be more influential than those of party leaders in determining how their representative would vote.
For State Assembly, Republican incumbent Ed Ra’s district now encompasses nearly all of West Hempstead. Elected in 2010, his subsequent elections have been an easy task. He has the support of Newsday, which gave its other local endorsements to Hochul and Gillen. His Democratic opponent is Sanjeev Kumar Jindal, of Williston Park. Born in India, he immigrated in 2003 and owns an insurance business. His campaign speaks of his biography as an example of the American dream, along with promises to combat gun violence, protect abortion rights, and help for small businesses.
The State Senate race in West Hempstead is also an open seat after incumbent Todd Kaminsky’s failed run for Nassau District Attorney last year. With redistricting, West Hempstead was placed in the Sixth District, represented by Democratic incumbent Kevin Thomas Levittown. The son of immigrants from southern India, he worked as a civil rights attorney prior to his very narrow election win in 2018. In his first term, he was appointed as Chair of the Consumer Protection Committee, an important role for a suburban politician where many utility services are provided by private companies. He used his position to pass the “New York Privacy Law of 2021,” which requires companies to inform customers when they share their names with other companies and to obtain their consent.
His Republican opponent is retired NYPD detective James Coll, whose lawn signs feature the blue and black banner identified with supporters of the police. The colors symbolize Coll’s main platform: public safety and countering the message of Black Lives Matter.
A small portion of Kaminsky’s District 9 covers Franklin Square, to the west of Dogwood Avenue, along with the Five Towns and Long Beach. The Republican in this race is Malverne Village Deputy Mayor Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick. Her Democratic opponent is Bellerose Village Mayor Kenneth Moore. Both candidates are campaigning on crime, quality-of-life issues, and keeping taxes from increasing.
For our North Shore readers, plenty of ink has been spilled on the race for Rep. Tom Suozzi’s congressional seat. Democrat Robert Zimmerman of Great Neck is a public relations executive and member of the Democratic National Committee. His Jewish activism includes past positions as president of the Long Island chapter of the American Jewish Committee and the local B’nai Brith. If elected, he promises to speak up against the DSA members of his party and isolationist Republicans, to ensure continued support for Israel.
His Republican opponent, George Santos of Bayside, is an economist. The openly gay son of Brazilian immigrants, he is a self-described “next generation Republican.”
To All Voters
As you prepare to vote, look beyond the partisan affiliations and examine the experience and biographies of the candidates. All have chosen to leave behind their careers to represent you in Albany and Washington. No matter who you vote for, it is important that all Jewish communities come out in large numbers. We are proud to see candidates visit Main Street in Queens, Central Avenue in Cedarhurst, and New Utrecht Avenue in Borough Park, to receive the support of Jewish voters. But the only way that we can be sure that they would visit Hempstead Avenue is if my neighbors vote in large enough numbers to merit their attention.
By Sergey Kadinsky