On Thursday afternoon, July 21, State Senator Leroy Comrie met with the Vaad Harabonim of Queens (VHQ), representing the Ashkenazic rabbinic leadership of Queens, at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel on 73rd Avenue in Kew Gardens Hills. The District 14 senator first began in the role in January of 2015 and is currently running unopposed for the open seat due to redistricting, to represent parts of Kew Gardens, Forest Hills, and Kew Gardens Hills. Although much of the city is seeing US House of Representatives and State Senate races, there is no scheduled primary for this race in the first of its kind second primary on August 23, as Comrie has no opponents. In the upcoming general election on November 8, Comrie is again running unopposed, as there is no Republican challenger. Since declaring his re-election, Comrie has held a strong presence throughout the Jewish community of Queens, appearing on a consistent basis to meet his new constituents.
The VHQ meeting was indicative of the respect that the community has for the senator and brought out strong voices of advocacy for Queens Jewry in their discussions about rampant crime in the area, and the DOE’s oversight of our schools and yeshivos. During the meeting, Comrie agreed to the concept of employing a Jewish liaison and to maintaining a local satellite office, and he agreed to mobile office hours similar to State Senator Joseph Addabbo at the Wasserman Supermarket.
Rabbi Avrohom Hecht, Executive Director of Project Lead and organizer of the event, recalled the senator as chair of the Youth Committee during his time in the New York City Council. Comrie served 12 years there, during which he held the title of Deputy Majority Leader and the Chairman of the Queens Delegation, while also holding other leadership roles. In those roles, he had broad oversight and direct access over the city’s budget process and legislative agenda, often negotiating major concessions between the City Council and the Mayor. At the time, he was made an extraofficial member of the Jewish caucus by its membership and forged longstanding relationships with citywide leaders. Comrie, who was forced out due to term limits, then served under Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and resigned to run for State Senate.
“I’m a simple person; I like helping people,” stated Comrie. As a community influencer, I can attest that this statement is fully truthful. Otherwise, I would never have been able to establish a great rapport with his office.
Rabbi Chaim Schwartz, rav of Congregation Ohr Bechor HaLevi and Executive Vice President of VHQ, recalled the senator’s intervention in an auto broker deal that would have essentially voided the business of third-party leasing that many frum families use for their vehicles. The bill would have required lessors to obtain a motor vehicle dealer’s license, post a $250,000 bond, and obtain multiple bids. Comrie understood that a minority community like Orthodox Jews benefits from dealing with someone who knows the language, customs, and is a member of the community.
Rabbi Herschel Welcher, rav of the hosting shul and former President of the VHQ, acknowledged that the senator comes from a life of faith and stressed the importance of coming to address another faith-based organization. Senator Comrie is a lifelong member of Saint Albans the Martyr Episcopal Church, and before he was a public official, he was elected to serve as president of his local community school board. Rabbi Welcher expounded on the roles that rabbis play in the Orthodox arena and the importance of security. Rabbi Welcher pointed to a foreign entity that believes in the BDS movement and went so far as to prepare a map of Jewish organizations in the United States as a so-called map for terrorists to seek out and destroy every Jewish community. The rav noted that we house 100,000 Jewish schoolchildren and look to the government for financial support to promote safety in our synagogues and institutions.
Rabbi Welcher also stated that the New York State Department of Education (DOE) should not be allowed to interfere with our education. “Illiteracy is not known in the Jewish community, even before we immigrated to New York.” The rav noted that Orthodox Jews are well-represented throughout all careers and that it is “deeply disturbing” to hear that the DOE is meddling in our ways. “The DOE is trying to dictate what and how we should teach,” added District Leader Shimi Pelman. “This is a fallacy of the educational system.” Comrie wholeheartedly agreed with these sentiments, calling the actions of the DOE to mingle with yeshivos and private schools “ridiculous,” explaining, “The government tends to make everyone act the same, even if makes no sense in real world.”
Comrie recently met with yeshivah principals Rabbi Binyamin Kessler of Yeshiva Ketana of Queens, Rabbi Don Pacht of Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe, and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Tropper, the Director of Operations at Bnos Malka Academy, in a meeting arranged by David Pollack, Director of Public Policy & Security at JCRC-NY. “I understand that parents aren’t spending $6,000 [for their kids] to work at McDonald’s,” acknowledged the senator, who was later informed that tuition is generally much higher.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, rav of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and former President of the VHQ, brought up the rampant anti-Semitism at CUNY, specifically at the law school. “The community should not have a negative experience with Queens College.” Comrie pledged to work with State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education. Comrie spoke of a letter sent to CUNY chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez, and that he will use his relationship with the educationalist to get action and potentially use funding to teach tolerance. There are more Jews in New York than anywhere else besides Israel, and parading at college to get rid of Jews is unacceptable. At Queens College alone, there is an enrollment of 18,000 students, a third of whom are Jewish and are uncomfortable walking the campus’ quad. “We need to see more of what the community wants, not to start anarchy on a public level,” Comrie said.
Regarding the DSA [Democratic Socialists of America], Comrie noted that the group’s hatred for Jews reaches to other minorities, as they have never chosen an African American for their slate. “The DSA makes noise but has no effective legislation.” A case in point is the death of climate reform because whatever the DSA demands, the opposite usually occurs.
Other Vaad rabbanim in attendance included Rabbi Hayim Schwartz, Executive Vice President of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim and Secretary of the VHQ; Rabbi Aryeh Sokoloff, rav of the Kew Gardens Synagogue Adath Yeshurun and former President of the VHQ; and Rabbi Yossi Mendelson, rav of Machane Chodosh.
On redistricting, Pelman explained that we are now involved in a battle regarding the new proposed lines for the New York City Council in our area. The state had proposed not to deviate more than four percent from the current lines, but left options open to the court that were unfavorable to the communities. “Several shuls, who for 40 years have been in City Council District 24, have now been cut out.” Pelman added that without a primary or Republican rival, Comrie “can’t be beaten, and he can be trusted. We can now come to the senator on a better level.”
On crime, Comrie simply stated: “Everyone sees what’s going on.” On Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the senator informed us, “Bragg is not the same person as when he was in the City Council, and he can only be removed if he is caught doing something egregious.” Comrie served with Bragg on the New York City Council.
Rabbi Welcher expressed that, following conversations with a high-profile justice, he was able to confirm that when people are brought to judges, they arrogantly say, “You can’t do anything to me.” Comrie agreed that there is a lot of reticent on the legislative body, and moreover, “a lot of rulings are not correct. Recidivism people get arrested and are back out only to get arrested again. An innocent person should not get caught up in the judicial system.” Comrie said that he has an open communication with DA Katz, who hosts regular training for elected officials to discuss bail reform, and she stated that she is also frustrated with the current state of affairs.
Comrie expressed sadness that Glenn Hirsch, the Briarwood man accused of murdering a restaurant worker in April, was released on bail by a Queens Criminal Court judge after posting bail of $500,000, despite calls from elected officials and the DA’s office to avoid such an outcome. Comrie clarified that the legislators are still seeking a middle ground of bail reform that would stop reoffender and institute bail for those who are caught stealing or robbing. The senator mentioned his disgust with the defund the police movement and remarked how police officers are leaving the force because of the disrespect, despite the efforts of NYC Mayor Eric Adams. “We need better police presence. The officers are demoralized.” It was explained that it would take another year for the anger from police officers to the mayor to dissipate.
Comrie expressed his solidarity with Assembly Member Weprin against congestion pricing that would charge a toll to drivers traveling south of 60th Street in Manhattan. “In 2018, the program got lots of support and nobody knew what it entailed. I do not see how it will ever match costs,” said Comrie. “It appears like an across-the-board wealth tax.”
On the continued expansion of bike lanes, Comrie agreed that many do not adhere to the rules and that a couple of times daily he must avoid jaywalkers or cyclists breaking rules. It was stated that, in addition to motorists being informed on how to look out for cyclists and pedestrians, the walkers and bikers need to “cross at the green and not in between.” Comrie proposed to “begin at the elementary level and get enforcement for jaywalking, as well as making this part of the schooling curriculum.”
“I got into politics to get government out of the people’s way and to make things happen. I strive to deepen my relationship with this community and to help advocate for your needs. Every day I work with my staff to find joy in the job and get government responsiveness, while creating opportunities to access government. The community must be unafraid of the government as it is all about being of service, listening to the people, and respecting cultures,” declared the senator.
It was an honor to attend this meeting alongside Yaakov Serle, co-publisher of the Queens Jewish Link and Bukharian Jewish Link, and Alan Sherman, community advisor. I wish Senator Comrie and his staff much success in spreading the good word of the Jewish community, which he is slated to represent, and continuing the conversation with other facets of our neighborhood.