This past Sunday, lifelong Kew Gardens resident Avi Cyperstein, 35, stood in front of Queens Borough Hall to declare his candidacy for the 29th City Council District, covering Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill, and Forest Park. The district is presently represented by Karen Koslowitz, who is term-limited. “We stand here today amid a pandemic of unprecedented proportions. I am a first responder and healthcare professional for over ten years,” he said. “I felt that I could and should do more for the people that I care about and the community around us.”
For his entire life, Cyperstein has been participating in community matters, learning from his father Aaron, a longtime advisor to Melinda Katz, Queens County District Attorney and former Borough President; and the Legal & External Affairs director at the nonprofit Met Council. But he has worn many other hats on the community scene concerning schools, healthcare, and nonprofit work.
Aaron’s parents, Nosson Zvi a”h and Sarah Cyperstein, are Queens staples as well, first living in Kew Gardens Hills and then moving to Kew Gardens and joining as founding members of Khal Adas Yereim, Rabbi Teitelbaum’s Shul. Avi’s other grandparents, Moshe a”h and Judy Sukenik, also of Kew Gardens, are respected pillars of the neighborhood.
Charity and giving back to the community comes second nature to Avi, who watched his grandfather, the elder Sukenik, help young couples get their lives started by offering steep rent subsidies for apartments in his Kew Gardens apartment building, the same structure in which Avi began his early years.
Today, the younger Cyperstein works in marketing for healthcare companies, and volunteers at Hatzolah, Tomchei Shabbos, and is a cofounder of Chaverim. “It was created in 2008 with the support of Jack Friedman, who also worked in healthcare,” Cyperstein said. With nearly 100 trained volunteers, Chaverim assists drivers experiencing problems with their cars, earning their reputation as the “Jewish AAA.”
Educated in local schools, Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael for elementary school and Yeshiva Shaar HaTorah-Grodno for high school, Cyperstein was first exposed to the medical field at the latter institution. Eli Rowe, the noted rescue paramedic, taught an eleventh grade EMT class that planted the seeds for a passion for healthcare and volunteerism. Years later, Avi’s grandfather, the elder Sukenik, told his grandson, “When you have an opportunity to help, you help,” regarding Avi joining Hatzolah as the need for Kew Gardens volunteers arose. The journey with the organization continues, as Avi plans his work schedule around his Hatzolah obligations. Moreover, Avi has found comfort in his dedication and responsibility to his community, using it to push forward when personal times are hard.
In his first work opportunity, Cyperstein oversaw the homeless division for Bronx apartments rented out under Section 8’s shelter program. The now defunct “Pilgrim Group” was the initiative designed to integrate families trying to get back on their feet. Cyperstein recalls an encounter with an immigrant family. “The couple worked tirelessly at several jobs, earning meager pay. When it was time to collect the rent payment, the husband would call me into the humble apartment, taking pride as he counted out the few hundred dollars. The man was living the American dream, delighted to have a roof over his head, despite a leak in the ceiling. I realized that small steps and the right opportunities were all our neighbors needed to be vital parts of society.”
In more recent times, Avi has worked in the healthcare field first as the director of operations for two Bronx senior facilities and later in the marketing and sales of medical equipment. During the initial period, Avi oversaw the restoration of a facility inflicted with bed bugs and developed a deep appreciation for seniors and the care required to keep them safe. “I gained knowledge for the value of life and how to treat patients as people and not numbers, as is often done in the political world,” explained Avi. In the latter career, Avi expanded his skills, learning the intricacies of Medicaid and Medicare, often educating the doctors and social workers how to best help those in their care and provide stellar care without the fraud that has notoriously plagued the industry. “To this day, I have retained client records to reflect on, as accomplishments for those I have helped throughout my career,” noted Cyperstein.
Recognizing the sizable senior population of the district covering Rego Park, Forest Hills, and Kew Gardens, Cyperstein noted that his experience working with seniors has given him an understanding of city services that relate to their health, housing, and recreation. His abilities in assisting formerly homeless individuals transition to permanent housing with their voucher applications and inspecting apartments assigned to them suits him to understand the needs of everyday folks.
“As New Yorkers watched Governor Cuomo insist on sending back sick COVID-19 patients to their facilities, I knew I had to stand up to failing leadership,” explains Cyperstein on what pushed him to run. “Prior to the pandemic, it appeared easy to be recognized as a good leader within a good economy. In the harsh experiences we are going through now, we see leaders not executing the right decisions. If only the government would have put political egos aside and inquired of those entrenched in this line of work, possibly the outcome would have been different.”
With a hotel across the street from Borough Hall sheltering the homeless amid opposition from neighbors fearing crime, Cyperstein said that he had reached out to its management to establish dialogue with neighbors and civic groups. The city turned to the hotel as a socially-distant alternative to homeless shelters, which brought income to the hotel. But this past summer, two shooting incidents at this site and reports of drug sales and assaults surfaced. Cyperstein also expressed full opposition to the mayor’s plan to relocate inmates from Rikers Island to an expanded borough-based jail tower behind Queens Criminal Court that is next to Borough Hall. “This jail is a complete waste of money and designed only to make a political statement,” said Cyperstein.
The ongoing mental health crisis is another core task Cyperstein hopes to undertake. Avi has a deep understanding of teenage and adult substance abuse and has helped many successfully recover throughout the country. The pandemic has only exacerbated this emergency, and Cyperstein will address a recovery head-on and provide hope for the future.