QJL: Why did you decide to seek a seat in the City Council as our representative?
LS: I am a proud member of the Jewish faith who grew up in Forest Hills. I have been active in the community for over 30 years, and served on various community and civic organizations, including Community Board 6, the 112th Precinct Council, the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, and many others.
I am running for City Council because it is time for a change. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the glaring inequities that exist within our city. New York City has been devastated by the virus, and it has laid bare the need for bold structural changes to how we approach health care, housing, public safety, and nearly every aspect of how city government interfaces with our lives. Now more than ever, it is vitally important to have strong voices in the City Council representing Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Rego Park, and Richmond Hill.
I have dedicated my personal life and professional career to community causes.
An attorney by training, and a graduate of the “Senior Executives in State and Local Government” leadership program at the Harvard Kennedy School, I have devoted my career to public service and held a broad range of managerial positions in government, private industry, and the non-profit arena.
I want to use my professional, government, and community experience, and expertise, to take New York City to the next level (especially after the current pandemic) and ensure that those most vulnerable are provided the services and support they need. While I have done a great deal as a community leader, having the influence that comes with being an elected official will help to increase the level of service I can provide to my constituents.
I believe my current position as a Senior Community Liaison to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, along with my previous government roles, including my tenure as an executive within the city’s public hospital system, provide a background and expertise that will serve me well as a member of the City Council.
QJL: Your election would place you as our only Queens elected Jewish official in the City Council. Can you give our readership a few ideas on your vision for the district?
LS: My vision for our district in three-fold. I will work to deliver world class, affordable healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest healthcare crisis of our lifetime and, tragically, it has exposed the deep vulnerability of the borough of Queens. Over the past two decades, Queens has lost an alarming number of hospitals and other healthcare resources. The consequences have been devastating. As a Council Member, I will push legislation that will require all development projects under land use review to include a hospital impact assessment in addition to the required environmental assessment. Not only are we in desperate need of additional hospital capacity, but we need a healthcare system that can provide affordable preventive and primary care, and also have the ability to react to acute issues such as the current pandemic. We also need to make sure that our healthcare facilities are culturally and linguistically sensitive and can provide information in other languages, including Chinese. As someone who has had first-hand experience working in the healthcare field (ten years at NYC Health + Hospitals), and who has worked on health issues in the City Council, I will move these issues to the forefront to ensure our lives aren’t put in jeopardy because of the government’s inability to make smart decisions about our public health.
I will work to provide our students with a good education. I support keeping the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). I also support the City Council Speaker’s proposal to add new specialized high schools to each borough to expand opportunities for our kids. With regard to education in general, our children only get one shot at a great education. Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on our children’s learning. Moving forward, we need to afford parents and teachers alike the support they need to ensure that all students are given every opportunity to succeed.
Finally, I will work to support our small businesses. As a member of the Council, I will streamline regulations that impede small businesses from succeeding, thereby creating jobs at a local level. As part of this, commercial rents need to be examined. In almost every Council, a bill has been introduced to help regulate commercial rents. I support the most current bill, the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. It needs to be revisited, especially given the current pandemic and economic crisis. Without small businesses, the City’s ability to provide stable employment to all the City’s communities is limited. I will also use my office as a liaison between local businesses and NYC Small Business Services and the Federal Small Business Administration (in coordination with our local Member of Congress, Grace Meng) to help small business owners with applications for services and programs.
QJL: What are your feelings about having a jail erected in Kew Gardens?
LS: I do not support a jail in Kew Gardens. I believe our community should have a say in whatever happens in our district. Our community deserves a voice in the process and the ability to shape what happens here.
QJL: What plans do you have in store to minimize lawbreaking in our district?
LS: The primary responsibility of government is to make people feel safe. I will partner with our new Mayor to make public safety and justice a priority. I will also make sure the NYPD is more accountable to our communities.
QJL: Mayor de Blasio just withdrew from the Gifted and Talented program. What are your feelings when it comes to this agenda?
LS: Our children only get one chance at a good education. I am committed to expanding gifted and talented programs to all elementary schools so that every child, regardless of ZIP Code, will have access to the same opportunities.
QJL: Do you believe support of the BDS movement is antisemitic?
LS: I do not support BDS. While I am an advocate for the constitutional right to free speech and believe everyone has the right to be critical of a policy or government they disagree with, the BDS movement, as a whole, refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and has become a safe haven for antisemitism. And as such I will support Council resolutions expressing solidarity with Israel and opposing BDS.
QJL: What Jewish organizations in the district are you familiar with or have worked with and which you would consider funding?
LS: I am familiar with many organizations in the community, including Tomchei Shabbos, Masbia, Project Lead, and Commonpoint, among others. While it is not yet known what the future city budget will be, I will work hard to make sure that the important programs in our district, especially those that address food insecurity and housing are funded appropriately.
By Shabsie Saphirstein