Just because state Sen. Toby Stavisky has been in office for 14 years doesn’t mean she’s not fighting to stay there.
Stavisky, 76, will face businessman and Korean-American activist S.J. Jung, 50, in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary for the 16th District Senate seat in Albany.
“I never take a race for granted,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m not just campaigning now, I do it all year-round. I’m there, not just at campaign time.”
In 2009, Jung ran for the Flushing City Council seat, losing by only 183 votes in the Democratic primary. He said recently he has learned from that defeat, now having a multiethnic coalition fanning the district that includes Woodside, Elmhurst, Forest Hills, Flushing and Oakland Gardens.
But Stavisky has her supporters as well. On Tuesday, she gathered with Democratic elected officials from Queens in a rally in Forest Hills for her re-election. It was Women’s Equality Day and it was pointed out that she is the only female state senator from Queens.
Among those offering their support were Borough President Melinda Katz, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic of Fresh Meadows and City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz of Forest Hills.
“... I am troubled that the birthplace of the women’s rights movement is the same state that to this day has not passed the Women’s Equality Agenda,” Stavisky said. “Our state deserves better and I am determined to pass the WEA when I return to Albany because it is good for women, it is good for families and it is good for New York.”
In a sitdown interview with the Queens Chronicle staff earlier in the day, the incumbent said jobs and the economy, education and women’s equality are the topics that need to be addressed in Albany.
A former teacher and member of the Senate Higher Education Committee, Stavisky said she’s concerned whether there will be enough seats for all children in the universal pre-kindergarten program to start this year.
On other education topics, the candidate says the state Legislature will “have to take a close look” at mayoral control of the school system when it comes up for a vote in two years. “We should be looking at what other states do and what are the best practices,” she said.
Stavisky believes there is too much testing and that it’s more important for children to learn facts, rather than just prepare for state exams.
She remains, however, a supporter of the single test to get into specialized high schools, saying “Schools should prepare students better for that test. Many minority students don’t know the schools exist. Don’t lower the bridge, raise the water.”
Regarding her accomplishments in Albany, she is most proud of working on tax abatement for co-ops. “I was very involved in that,” she added.
Although the Senate passed some ethics reform, Stavisky believes more action needs to be taken. In addition, she wants an increase to the minimum wage and passage of the DREAM Act, to help undocumented immigrant children get state financial aid for college.
She is a proponent of cleaning up the Flushing waterfront and would like to see more affordable housing and additional parkland there.
Stavisky has also gotten involved in the city’s controversial move that turned the former Pan Am Motel in Elmhurst into a homeless shelter. “I am very disappointed on how the city handled it,” she said. “They didn’t notify anyone and there are almost 700 people there now.
“These are people facing problems,” she added. “We have to make the best of it, but I do feel sorry for the nearby homeowners.”
She still wants to know how many in the shelter have criminal records and are sex offenders and believes not having cooking facilities there is an impossible situation. “The residents are complaining about the food that’s catered in.”
Stavisky’s district now has a majority Asian population at 53 percent, and she said she has always been responsive to the needs of Asian Americans. “You can be sensitive to others’ needs and I am,” she said.