Assembly candidate Michael Simanowitz wants more technology in the classroom and less graffiti on the streets.
And while he will champion what his boss, Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn, accomplished in Albany, especially health legislation, he will be his own man. In a sitdown interview at the Queens Chronicle office on Monday, Simanowitz, the frontrunner for the seat, discussed why he is running for the 27th AD, following Mayersohn’s announcement last week that she is retiring after serving for 28 years.
Because she is retiring in the middle of her term, the governor must call a special election — expected to be sometime in June — in which each party picks a candidate. There is no primary. Since the district is highly Democratic, the chances of a Republican opponent winning is considered slim at best. As of press time, the GOP had not named a nominee.
In Simanowitz’s case, the selection will be made by the four Democratic district leaders who include him, Mayersohn, former Councilman Martin Povman and Charlotte Scheman. “I’m confident I’ll get the other’s support,” the candidate said. “I’m a member of Povman’s club,” the John F. Kennedy Regular Democratic Club.
He denied speculation that Mayersohn resigned now to make it easier for him to get elected. “I don’t believe that,” he said. “She expected to finish the term and only after returning to Albany realized it was time to go.”
In announcing her immediate retirement, Mayersohn said she wants to spend more time with her family and that there were no health issues involved.
Although he admitted the special election does help him because there won’t be other Democrats opposing him, Simanowitz said “This is not a Manton. There’s a primary in a year. And she was definitely not nudged to leave by the Queens Democrats.”
He was referring to the actions of the late Congressman Tom Manton, representing the Bronx and Queens, who stepped down when it was too late to hold an election, paving the way for current Rep. Joe Crowley to take the seat.
Manton filed for re-election in July 1998 and then announced a week later he wasn’t running. He convinced Queens Democrats to nominate Crowley in his place.
Simanowitz only had praise for Mayersohn, who he has worked for the last 14 years. Those years as her chief of staff have given him valuable experience to take over the job, he said. “There is no learning curve for me. I’ve dealt with agencies and communities and they know me, too.”
Active with the 107th Precinct auxiliary police since he was 15, Simanowitz has risen to the rank of deputy inspector. “Regarding law and order, my pet peeves are graffiti and the State Liquor Authority,” he said. “Many say that the proliferation of bars and graffiti are a barometer of what goes on in a community.”
He would like to see stiffer penalties for graffiti since today, “there’s no incentive to stop” and even jail time if it’s a recurring issue.
Regarding the SLA, he says it takes months for the state agency to investigate and decide on infractions and not many licenses are revoked. He wants to give the NYPD the right to pull licenses.
Regarding education, the candidate is a big promoter of technology in the classroom. “Videoconferencing, like we did in Richmond Hill, where students spoke to astronauts on the Space Station, is the kind of stuff that should be going on,” he said. “It’s the wave of the future.”
The 27th District takes in College Point, parts of Flushing and Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, Briarwood, Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill. “It’s a very diverse area, but everyone wants the same things: clean and safe streets and good schools,” Simanowitz said.
If elected, he wants to tackle the traffic problems in landlocked College Point and he would “love to see” another police precinct in Queens.
Another major focus will be on continuing the fine constituent services started by Mayersohn, he said. “Elected officials are there to help them. It’s very important.”
Fundraising doesn’t seem to be an issue for the candidate, who already has $62,000 in his war chest left over from an aborted run for the City Council in 2008. He was aiming for Jim Gennaro’s seat when the councilman ran for state Senate, opposing incumbent Frank Padavan. When Gennaro lost the race and remained in the council and then term limits were extended, Simanowitz withdrew.
Born in Forest Hills, he attended area yeshivas and went on to Queens College. Before joining Mayersohn’s staff Simanowitz worked for Touro Law School and College and the city’s Housing Preservation and Development Department.
He and his wife, Jennifer, a speech teacher, live with their four children in Electchester. The candidate is also active in the youth department of his synagogue, Young Israel of Hillcrest.
Simanowitz said his family is excited about him running. The only problem, as he sees it, is who is going to make the meals at home while he’s in Albany.
“I do a lot of the cooking now, so it looks like my wife will get stuck,” he said jokingly.