After heading off one opponent since winning her 2016 race, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Park) will face another Republican challenger gunning for her South Queens and Rockaway district in the Nov. 3 general election.
Though Pheffer Amato won her seat with nearly 60 percent of the vote during the last presidential election, her district stretches over some of the deepest Trump strongholds in Queens including Howard Beach, Broad Channel and the eastern corner of Far Rockaway.
She said that she’s proud of her reputation for working across the aisle and her ability to court the vote of President Trump-supporting constituents.
“You have to represent the community that is there. It’s not these big political philosophies. It’s really about the people and their quality of life,” Pheffer Amato said.
Pheffer Amato first got into politics through her family. Her mother, Queens County Clerk Audrey Pheffer, previously held the assembly seat for over 25 years. After she was elected, they became the first mother-daughter pair to hold the same seat in the Legislature.
In her bid for re-election, the assemblywoman has focused on the dire economic straits of New York State.
“There are so many issues I want to cover as far as resiliency and the protection for our communities, but No. 1 is we’re going to have to recover as a state. This is huge. We’re going to have a $50 billion deficit over two years,” she said.
Pheffer Amato believes recent restrictions of the COVID hot spot designation in Far Rockaway, on top of the economic recession, are going to have effects on the health of small businesses in her district for years. As a salve, she brought up commercial rent relief as one idea.
On the macro scale, one way Pheffer Amato, whose district encompasses Resorts World Casino, envisions generating revenue is through the legalization of sports betting in the state. She also touted a bill she introduced that would tax tech companies that sell consumer data. If passed, New York State would be the first to enact legislation of that sort.
In her three-and-a-half-year tenure in the Legislature, Pheffer Amato pointed to her 9/11 Heroes bills that Gov. Cuomo signed into law last year as her biggest accomplishment. Three that she introduced to the Assembly were aimed at helping to close the gaps in services for 9/11 first responders and their families.
Pheffer Amato cited one in particular that made it easier for volunteers at the World Trade Center site who now work for the state to file claims for sick leave by providing a process for public authorities and municipal corporations outside of New York City to get reimbursed.
“They didn’t have unlimited sick. So I’m sick with cancer. I’m dying. I built up 30 days of sick. But with all my treatments, I’m done with sick. So they would have to either get detached, wouldn’t have health benefits — they didn’t have the same rights,” she said.
Her opponent, Peter Hatzipetros, the founder of a cryptocurrency-focused law firm, has leaned heavily into criticism of the Legislature’s landmark bail reform law last year. He calls his opposition to the legislation a “first priority” on his online platform.
In response, Pheffer Amato first countered that there is no connection between most people released under the reforms and the summer’s spike in shootings and violent crime.
“The conversation about bail reform has nothing to do with violent crimes. There is an uptick. They also said that it is due to gangs recruiting in this time now, when people are home,” she said.
Pheffer Amato, one of the more moderate yes votes on the bail reform and discovery laws, said that jail time shouldn’t boil down to economic factors. But she also described herself to the Chronicle as one of the leaders of the movement to roll certain parts of bail reform back in the changes that passed in the governor’s 2020 budget.
The assemblywoman painted her tenure less on policy wonk terms though, and more as an advocate for her constituents and public servant.
On that note, she promised to persevere with the planned toll rebate program for all Queens residents driving over the Cross Bay Bridge. Pheffer Amato had partnered with state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) to announce the program in spring 2019, but the MTA declined to implement the rebates as soon as it felt the stress of low ridership during the pandemic.
“On a daily basis, how many people we help — that’s the job,” she said.