48th Council District Candidate Interview: Steve Saperstein


Editor’s Note: This is the second of two profiles/interviews of the two candidates running for the 48th City Council District.

Republican candidate Steve Saperstein seeks to unseat Councilmember Chaim Deutsch (D-Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay) as representative of southern Brooklyn’s 48th Council District this coming November 7. The native Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach resident also works as a special education teacher, and cites stronger public schools and parks as among the primary factors motivating his campaign.

We spoke with Saperstein on why he’s running, what’s next if he’s elected, and why residents should vote for him. Do his goals match yours? Let us know in the comments! (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Kings County Politics: Why do you want to continue to serve as councilmember of the 48th District?

Saperstein: The birth of my daughter got me thinking, “What kind of Brooklyn and NYC will she grow up in?” It’s scary. Right now, I’m concerned about the status quo. I feel the current councilman is not addressing concerns of community, particularly strong schools, the homeless situation, and the accessibility/transportation issue. I believe the de Blasio/Deutsch agenda is killing my neighborhood.

Steve Saperstein with constituents. Photo contributed from the Saperstein campaign.

KCP: What do you believe are the most important issues in this district to address? Why?

Saperstein: One, we want strong schools. I’m a teacher and realize the importance of investing in education and making sure we have quality schools in our district. I think it’s crazy that if you live in Manhattan Beach, there’s no guarantee that you can send your child to that elementary school. I feel we can improve funding to these schools for technology initiatives. There are federal grants we can apply for and working with. I’m a special ed teacher but also have administrative license, so I know how to work with administrators and parents. Education will be my biggest impact/focus. Children are our future. One of the City Council committees I’d like to be on is the Education Committee. I’d like to look at school zoning and why certain schools are not rated 10. All schools should be as good as the best ones.

Secondly, seniors. We are a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) and have to make sure they can afford to live here with their families. Many are renters. There are many unscrupulous landlords taking advantage of elderly people. I knock on doors in Brighton Beach and hear horror stories.

Also, homelessness impacts the community psychologically. There’s even a Facebook  group called “Save Homecrest Playground” and there was a complaint about vagrants under the highway. This was 14 weeks ago, the councilmember responded he’ll let people know, but then nothing happened. It’s laughable to me that he put out in his mailer that he has innovative policies. There’s nothing innovative about letting people sleep on the streets in this weather and embarrass themselves. It just goes to the overall failed policies of Deutsch and de Blasio. We need to get these people what they need. I’m working with Republican mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis and her plan to get people on the right track.

Also, the opioid epidemic is causing families to lose their children. When you drop out of school, there’s no options and you turn to drugs.

KCP: What are you most proud of in your work?

Saperstein: It’s that one-on-one impact. I work with special needs populations who are outsiders, making sure that they, under the law, have access to curriculum, and advocating for them while making sure they can advocate for themselves. Just like a city councilman needs to do, being an advocate for their community. I’ll have an open office.

KCP: What are your thoughts on property taxes?

Saperstein: Why do people here pay more than in Park Slope? We need a different system that determines tax. We shouldn’t have to pay more than the mayor pays. Lots of middle class families are getting priced out.

KCP: What are your thoughts on party boats in Sheepshead Bay?

Saperstein: They swept it under the rug and claimed boats would be eliminated, but there were no specifics. I bet there will still be party boats come April, the same status quo. The only reason why Councilmember Deutsch decided to do something is because of the viral video. This issue isn’t a new issue; it’s been going on for many years. I get why he did it, but that’s classic politicians promising things. I feel like I’m someone who attended local schools here and understand the need of the people here and care about the entire district, not just specific issues.

Steve Saperstein with an elderly constituent. Photo from the Saperstein campaign.

KCP: How about Sandy recovery funding?

Saperstein: The Build It Back program — many families have still not fully returned to their homes. There’s still no real plan for storm resilience, so God forbid we have an Irma or Maria, we would not be prepared for that here.

KCP: What do you think about police coverage in the district?

Saperstein: With increases in homelessness, petty crime and drug addiction, there’s no question our police are overworked. I will work to make sure our cops have the resources to keep our district safe. I do give Deutsch credit as crime has gone down in the district, but the assaults on seniors have risen, and sex crimes are on the rise. So we need more police. The 61 Precinct aren’t being allowed to do their jobs.

KCP: How will you bring senior and affordable housing to the district?

Saperstein: We have to make sure these families can afford to live here with their families. We need to have better relationships with our state assembly and senate.

KCP: What is your stance on immigration issues in both the 48th Council District and the city?

Saperstein: We need to find a balance between immigrants coming here in a legal and safe way, and public safety. If you’re coming here and are peaceful, contributing to quality of life, there’s a place for you here, but there are laws and you have to follow them. We’re a nation of laws and are still a country at war. I’m for common sense. If you’re part of the MS-13 gang, de Blasio’s blanket policy protects them, and we need to kick them out. I stand with Malliotakis on [opposing] the sanctuary city policy.

KCP: Will you institute participatory budgeting?

Saperstein: There’s no question residents should have a voice. I would implement it. I have no idea why the current councilman hasn’t done this. If you follow the money, if you donate to his campaign, you’ll get discretionary funding. Not that the organizations aren’t worthy, but the optics are terrible. That’s why I’m also the Reform Party candidate because if you’re accepting donations, you can’t turn around and donate to that specific organization. And then those organizations go out and say vote for him or else we’ll lose the money. It’s unjust. I will be transparent in where the money goes.

KCP: How would you go about getting more funding and services for the community?

Saperstein: It’s just being an advocate, working together with community partners behind an initiative. In Manhattan Beach, there’s a bath house they want to build a community center there. Why not? These are big picture ideas. The neighborhood for so long was really ignored and finally some funding came through, but food scraps seem like a big deal.

Also, I will work with my partners in the Assembly and Senate to get bills done. From what I’ve seen, there is no synergy between the current councilmember and Senator and Assemblyman because there are separate press conferences for the same news. There’s a lot of tension between Assemblymember Cymbrowitz and Councilmember Deutsch. Just look at the party boats issue. Deutsch is always late for the party.

So I would work with community partners and leaders. The southern part of the district has unfortunately not been a beneficiary.

KCP: How do you approach and manage work-life balance?

Saperstein: I have a young child at home and am a teacher full-time. So right after work, I’m at the campaign office, making phone calls and knocking on doors. I think being an educator has made me realize the impact we have on children. Looking at my parents and grandparents, seeing the hard work and sacrifice that they made, I see it’s our duty as the next generation to protect them and make sure they can live out their golden years and make sure the city won’t turn that upside down. My plans are resourceful and practical. You can just look outside and feel it in your bones that things are getting back to days before Giuliani and Bloomberg. This councilman may not realize it, but he’s part of the problem. We’re expecting great things in November. People value common sense, no matter their party, and I’m a guy who will shake things up and not follow the status quo. So the wild card is will people come out and vote? We’re excited and highly optimistic.

KCP: Why should residents vote for you?

Saperstein: I’m from the community, attended local schools, and am someone who is going to speak up against Mayor de Blasio — I’m not gonna be his pal. That alone will make me a more attractive candidate, just from a policy perspective. Personally, I bring my education, my personality, and my plans not for just the next four years. My initiatives will really make this a better place 10-15 years down the road. I’m invested in the community.

KCP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Saperstein: I think that this is an important election. I believe that the people of the 48th District really have an opportunity to make a difference and I believe it will show in this election.