In a city, state and country that is increasingly polarized along party lines, State Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Midwood, Flatbush, Borough Park, Kensington, Sunset Park, Madison, Bensonhurst) is a political anomaly.
Much to the chagrin of Democrats, and particularly “progressive” Democrats, Felder is a registered Democrat who caucuses with the Senate Republicans. Additionally, two years ago, when he was re-elected to the state senate for a third term, he nabbed the Democratic, Republican and Conservative Party lines at the ballot box.
But while political idealogues may disagree with Felder’s party affiliation views, they would be hard-pressed to devalue his solid education credentials and political experience. This includes being a Certified Public Accountant, who holds a Masters of Business Administration degree in Management from the renowned Zicklin School of Business at CUNY’s Baruch College.
Prior to being elected to the state senate, Felder first served as a tax auditor for the City’s Department of Finance, before being elected to the city council for two terms, only to step down from the council to become former City Comptroller John Liu’s Deputy Comptroller for Budget, Accounting, Administration and Information Technology in the New York City Comptroller’s Office.
And now as Felder gears up for the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, KCP sat with him at his Avenue J district office to discuss his views and his work.
“Party loyalists, no matter if they are Democrats or Republicans, have tunnel vision, and it’s almost as if the party is some some religious obligation. I don’t believe that and I think more and more New Yorkers are tired of being loyal to a party. What most New Yorkers want is improvement in quality of life issues and making sure the services needed are provided, whether its mass transit issues, housing issues and education issues.
“But most important is safety and security, and that’s why I’m pushing to have a cop in front of every public school. It’s not about patrolling hallways. It’s about a cop in front of school to make sure a terrorist, predator or sick individual is not able to come in and kill kids,” said Felder, who recently introduced such a bill, which passed the senate, but it languishing in the assembly.
Speaking of legislation, Felder took issue both with the media and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for putting out as story that the recent state budget was held up while he successfully lobbied for a provision helping yeshivas – and other private schools – in which special standards for schools with especially long school days, bilingual programs and nonprofit status – could get education equivalent standards for things like critical thinking.
“Contrary to public belief the legislation really creates a pathway for non public schools to provide a rigorous religious education as well as a sound secular education by mandating that the basic foundations, writing, reading, arithmetic, history and science are core elements of everyone having a sound education, and that in addition to a lot of the skills that a child gets, social or emotional skills, critical thinking and analytical skills is a winning formula for getting a good education as well,” said Felder.
“Every child deserves to get the best education possible, but who but their parents is best to decide where it will come from, whether it be public, charter, vocational, private or home schooling,” he added.
And while Felder is certainly listening to the many yeshivas in his district, he does not discount the need for religious Jewish children that may need alternative type learning situations and funds a number of local non-profits such as OHEL and MASK (Mothers Aligned Saving Kids), whose mission includes helping the orthodox Jewish community deal with kids that have emotional issues including drug dependence and opioid addiction problems.
“We are no different from any other community in trying to deal with [the opioid crisis] favoring so many of our children today,” said Felder.
Another issue that Felder is on the forefront with is affordable housing in that he recently spearheaded the first phase of a plan to develop the airspace above the freight rail line that runs along 61st Street from 8th Avenue to Fort Hamilton Avenue into residential housing. The second phase of the plan will see the housing extend to 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th avenues.
Felder also dismissed the organization NY Senate District 17 for Progress, which alleges they are apolitical, despite having a number of members associated with the Working Families Party.
“There is nothing for me to say [about the organization]. We don’t spend our time dealing with political games,” said Felder.
“Anyone who calls or comes into this office that has an issue in the neighborhood or in Albany we try to address. We have a great staff spending all day long with such a variety of problems. I’m very proud of the number of people we service daily. We just completed a heat assistance program where more that $30,000 in grants was awarded to people who can’t afford to pay their heating bills,” he added.
Felder said his his much paraphrased saying that he owes his loyalty above all to God, his wife, his constituents and to the residents of New York still stands.
‘I’m very proud to be a Othrodox Jew, but never ever used that to define what this job is all about, which is to help people, irrespective of their background or party affiliation,” he said.