Albany Beat — November column

Election Aftermath: State Politics And Congress
By: Marc Gronich

The brief narrative about last week’s elections on the state level is that everything remains the same moving into next year’s legislative session.

The Republican-controlled Senate picked up an extra seat in the Buffalo area but could lose a seat on Long Island when the absentee votes are counted next week. A mere 33 votes separate the incumbent from the challenger, with the challenger ahead.

Outright control of the Senate hangs in the balance until that race is decided. The Republicans have 32 seats, including Democrat Simcha Felder, of Boro Park, Brooklyn, who caucuses with the Republicans. The mainline Democrats hold 23 seats and the Independent Democratic Coalition increased its membership to seven seats after two members, Senator Jesse Hamilton (D – Crown Heights) and Senator-elect Marisol Alcantara (D – Washington Heights, Manhattan), have pledged their loyalty to the IDC when session begins anew in January.

The IDC has formed a coalition with the Republicans since 2012 that has tipped the balance of power in the upper house. The average age in the state Senate is 58 and the average tenure for a senator is 10 years.

In the Democratic-dominated Assembly, there will be 18 new faces in the lower house next year. While the final tally has the GOP with a net gain of one seat, the Democrats control the 150-member house with 107 members. The average age of Assembly lawmakers is 55 years old; the average tenure in the Assembly is 11 years.

In Congress, the 27-member New York delegation will have four new faces in Washington. The newcomers replace incumbents from their own party who retired.

One of the most watched races was that of Fordham University Associate Law Professor Zephyr Teachout (D – Clinton, Dutchess County) against attorney and former Assembly Republican leader John Faso (R – Kinderhook, Columbia County), who had two failed attempts at statewide office (comptroller and governor). Faso won the race.

Teachout is a left-wing supporter of the BDS movement against Israel as well as a higher minimum wage, increased spending on public infrastructure, a ban on fracking, an increase in manufacturing jobs, property tax cuts, campaign finance reform, increased investment in rural infrastructure, an end to Common Core and high-stakes testing.

Faso, on the other hand, captured the support of the observant Jewish community, including Agudath Israel of America and several local Chabad centers run by members of the Hecht family.

Rabbi Hanoch Hecht, spiritual leader of the Rhinebeck Jewish Center and director of Chabad of Dutchess County, quickly became a Faso fan.

“He’s a supporter of Israel, a supporter of Jewish values, and the relationship with the Hecht family goes back well over 20 years,” Hecht told The Jewish Press. “I have had many conversations with Faso about Israel and the Iran deal, which he opposed. He’s very upset with the relationship the current president had with Netanyahu and all that has gone over there. He keeps his word and follows through on his commitments.”

Chaskell Bennett, an Agudath Israel trustee, echoed the feeling about Faso. “For our community, not only was John Faso the right choice, he was the obvious choice,” Bennett told The Jewish Press. “He understands the issues we’re discussing locally, domestically and internationally. He was extraordinarily positive on the importance of making sure the American-Israel relationship remains one of the most important relationships America has. He understands the difficulties of tuition-paying parents. He understands the challenges faced by a religious community in terms of being able to practice our religion. He has expressed his support for our ability to live as Orthodox Jews without fear of incitement, without fear of hatred, without fear of anti-Semitism. He spoke about the contribution of the Jewish community to the economy of the state and the importance of the Jewish communities’ investment in the district and there is a sizeable representation within the district.”

Jake Koschitzki, a Flatbush resident who owns two nursing homes in Dutchess County, says Faso is “a mensch. A word by him is a word and he cares about the Jewish people.”

During the presidential primary, Faso was a supporter of Carly Fiorina. Now that Donald Trump is the president-elect, Faso has some advice for the New York real estate mogul:

“We have to be very clear-headed and cautious about what is said because what is said by the U.S. president is paid minute attention to by the rest of the world,” Faso told The Jewish Press.

Trump is said to favor moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an action Faso supports.

“Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is something I’ve supported for a long time,” Faso said. “Each country should be able to designate its own capital and foreign countries with their embassies should respect that designation.”

Faso admits he has to get up to speed on foreign relations.

“The focus of our campaign was on rebuilding the economy and domestic issues but I’m someone who is deeply concerned about international matters and I expect that during the course of my term in Congress I will be able to become much more acquainted with various foreign policy issues,” said Faso.

Although Faso said on “The Jewish View,” a television program taped in Albany, that he has been to Libya and Lebanon, he has yet to set foot on Israeli soil.

According to Koschitzki , Faso is looking forward to making a trip to Israel in the next year or so.

About the Author: Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.