By Alex Robinson
While the redrawing of state Sen. Toby Stavisky’s (D-Flushing) district shifted its demographic makeup and forced her to relocate from her Whitestone home, she said nothing has changed in her approach to the campaign.
She is now facing a primary challenge from S.J. Jung, a Korean-American activist, as she seeks re-election to an eighth term.
“My strengths are the fact that I have broad experience and broad knowledge. I have worked with a lot of people constructively to get things done,” she said in an interview at TimesLedger Newspapers’ offices.
Stavisky was first elected to represent parts of northeast Queens in the Senate in 1999. She took over from her late husband, Leonard, who had served in the state Legislature for 33 years before his death in the same year she was elected.
She is the only female senator from Queens and sits on a number of committees in the upper chamber, including Higher Education, Finance, Aging and Transportation.
Her priorities for the next legislative session include raising the minimum wage as well as passing the Dream Act, the Women’s Equality Agenda and comprehensive campaign finance reform.
She has made education her primary issue during her time in the Senate, like her husband, a former professor who advocated for public education.
As a graduate of Bronx Science High School and a former Brooklyn Tech teacher, Stavisky said she supports the standardized test for the city’s specialized high schools. Her ally, state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), recently voiced his support of a bill which would broaden the criteria for admissions to the highly selective schools.
“I support the standardized test, but I think the city has to do a much better effort to make children aware the tests exist, particularly in low-income, minority neighborhoods,” she said. “I think they should also start in the fifth- and sixth-grade with better preparation.”
Stavisky said the difference of opinion on the standardized test was the only divergence in policy between Kim and her.
“We’ve got to do a better job of not only notifying the kids, but putting them in the environment where they’ll take the test,” she said.
Stavisky refused to comment on her opponent’s campaign, but said she was concerned over the fact he had not mentioned the Women’s Equality Act, which would provide pay equity for women and codify protections for abortion.
The 10-point piece of legislation was never brought before the Senate for a vote by the upper chamber’s leadership.
“He’s had all sorts of press releases and press conferences on jobs and immigration issues, and we agree on those issues,” she said. “He’s been silent on the Women’s Equality Agenda and I think that’s a major concern.”
Stavisky’s district has been redrawn so that it is more than half Asian and now includes parts of Flushing, Forest Hills, Elmhurst, Fresh Meadows and Bayside.
The incumbent said the new district has not changed the way she campaigns.
“One of the Chinese reporters used to say to me, ‘What is the message for the Chinese community?’ and it’s the message for everybody, that the economy’s important, the minimum wage should be increased, they want good schools for their children. They want affordable healthcare. They want to feel safe in their homes. These are issues that affect everybody,” she said.
“My message is the same and that’s why I have a very broad coalition of support in the Asian community and the non-Asian community,” she added.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.