By Mark Hallum
Seven-time incumbent, state Sen, Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) is running again and says the issues which bring her back this time around are affordable housing, campaign ethics, making higher education more accessible and alleviating congestion along the No. 7 train.
Stavisky entered politics when her husband Leonard, a longtime state senator in the same district, died in 1999. Since then she has been a fierce advocate for women’s rights and creating opportunities for the immigrant community in Queens.
She is facing S.J. Jung in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary for the second time. He challenged her in 2014, when she won 60 percent of the vote.
Limiting outside income for candidates and elected officials is a key point for Stavisky, who sees campaign finance as a major issue for keeping democratic process fair for all. Closing the LLC loophole for candidates to receive contributions beyond the legal limit is a priority she has set and has the support of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. This gray area of the law treats LLCs as individuals, allowing contributors to set up multiple business entities to funnel funds from the same source to a candidate.
Affordable housing is an issue Stavisky believes will see action within the next year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo put $2 billion in the state budget for affordable housing and the Senate approved the motion, Stavisky said. However, legislators are still undecided as to where the housing funds will be utilized.
“I think there’s enough pressure now with the homeless to decide what they’re going to do with the money,” she said, a reference to New York City’s record number of homeless.
Making the Senior Citizen Rent Increase program available for renters with higher level of income will see improvement to affordable house, according to Stavisky. SCRI credits landlords for one-third of an applicant’s rent from city funds and allows seniors access to good housing. Stavisky said fewer seniors are eligible for SCRI because their income is too high, but not enough to match what they pay for rent.
Stavisky has seen progress for improving the living conditions at Pan Am homeless shelter in Elmhurst by enduring each room has a kitchen, as well as having a playground on the property and having added security for residents.
According to Stavisky, she has worked to break up the congestion at the Flushing-Main Street station on the 7 by finding the capital funds to add another entrance on Prince Street. During rush hour, this thoroughfare is overburdened with foot traffic to the point where pedestrians flow is at a stand-still. A five-year capital plan is what will be needed to make this goal a reality, Stavisky said.
Up to 20 bus lines converge near the Main Street station as well as the LIRR, which is expected to see improvements.
One aspect of accommodating overcrowding in downtown Flushing which concerns the Stavisky is the widening of sidewalks, which she believes could hurt businesses and shop owners economically.
The DREAM Act, which is designed to make the New York State Tuition Assistance Program available to undocumented immigrants, is one way Stavisky is planning to improve the lives of people living in Queens, even if they are not citizens. First introduced in 2011, the act is still waiting to be passed through the Republican-held Senate, although it has already passed the Assembly.
Stavisky has received a high number of endorsements, including state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli during their joint announcement to work together for campaign finance reform. Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) gave Stavisky his endorsement during a news conference which addressed the need to maintain LGBT and women’s rights after statements by her opponent against abortion and the depiction of marriage equality in textbooks.
Most recently, Stavisky won endorsements from Public Advocate Letitia James and city Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall