Lifelong Bayside resident Austin Shafran, who finished a close second to Paul Vallone in the 2013 Democratic primary for Council District 19, has launched his campaign to replace Vallone, who is term-limited out in 2021.
Shafran, a political consultant with vast experience in government who came within 200 votes in what was called one of the closest races during that political cycle, believes he is more prepared to represent the neighborhoods of northeast Queens as it recovers from the coronavirus shutdown.
“Seeing the fear, frustration and pain that COVID has brought to the community that raised me, where I am now raising my family, moved me deeply and I want to do anything I can to help everyone I can,” Shafran said. “The lack of leadership coming out of City Hall is appallingly negligent. I will fight to ensure our district gets the full share and fair deal that we deserve to come out of this crisis stronger, safer and better than we went into it.”
After attending P.S. 169, I.S. 25 and St. Francis Prep High School, Shafran went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Queens College. Having grown up in a household of local government workers, he started his career as a community liaison to former Congressman Gary Ackerman, where he helped seniors, the disabled and immigrant communities access federal service programs.
Shafran went on to serve as communications director for NYC Council Finance Chair David Weprin, where he helped oversee millions of dollars in community-based grants for northeast Queens groups; expanded services for seniors, students and small businesses; and helped draft legislation to reign in overdevelopment and reform the city’s unfair property tax system.
“We are facing unprecedented challenges due to COVID and the collateral damage which has affected our economy, schools, businesses, seniors and every aspect of our daily lives,” Shafran said. “From issues with schools and parks that I’ve gone through with my own son to protecting our most vulnerable seniors as the son of two elderly parents at heightened risk for COVID, the recovery of our communities is a very personal fight for me.”
He said that new leadership was crucial for this moment.
“The approach I would take to help climb out of this crisis is grounded in a neighborhood-driven ideology with the experiences that my family and others like ours have faced as the true north guiding my moral compass,” he said. “This is a critical moment that I believe cries out for fresh leadership, new ideas and the ability to not only think outside the box but to reshape it to better fit the unique needs of our neighborhoods.”
Shafran continued his career in government service working as a senior official for the NYS Senate Democrats and deputy Ccmmissioner for Governor Andrew Cuomo, where he led successful legislative campaigns that have helped New York become a national leader in social, economic justice and worker protections.
He moved into the private sector as president of Metropolitan Public Strategies for the past seven years, during which he ran grassroots advocacy campaigns including successful efforts to make New York the first state to enact a $15 minimum wage, zoning changes to expand affordable and senior housing stock, the passage of the country’s most comprehensive paid family leave and universal pre-K programs, and important criminal justice reforms to prevent the wrongful conviction and incarceration of innocent individuals.
“The more involved I became in city and state policy, the more I realized I knew more than I did when I first ran in 2013,” Shafran said. “I think that will make me a better candidate and a better councilman to help our young families recover.”
Among the policies Shafran supports is a 2 percent property tax cap for one- and two-family homes, with a circuit breaker adjusted for income. He said he will push for citywide property tax assessment reforms and commercial rent reforms as well as a sales tax holiday for small businesses and a zero-interest loan bridge payments to all eligible workers who lost their jobs or seen reduced salaries and work hours due to the pandemic. He will also push for universal daycare and early childhood education expansion.
“I would propose to pay for this massive expansion with legislation to mandate stop-arm cameras on every school bus that would record, identify and fine motorists that illegally pass stopped school buses,” Shafran said. “This would both protect our children from grave danger and generate over $100 million a year in revenue that could be used for education programs and series.”
He would also support a citywide special permit requirement for all new hotel development to take away “as of right” development rights they have now and ensure those in the community have a greater role in development that defines it.
“This would help better safeguard the traditional hotel and hospitality industry from limited-service competition that has been the majority of new hotel development in Queens and resulted in most new hotel developments being used for homeless housing and getting major tax breaks without employing union workers,” Shafran said.