South Bayside resident Steve Behar, who has been active in state, local and national politics for many years, has launched his campaign to represent Council District 23.
The district is currently represented by Councilman Barry Grodenchik, who announced he will retire from office when his term ends in 2021.
Council District 23 includes the neighborhoods of Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Hollis Hills, Holliswood, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens and Queens Village.
Behar served as Grodenchik’s campaign manager when he ran for office in 2015, and stayed on as counsel handling legal and policy issues, including legislation.
He is also the owner of his solo-law practice, as well as a real estate business, and he is also a professor at SUNY Old Westbury. His education background includes four degrees — three of which are masters degrees studying finance and management, a JD law degree and a master of laws in securities and financial regulation.
Behar’s long-term experience as both an activist and a public servant has prepared him to serve as a councilman for the district, he said.
“I certainly know and understand the people and what’s important,” Behar said. “I know how to get things done, who to call, what buttons to press to do things, and have results on the ground.”
This isn’t the first time Behar is running for office. In 2009, he ran for City Council and then for State Assembly in 2010.
“I was waiting for an opportunity to run again and this wasn’t the opportunity I was hoping for,” Behar said. “I had hoped that Barry would run again for reelection and I would remain his counsel, but instead he has decided to retire and I am running for office.”
Behar said his campaign is focusing first and foremost on the current government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The virus has become the biggest issue in the country and across the world. We need to make sure that people stay safe and healthy, especially the seniors,” Behar said. “We also need to make sure that our schools are safe and kids can learn.”
Another important issue on Behar’s agenda is the creation of jobs and affordable housing for residents in the district.
“Our economy is in a depression and we need to work on jobs and not turn away jobs,” Behar said. “Unlike some people, I don’t believe that job creation and affordable housing are mutually exclusive. I think that we can create good paying jobs that give good benefits and healthcare, working to create affordable housing for people.”
As for property tax reform, Behar said City Hall has balanced the budget on backs of middle-class homeowners and condo/co-op owners saying it’s a burden that needs to be lifted, and is prevalent in the district.
“Co-ops and condos are taxed as commercial properties — that is a state issue, but the City Council can use its moral suasion to push Albany to fix that inequality,” Behar said. “We want to make sure that people who have lived in this district their whole lives, don’t get forced to move because property taxes and housing prices have gone up.”
As the fight for social and racial justice erupted this year following the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, Behar is on the frontlines committed to fighting for change, as he has done in the past.
“After the death of George Floyd, anyone can see on my social media that I’ve marched dozens of times for social and racial justice,” Behar said. “Before that we were protesting Trump’s Muslim ban at JFK Airport, and the administration’s concentration camps and separation of children from their parents.”
Over the years Behar has worked to make northeast Queens a better place to live and work.
A member of local Democratic clubs for decades, Behar is also on the board of directors and general counsel of the New American Voters Association (NOVA), which educates and helps immigrants become citizens, how to vote and the importance of voting.
Additionally, he has worked with civic organizations in the district and other parts of eastern Queens helping with pro-bono legal work. He has helped organized a legal establishment of the Haitian American Political Action Committee of NY (HAPAC) and the Muslim PAC of NY.
As for senior citizens in the district, Behar said he’s committed to providing them with the resources they need.
“We have a lot of seniors who depend on their elected officials and the staff to help them through the maze to get the aide they need,” Behar said. “There are seniors out there who need care and I think that is the job of our elected officials.”