By Mica Soffer
New York State Senator Jesse Hamilton has been a regular fixture in the Crown Heights community for years, comfortably shmoozing with black, Jewish and Hispanic residents, and addressing their needs.
The primary day elections on Thursday will decide whether he will continue to represent Crown Heights and the 20th District in that capacity.
Hamilton, a lawyer and Secretary of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, is facing heavy competition from Zellnor Myrie, a Democrat endorsed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congress members Yvette Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries, and Jerrold Nadler.
Their opposition to Hamilton is claimed to be connected to his membership in the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of Democratic state senators who occasionally allied themselves with Senate Republicans.
In an interview with COLlive.com, Hamilton says he’s being targeted by his fellow party members for his bi-partisan work, such as his staunch support of Israel and opposing President Barack Obama‘s Iran Nuclear Deal.
* How did you get started in public service?
I began my career running for the school board. The Lubavitch community endorsed me and I became a school board member. They supported me when I ran for head of the school board, and I always worked in that job to make sure the Yeshivas got the funding they needed.
* Tuition costs remain a heavy burden on members of the Jewish community.
I am concerned about the cost of private schools. I believe that private school is like double taxation for those that pay for private school and then pay property tax. If Democrats take control, we can make sure that property tax should go to offset the cost of yeshivas and private schools.
* And how about children who need special education?
I also fight for children who are in special education schools. The parents need to sue the Board of Education every year in order to attend the special needs schools. We need to streamline this process so the parents only need to apply every few years. Instead of parents having to go through a tortuous ritual every year, it should have to be done only at the beginning of elementary school, then middle school and then high school.
* You have also served as the Democratic District Leader in the 43rd Assembly District for nearly a decade.
I’ve also worked hard to fight for the community. When there were incidents of swastikas being sprayed all over the neighborhood, I started an initiative where if that happened, we would make sure we removed the swastika within 24 hours.
Also, when there were incidents of bias attacks to elderly Jewish women, I visited the local shuls, and we set up patrols and worked to increase police protection to make sure the residents were safe.
* What are your memories of the Crown Heights Riots in 1991?
Back then, I worked closely with Project Care to bring unity to the community and what we achieved here says a lot about people working together. Through my years of meeting with both the Jewish and black communities, I realized we all have the same values, we want safe streets, good education for our children, and a good quality of life.
I didn’t realize how much we had done to bring unity until I went on a trip to Israel with Councilmember David Greenfield. I met so many people from Crown Heights there. They were all greeting me, and I realized how friendly we had all become.
When I met young teenagers from Crown Heights serving in the Israeli army, it was shocking to see these young kids from back home, holding these guns, putting themselves in danger for Israel.
During that trip, I really got to see how closely connected the Crown Heights community is with the state of Israel. It really reinforced my ties with the Jewish community in Crown Heights.
* You are known as a staunch supporter of Israel.
Yes. I spoke against BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions against Israel) on the Senate floor. I think we really have to be careful about the way this country is heading. Unfortunately, you see that so many people in politics are competing on who can be the most to the left.
* You bravely went against the party line to oppose the Iran Deal.
I took a strong stand against the Iran deal, we protested loudly against it, and due to that, I lost the congressional delegation support. But to me, it was a no-brainer, especially after visiting Israel and learning about how Jewish people are in danger just for being Jewish and are surrounded by enemies from all their borders. Especially after meeting young boys from Crown Heights who are soldiers there, how could I come back and tell their mothers that I signed something that might put their child in danger? Still, I am feeling the repercussions from it.
* What is your message for Primary Day?
It is critical for every single individual to vote. Especially with the change in the neighborhood, not all the candidates are concerned about diversity, many of them are new, and are not against BDS. My opponent is not familiar with the Jewish population and their needs. The fact that there are elected officials who are pro-BDS is beyond my comprehension. In this election, it can come down to a few hundred votes. I have been a friend of the Lubavitch community and a friend of Israel.
I want to wish a Shana Tova to all Crown Heights residents, and best wishes to enjoy the holidays.