Simcha Felder, State Senator for the 17th District of Brooklyn, is up for re-election. He was first elected to his current position in 2012, and has won re-election in 2014 and 2016.
Previously, Felder served as Deputy Comptroller for Budget and Accounting of the City of New York, and served on the City Council from 2002 to 2010, for the 44th District. His council district included parts of Borough Park, Midwood, and Bensonhurst.
Community Magazinehad the opportunity to interview State Senator Felder and ask about his work to date, as well as his proposed platform, should he be re-elected November 6th.
CM: What is it that you want people to know most about what you represent?
Felder: I want people to know that I’m here to work on things that affect people daily in their quality of life, whether that’s safety and security, schools, or the cleanliness of the public areas.
There’s a project where those who have difficulty finding jobs, or the homeless, can clean up the main thoroughfares. Cleanliness and security go together.
We have spent a lot of time working together with the city with some success, to make sure children with special needs are not only getting the education they deserve, but the families and schools are getting reimbursed in an efficient manner.
CM: What would you say are Simcha Felder’s signature achievements?
Felder:The “privatization” of door-to-door transportation for
non-public school children. It’s something that’s historic in many ways. It allows for someone who sends their child to any
non-public school to get private door-to-door transportation.
I found that the best way to help with the extraordinary costs of having a yeshiva education was to try to find some other ways to help. This benefits the parents directly. It benefits the schools directly. I think, at this point, almost every non-public school –
or every yeshiva – has taken advantage of the program.
Again, I talk aboutfairness and equity for special needs families. So, if a child with special needs is placed in a school other than the one that the public schools want, the city has to be more responsive. It’s not perfect, but it has to be more responsive.
One of the bills that I’m working on, Safety and Security, talks about having a cop in front of schools. I always say, a truck that delivers money to a bank has two armed Brinks men, yet our schools that have our children have, at most, a resource officer that is not armed, and really can’t protect the kids.
It would be a police officer run by the NYPD. Commissioner O’Neil was asked what he thought, and he agreed that you must have an armed guard at schools. We are working on that. It’s a tough fight, but we won’t giveup.
CM: How would Israel be a platform topic for you?
Felder:[I’ll speak out if the] State is using its pension money in countries that are determined to destroy Israel, or if there is a resolution about the anti-BDS movement.
CM: What are some issues that you are just never going to sign on to?
Felder:I wouldn’t say never, ever, but tax increases. I’m very opposed. That’s one of the things that made me very interested in caucusing with the Republicans. I believe, philosophically, that tax increases are very regressive. They wind up hurting the community either directly or indirectly.
CM: Where’s the worst spending in the city?
Felder: I think the best example of an over bloated budget is the city’s Department of Education. I think we are up to almost $21,000 per student, maybe higher. It’s like sending your kid to private college – not to elementary school. That, by far, is the most bloated part of the city budget, and it will keep on growing unless something is drastically done.
CM: Can you explain the recent bus issue regarding King’s Highway?
Felder:Everyone understands the traffic that is up and down Kings Highway. The basic reason for that traffic is that there has been very little enforcement. Take, for example, trucks delivering, double parked. Unless there is enforcement, nothing helps. The proposal to put express busses and create an express bus lane was crazy – ludicrous. That’s an example of the government trying to provide a service at the expense of a large majority of the people that live in a certain neighborhood. The people who live and shop on King’s Highway would be adversely affected. In this case, I think we had good conversations with New York Transit, and people are going to be pleasantly surprised when we are done negotiating. And they have a program that does not impose the difficulty that the original plans had.
CM: Why did you decide to caucus with the Republicans?
Felder:I’m not saying this is forever, but I would saywhat I’ve repeated many times. My loyalties are to my Gd, my wife, and my constituents, in that order. I don’t believe that being a Democrat or Republican is some sort of religious commitment.
I don’t identify myself as a Democrat. I don’t identify myself as a Republican. I have run in the New York City Council, and for a number of elections in the Senate, on three party lines: Democratic, Republican, and Conservative. I was proud to do that, because it’s not about an identity of being one or the other. It’s about trying to serve my constituents best. That means I can pick and choose, as long as my constituents allow me to do that. I’m blessed to be able to serve a constituency that doesn’t care about names, party labels, or loyalties. They are more interested in safety, security, and quality of life issues.
No one else in the city is as lucky as I am, to have so many constituents who don’t really care about party politics; they just want to make sure we get the services we deserve.
How do you get things done that cut taxes, improve their quality of life, safety and security, and make sure they get the services we provide? Right now, it happens to be this is the way I do that best, caucusing with Republicans.
CM: What are priority issues for next year?
Felder:I’m obsessed with improving the lives of families with special needs children. Unfortunately, we have a lot more work to do.
Another piece of it has to do with the fact that right now special needs children can’t take advantage of the playgrounds,because they haven’t been built to accommodate children with disabilities. We are in the process of building “A Park for All Children.” There’s one in Queens near Terrace in the Park, and one in Manhattan. There are none in Brooklyn, Staten Island or the Bronx.
This park, at Kelly Park, at Avenue F, is going to be redone, and all the play equipment will be able to accommodate children with disabilities. I’m not talking about having one swing for a child with disabilities. I’m talking about a playground that all the equipment can be played on by all children – with and without disabilities. That’s something to be worked out; all children will be able to play together. What more can we ask for? That’s where my head and heart lie.
CM: Why did you decide to become a State Senator?
Felder:In my household, my parents were always involved with helping people. My father, may he rest in peace, was a rabbi. In those days, in 1952, when he opened the synagogue on 18th Avenue and 49th Street, there weren’t many social services, but the Felder household was a place where people got a meal; if somebody didn’t have a place to sleep, it was a place. People who needed help got help. Certainly, growing up we didn’t have any money to spare. But whatever we had was shared by many. I think that gene, that environment, always stuck with me.
CM: As you are knocking on doors, what are people saying is their primary issue?
Felder: Most people are concerned about day to day life – not about something esoteric or deep. They are concerned about being able to pay their weekly expenses. That’s why you see a lot of people moving to other neighborhoods, just to get a break with the rent.
That’s why even concerning the bag tax, people said, “What are you crazy? Why are you fighting thebag tax?” To me, it was not that a nickel or dime on plastic or paper bags. It’s the feeling that people are overtaxed, over ticketed, and over fined. Getting rid of that tax is not about the dime or dollar. It’s about people feeling overwhelmed, feeling like no one cares.
State Senator Felder has a reputation in the community as a man who takes seriously issues dear to the hearts of his constituents, and to our community. These issues include security, school transportation, city cleanliness, special needs services, and lowered taxes. Additionally, Felder has lobbied for better labeling of food and drinks with caffeine, has pushed for a ban on unsolicited fliers, and has lent his influence to eliminate surcharges associated with online payment of tickets, fees, and fines.