We have a great race for New York State Assembly taking place in the Five Towns and surrounding communities through this summer and into the coming fall. If he can pull it off, it could have a ripple effect statewide if Republican candidate Avi Fertig is successful in his Assembly bid and defeats his Democratic opponent, whoever that might be.
As of now, it looks like the odds are that his opponent will be former U.S. Attorney Todd Kaminsky of Long Beach, a protégé of veteran incumbent Harvey Weisenberg. The idea is still out there at this very early stage of the game that former Lawrence School Board president Dr. Asher Mansdorf is planning to face off against Kaminsky and two others in September. Our sources in Albany tell us that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is not in favor of the Mansdorf candidacy and will attempt to dissuade him from entering the race. Mansdorf has indicated that he plans to run regardless of Silver’s position.
But this is about our good friend Avi Fertig. Sure, he understands that when it comes to this assembly seat the Democrats seem to be deeply ensconced. At the same time, however, we are living in unpredictable political times and an era in which anything is possible—even a Republican winning this assembly seat.
Affable and intelligent, Fertig offers thoughtful responses and displays a sense of genuine care when talking about the aid and direction he has been able to dispense in the form of government assistance to those in need over the last few years, in particular in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Fertig has been working these last few years with Town of Hempstead councilmen Tony Santino and Jim Darcy. Prior to that, he worked closely with Nassau County Legislator Howard Kopel and this past election season was a key campaign aide to County Executive Ed Mangano.
Mr. Fertig, who attended Yeshiva Toras Emes of Kaminetz in Brooklyn through high school and is a graduate of Brooklyn College, has not entered the race for office with naïveté. On the other hand, he understands that while densely populated Jewish areas generally vote Democratic, Republicans in the Five Towns area have in the past beaten Democratic incumbents by wide margins.
While the district includes areas like Long Beach and Oceanside, both with significantly lower Jewish populations, Fertig remains undaunted. “I’ve been out there working with Tony and Jim for five years getting things done for people,” he says. He points this out especially in view of the Sandy experience, where there was so much overt need that found him out there visiting communities and homes while working assiduously to get things done.
And perhaps that is what defines and motivates Mr. Fertig the most—the ability to reach out and make a difference in people’s lives. “When you are in government, you can reach into a place that others simply cannot get to,” he says. He illustrates this point by citing the problems with the eiruv in Oceanside, which in the aftermath of the hurricane was inoperable. Inspecting the restoration of the eiruv required that the rabbis involved traverse a body of water in order to reach a specific area in the community. In the meantime, the Coast Guard issued an order that no boats of the type needed would be allowed on the water for an indefinite period. The community reached out to the Town of Hempstead and the project was handed to Fertig, who reached into the upper levels of government, resulting in the Coast Guard allowing the rabbinical mission to inspect the eiruv on the water.
It is these things that give Fertig an obvious sense of satisfaction, and by talking to him one can sense the drive and desire to be in that type of position where he can do even more for others.
But politics is a much tougher endeavor than the desire or ability to do good works. That might be disappointing to some, but it is also the reality. The good things that may come from well-meaning and good people might be an outgrowth of electoral success, but getting there is a completely different matter. New York is a Democratic town that for a while now has been ruled by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Of course you are thinking that Silver, an Orthodox Jew himself, might be disposed to favor a candidate who hails from a similar background, despite his party affiliation. But in all likelihood that would be an inaccurate assessment.
Fertig’s analysis of the situation is that if he campaigns with intensity and diligence and is victorious in November, then the Five Towns can become a political powerhouse, not just statewide, but indeed nationally. There is no doubt that once the primaries are over in September this will be a race to watch. To some who have supported candidates like Harvey Weisenberg in the past and Tom Suozzi in his recent run for county executive, the question is whether or not they can support a Republican candidate.
One of the activists who has in the past been deeply involved in a number of campaigns told me that crossing over to the Republicans is not an issue. He said that State Senator Dean Skelos, the NYS Republican leader, has extensive support in the community so there is no reason why that support could not be conceivably extended to Fertig as well if conditions are right.
There is no doubt that Avi Fertig is a formidable candidate for office. He is not just a dedicated public servant but a man who loves what he is doing. There is, however, between here and there a lot of maneuvering and jockeying for position that is yet to take place. It is early, but the race is on and will be fascinating to observe as the campaigns move into high gear. v
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