Dear Friends and Neighbors,
For 48 years, it has been an honor and a joy to serve as your Assembly Member. There have been many highlights and legislative victories during this time, but none has been greater than serving the people of North Brooklyn, advocating for you, and working alongside you to make a better home for us all.
The importance of public service was instilled in me by my family, two prior generations of whom also served in elected office. While being an elected official is not easy – because it is true that you cannot please all the people all the time – if done honestly and from the heart, I believe it is one of the most rewarding professions anyone can have.
Now known as one of the most desirable places to live and work in New York City, I am proud to have played a role in shaping the vibrant and diverse community North Brooklyn has become. At the beginning of my time in office in the 1970s, New York City faced many serious problems, some of which continued through the 1980s and 1990s, and some that are not dissimilar to challenges we face today. Through the years I forged partnerships with local community groups that have lasted a lifetime including: the People’s Firehouse; El Puente; Outreach Project; St. Nicks Alliance; North Brooklyn Development Corporation; Community Board 1; Pratt Area Community Council (IMPACCT); the UJO; GWAPP; the American Legion; Catholic War Veterans; Concerned Citizens of Withers Street; North Brooklyn Parks Alliance (OSA); Evergreen Exchange (EWVIDCO); Greenpoint/Williamsburg Neighborhood Women; Greenpoint Small Property Owners; Fort Greene SNAP; Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project; Los Sures; NYCHA’s tenant organizations and many more. But it is not a single organization or official that keeps a neighborhood strong, it is the depth of diversity within the community that fortifies us. In the late 1990s and 2000s, with a booming economy our district and other parts of New York City experienced a renaissance. The same streets in the 50th Assembly District where people were once afraid to walk at night became a burgeoning cultural center and nightlife scene.
We weathered many challenges together in the 50th Assembly District: defeating the TransGas power plant; modernizing the Newtown Creek Water Pollution Control Plant; remediating the Exxon/Mobil oil spill and securing funding to improve our environment through the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund; hospital and firehouse closings; waterfront rezoning and development; the constant need to create new, affordable housing; the tragedy of September 11th; surviving Superstorm Sandy.
While I am not well known for tooting my horn, I want to mention two accomplishments that I am particularly proud of, one at the state level and one closer to home. Criminal justice reform has always been my passion. As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Codes, which has jurisdiction over all New York State criminal justice legislation, I am proud to have played a significant role on countless bills and major legislative reforms that are bringing forth a more equitable justice system for all New Yorkers. Chief among those reforms was Raising the Age of criminal prosecution in 2017. Minors are no longer charged as adults, and countess youthful offenders will be given the chance to turn their lives around instead of going to prison.
Here at home, my advocacy for open space brought three new parks to the 50th Assembly District. In 2003, I helped establish the East River State Park/Marcia P. Johnson State Park. Then in 2016 with local park activists behind us, Council Member Steve Levin and I negotiated a deal with the City of New York to complete the Bushwick Inlet Park. Finally, as part of the New York State Kosciuszko Bridge Project, the Governor and State Department of Transportation agreed to fund the Under the K Bridge Park for us, which will bring recreational amenities to a formerly barren landscape. There have been many other issues and victories, but I take special pride in creating these parks for our community.
I would like to thank my amazing and dedicated staff without whom I could not have achieved so much. My chief of staff Cathy Peake has steered the Lentol office for decades. I thank heaven for her wisdom and professionalism every day. She and I have been supported by Jayne LaVigna-Jesmain, Kathie Lyons, Carolyn Wildman, Eric Radezky, Emily Mijatovic, Izabella Prusaczyk, Emile Bazile, David Cohen and Ursula Wesolinska. They, along with former staff members Edward Baker, Slava Rar, Amy Cleary, Ann Townsend, Wilda Lang, Marcy Feinman, Reverend Bob Longobucco, Rita Casey, Mark Zaretzki, JoAnn McErlean, Tish Cianciotta, Judy Drapala, Teri Polonski, Celestine Miller, Bob Thompson, Helen Filak, and several others (including a lot of talented interns) have helped me help you. My office cats Brooke and Princess lent their friendships and meows too. Thank you all for your service.
My family has willingly accompanied me on this journey too. My life partner Martha Holstein, my brothers and cousins and their families have always supported me. With them in my corner throughout my career, I have been truly blessed.
Finally, a special thank you to my constituents. You have always guided my actions by sharing your opinions and telling me what is important to you. North Brooklyn has a rich history of activism. We have looked out for each other and for the greater good. I have been fortunate to know so many of you and to benefit from your ideas, suggestions, criticisms, critiques, and compliments. In the coming years, many important decisions will be made at all levels of government, and I know that North Brooklyn will build on our history of activism to fight for this community.
This year has perhaps been the greatest struggle anyone alive today has ever known as we dealt with the first global pandemic in a century. As I leave office, I will keep you in my prayers with the hope of better days for all in 2021. I also urge you to stay safe and vigilant this winter against COVID-19. The danger is not over. A vaccine is just beginning to be distributed and I know everyone is eager to get back to life as we knew it. But infection rates are increasing, and this trend will probably continue through the cold months. Please do what you can to protect yourself and others by limiting your potential exposure. Wash your hands, wear masks in public, practice social distancing, avoid large crowds. I know we all want to be with family and friends at this time of year, but the sacrifice we make today is the price we pay to secure our future.
It has been a privilege to serve as your Assembly Member. I will see you in the neighborhood and will always be proud of what we accomplished together.
Best of good health and happiness in all the days ahead.