New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
“We have immense challenges that will take vision, cooperation and innovation to tackle,” Democrat Andrew S. Gounardes, New York State Senator for District 22 said in an interview with the Greek News on December 3, but he is confident because “New York City is resilient and we can do it.”
District 22 encompasses the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Homecrest, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, as well as portions of Sheepshead Bay, Borough Park, and Midwood.
The newly re-elected, 35-year-oldSenato, a fourth-generation Greek American. born in Brooklyn New York, was first elected New York State Senator for District 22 in 2019. Senator Gounardes is also newly married, on December 7, to Melanie Graf, at her church, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in New Rochelle. December was a perfect month for him to get married, he said to the Home Report, because “the legislature’s out of session.”
GN: Senator, as you stated in your campaign, we are faced with immense economic, education, healthcare, housing and food challenges in the months and years ahead. Is there a sequence to approaching these problems as your agenda takes shape?
AG: We need to take immediate action to ensure that tenants, homeowners and small businesses don’t get displaced by extending eviction moratoriums and offering real relief on rent and taxes. We need to get all of our children out of remote learning and back to school. Then we need a robust economic stimulus for small and medium-sized businesses, so New Yorkers can get back to work and keep putting food on the table. To fund services for those in need and grow our economy equitably, we need a fair federal stimulus package and to raise taxes on the ultra-billionaires and large corporations that have seen their wealth grow during the pandemic.
GN: What is your opinion on the timing for the contested reopening of schools?
AG: I believe that the city has shown that it’s possible to bring students back to school safely, with an extremely low rate of COVID-19 based on random testing. It’s vital for a student’s development to be in school if they can, particularly the especially high needs population that is currently signed up for in-person learning, so I have advocated to keep the schools open.
GN: Your Senate Bill S4408 that requires lenders who are foreclosing home equity conversion reverse mortgages to provide notice to the Department of Financial Services and mortgagers has passed the Senate and the Assembly. Is it possible to predict when it will be signed by the Governor?
AG: The Governor will either sign or veto the legislation before the end of the year. I am proud to have passed a number of other bills to prevent predatory foreclosures on senior citizens’ homes, including S4407, which provides a host of protections for seniors against being foreclosed upon.[Among other stipulations, the new law mandates that independent counseling must be provided for homeowners before they enter into reverse mortgages, prevents all-too-common false and deceptive advertising designed to try to entice seniors into reverse mortgaging their homes, even where they have insufficient equity for it to make sense for them, and prevents foreclosures based upon hyper-technical defects.]
GN: Is it possible to know when your and Assembly member Robert Carroll’s call for the urgent passage of the bill that mandates insurance companies to honor business interruption insurance claims during the COVID-19 state of emergency in New York will receive a response?
AG: Our small business interruption insurance legislation has the overwhelming support of the small business community and a number of other state legislators; however, the insurance industry has vehemently opposed it. We will keep fighting for the legislation’s passage, as it is a matter of basic fairness; small businesses bought insurance thinking it would shield them against emergency disruptions to their business, but it hasn’t. As of now, it remains in committee and has not been brought to the floor.
GN: Please talk about the specific challenges brought on by COVID-19 in the communities under your jurisdiction.
AG: Our community faces many challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.When the pandemic began, we partnered with charitable organizations to bring food distributions to our community; the long lines viscerally brought home just how much food insecurity and need there is in our neighborhoods. There’s a high amount of unemployment and underemployment resulting from the pandemic, leading to concerns about paying property taxes and rent. Small businesses that we love are struggling and hanging on by a thread. Because of the pandemic, drag racing has increased, keeping people up at night and leading to yet more traffic deaths. Quality of life services, such as sanitation, parks and graffiti removal have declined. We have immense challenges that will take vision, cooperation and innovation to tackle; but New York City is resilient, and we can do it.
GN: What are some goals you will be working toward in your vision for Southern Brooklyn?
Southern Brooklyn is an incredible part of the city. We are community-oriented and lift each other up when we are down. My goal is to continue to strengthen and grow our community ties, spread kindness and service through my 3 for Community project, and continue with community events that bring our neighborhoods together. It’s also incredibly important that we care for those in need, whether it’s due to cost of housing or access to healthcare or access to jobs; and that we invest in our assets — our incredible schools, our outdoor space and infrastructure and the small businesses we all love.
GN: What is the status and likely timing of the bill to help small businesses purchase personal protective equipment? Will NY State provide an inventory of this equipment, or will small business owners obtain it in other ways?
AG: This legislation is still in committee, but I will be working hard to get this and other forms of relief for our small businesses accelerated.
GN: Do you have any special words for the Greek American community regarding the economic, education, healthcare, housing and food challenges the public faces?
AG: We are an extraordinarily resilient people, so we know firsthand what it is to rebuild from difficult times. As we navigate these trying moments, we are blessed to be able to rely on our family and community to help us through. I’m incredibly proud of my heritage as a 4th-generation Greek American, and I will continue to be guided by the values that we share to make sure that we emerge from these dark times stronger, fairer, and better than before.
Andrew Gounardes has degrees from The George Washington University, The George Washington University Law School, and Hunter College.
Phone: Brooklyn (718) 238-6044 Albany: (518) 455-327
Special thanks to Sarah Anders, State Senator Andrew Gounardes’s Deputy Chief of Staff for facilitating this interview.