Messer backs social programs in Stavisky seat race

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John Messer wants to reframe the conversation in Albany from tax-and-slash to something more forward-looking.

A candidate in the Democratic primary for state Sen. Toby Stavisky’s (D-Whitestone) seat, Messer said he decided to run for the office when he read a quote by the longtime legislator that he believes encapsulates what is wrong in Albany.

“She said, ‘We have two choices: You can either drastically cut services or we can raise taxes,’” he recounted over decaf coffee at the Palace Diner in Flushing. “Both of those miss the mark because both of them send people out of the state.”

He believes Stavisky and others like her in state government need to look to other avenues to address the fiscal woes stalking New York state and its residents.

Messer said he has an alternative that offers a better way forward to lift the state out of the recession.

“Jobs, jobs and jobs,” he said. “We need to incentivize companies to create jobs and to move to New York to create jobs. Cutting services and increasing taxes just shrinks the tax base. This is where Stavisky and the others miss the mark .... In order to save social programs, we need to have a pragmatic plan for expanding the tax base and growing the economy here in New York.”

Messer wants to ensure the state reaches fiscal solvency, but not at the expense of social programs he considers essential.

One such program is the free student MetroCard program provided by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has proposed slashing funding for the cards, which go to lower-income students in order to transport them to school.

“We need to make a commitment to ensure that students continue to have access to transporta­tion,” he said. “Why is it that retired MTA employees get unlimited MetroCards but we’re cutting services to our students?”

Messer also wants to see increased funding for primary health care in order to lessen the burdens on hospitals.

“You need to make an up-front investment in primary care and remove people from emergency rooms so hospitals don’t go out of business,” he said.

Stavisky has been the senator for District 16, which includes part or all of the area stretching from Bay Terrace, Bayside and Whitestone to Flushing, Forest Hills and Woodside, since 1999. She and Messer are also running against Flushing community advocate Isaac Sasson in the primary.

Born and raised in northern Michigan, Messer, 39, has lived in Oakland Gardens since 1995. He first moved to New York City during the summer of his junior year at Aquinas College in Michigan, during which he took part in the New York City Government Scholars program, working in and learning about all aspects of city governance.

Instead of returning to school at the end of the summer, he stayed on as a full-time employee in the Public Development Corp., now called the city Economic Development Corp. He worked there for several years in corporate retention and economic development, gaining experience he said would translate well into serving in the state Legislature.

He went on to earn a graduate degree in government and politics at St. John’s University and a law degree from Brooklyn Law School, married his college sweetheart Wendy, with whom he now has three young children and went into private law practice. He handles finance and real estate law as well as federal government contracting work.

Messer also served in the U.S. National Guard between 1987 and 1991 and after moving to Queens had a career in the Army Reserves at Fort Totten, eventually being commissioned as a Judge Advocate General officer and, finally, honorably discharged as a captain.

With his wealth of experience in government and law, Messer said he is uniquely qualified to represent Queens residents in Albany.

“The Senate is dysfunctional and no longer accountable to us,” he said. “Last year only about 6,000 of 125,000 registered Democrats voted in the state Senate District 16 primary. That’s why it’s extremely important that we inspire, motivate and explain to residents in the district that it’s important to register to vote in the primary because that’s when their voices can really be heard.”

For more information about Messer, visit

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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