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Stavisky vows re-election bid will be ‘hands-on’

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When she won election in 1999, Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) became the first woman from Queens to be elected to the state Senate.

Eleven years later, she is still in her post, where she says she hopes to continue fighting to keep college affordable for New Yorkers as chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, to protect seniors through her work on the Senate Aging Committee and to help constituents through her district office work.

The Democrat, who was elected to the seat held by her late husband, Leonard Stavisky, said over cantaloupe and iced tea last week that she wants to focus on her constituents before devoting much time to campaigning.

“I’ve been more involved in trying to solve some of the budget issues as they relate to higher education and dealing with a lot of community-related issues as well,” she said. “There will be plenty of time for campaigning, but right now these are my priorities.”

But as an incumbent, she has already secured a distinct fund-raising lead over her opponents in the 16th Senate District, with $251,887 in her campaign coffers, according to state campaign records.

Her opponents, Democrats John Messer and Isaac Sasson and Republican Robert Schwartz, may have less money in their chests, but they hope to capture the seat she has held for a decade.

For her part, Stavisky said she is a “hands-on” legislator who strives to listen to the concerns of the people she represents across a vast swath of Queens that spans parts of several neighborhoods, including Flushing, Whitestone, Forest Hills and even a small portion of northern Astoria.

“I have a broad interest both in issues and in different parts of the community. I work very hard and pay attention to my constituents and their needs. I spend a lot of time in the district, on the streets,” she said. “I’m a conscientious legislator, I’m familiar with the issues — but more importantly, I work to get things done. I care very deeply about the people who live in my district.”

She said her time with constituents has demonstrated that the most serious concern facing Queens residents continues to be the economy and its impact on their livelihoods.

“Downtown Flushing is doing very well, but there are a lot of people who are not a part of the economic boom,” she said. “People have had their homes foreclosed, they’ve lost their jobs.”

She juggles her work in her district with the concerns of Albany, where she points to concrete achievements as proof that she is an effective, hardworking legislator.

Stavisky, a former high school teacher and daughter of an educator, hopes to lead the state to further protect the most vulnerable members of society: seniors and children. She highlighted her work this past session helping to restore all Title XX funding for Queens senior centers and said she will work to change the funding structure for the state higher education system and to advocate to ensure tuition assistance funding is raised concurrently with any increases in tuition.

With both Queens College and Queensborough Community College in her district and St. John’s University just outside it, and a higher concentration of seniors in her district than most districts in the state, the concerns of students and the elderly consume much of her time and effort. She brought additional funding to Queens College and Queensborough during her last term — achievements she said she is proud of, as they will help her constituents achieve academic excellence.

Stavisky is also working to reform the state’s redistricting procedures, saying the process has become an opportunity for little more than politicized, partisan gerrymandering. She is a co-sponsor of a bill to set up a nonpartisan redistricting commission, which she said would take the politics out of drawing voting districts, restore voter confidence and even the playing field.

But her main priority, she said, remains at home with her constituents, whom she prides herself on having the opportunity to work for in the Senate.

“I feel privileged to represent the people of the 16th District,” she said. “I try to represent them in the most objective, fair and intelligent way I can and I look forward to debating the issues with my opponents.”

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

Updated 6:00 pm, October 10, 2011
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