Stavisky gets ‘good feeling’ in senate race vs. Harrison

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Although she is an incumbent with the backing of the Democratic Party, state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said she would not take the voters for granted in her battle for the newly redistricted 16th State Senate seat.

“I’m never confident,” Stavisky said. “I’m always worried. I worry about getting a place to park.”

“But I have a good feeling,” the senator added.

Stavisky, 64, is running to remain in the state Legislature in an area which combines much of her old district with the district of state Sen. Daniel Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), who decided not to oppose Stavisky. The new district covers parts of Flushing, Forest Hills, Fresh Meadows, Whitestone, Bayside, Bay Terrace, Rego Park, Elmhurst, Astoria and LaGuardia Airport.

In one of the most watched political races in the city, Stavisky is battling former Flushing Councilwoman Julia Harrison for the Democratic nomination and Conservative Mark Ralin. Last week, Democrat Marcia Lynn was knocked off the ballot after the city Board of Elections disqualified many of her campaign signatures.

Stavisky was hesitant to discuss her political rival, Harrison, 82, with whom she has had a somewhat strained relationship over the years.

“It’s about the issues,” she said.

Stavisky said the issues she cares for were embodied in her three years as a state senator.

The husband of state Sen. Leonard Stavisky, Toby Stavisky successfully won her husband’s position in November 1999 several months after he died.

A former social studies high school teacher, Stavisky said education was central to her agenda.

“I’ve taken a leadership role in the field of education,” said Stavisky, the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Committee on Higher Education. “I want to make sure they have the same opportunity as I did growing up.”

Stavisky has pushed for fiscal equity in education. Although the city has 37 percent of the state’s public school children, it receives only 34 percent of the state’s education funds.

“The quality of education should not be determined by where a child is born,” Stavisky said.

As one of the plaintiffs in a group known as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the city sued the state to get more educational resources. While an initial court ruling was in favor of the city, a later decision overturned the earlier ruling.

“I think that was a disgraceful ruling,” Stavisky said.

Stavisky described helping seniors as central to her work as a state senator.

She pointed to the expansion of the state’s Elderly Prescription Insurance Coverage, legislation she pushed for about two years ago, as an example of addressing the needs of seniors. The state Legislature increased the income ceiling to qualify for the program, thereby allowing 160,000 more people throughout the state to take advantage of the program to reduce the cost of health insurance.

“I think this is one of the major needs facing older people today,” Stavisky said.

Stavisky also prides herself on her work with the police. She said her husband had invented the Combat Auto Theft program, a police initiative to have owners put yellow stickers on their cars which they do not drive late at night, allowing police to stop cars found on the road during those hours.

The senator said she had continued her husband’s tradition.

“We’ve worked with the police to provide better security so people can feel safe in their homes,” she said.

But of all of her accomplishments, Stavisky made sure to note her work with a dead cat.

In June, her office received a phone call from a constituent in Corona. A cat had died in her yard and after several unsuccessful phone calls to various city agencies, the woman tried Stavisky’s office.

Stavisky and her staffer, Julius Zomper, were driving by at the time and decided to stop and dispose of the cat.

“I just kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this,’” Stavisky said. “You have to be flexible and compassionate. To this woman a cat was a major problem.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

Posted 7:17 pm, October 10, 2011
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