Josh Lafazan, the youthful, affable Nassau County legislator representing District 18, said today that he is entering the race for Congress for Democrat Tom Suozzi’s seat, who is running for governor.
Lafazan, 27, an independent who caucuses with Democrats in the Legislature, registered with the party on Dec. 3. The reason, he said, is because when working as a legislator he fought for non-partisan issues, unlike what he will experience in Congress.
“I’ve championed Democratic issues as a legislator, whether supporting the environment or fighting climate change, supporting unions . . . and commonsense gun laws,” he said. “When it comes to my morality and my beliefs, they align with the Democratic Party.”
The three-term legislator, who began his service to the county when he was 23, making him the youngest-ever to hold the position, has passed more bills than any of his colleagues — 14 — which he said was due to his ability to work across the aisle. Calling politics a “noble profession,” Lafazan said a return of civility is desperately needed in Congress. Referring to himself as a “unifier,” he has the ability, he said, to bring Republicans and Democrats together on issues at the federal level as he has done at the Nassau County Legislature.
As a legislator, Lafazan has focused on relationship and coalition building. He has met with every mayor, superintendent and civic and chamber president in his district, he said, in an effort to understand their needs.
“I will take the same playbook as a member of Congress to make sure I’m delivering for every corner of the district,” he said. “I find the issues that cut across partisan lines and I am relentless in getting things done.”
To those who say that he is too young to serve in Congress, Lafazan said he’s heard that before. When he was 18, he was told he was too young to run for a seat on the Syosset School Board, which he won, and then was reelected in 2015.
During his time as a trustee his youth afforded him a different perspective, he said, citing the community outreach program that he founded for teenagers. Safe Ride Syosset provided rides for teens too drunk to drive protecting them, as well as their passengers.
When he decided to run as a legislator at age 23 he was told once again that he was too young. Undaunted, he won by an overwhelming majority, and quickly went to work.
To combat the opioid crisis, he passed Timothy’s Law in 2018, a 24-hour hotline staffed by substance abuse counselors and developed Nassau C.A.R.E.S., a smartphone app that provides a zip-code searchable treatment database for drug and alcohol abuse resources in the community.
The grandson of a Holocaust survivor and a Cuban refugee, the Woodbury resident said he understands educational challenges.
“I understand the shortcomings today in the education system and where we can go from here to make sure every kid is getting an exceptional education regardless of zip code,” he said.
He started his own higher education at Nassau Community College, which taught him the importance the federal level can play in providing opportunities for students who can’t afford to go to a four year college. Describing his experiences there as “incredible,” he said community colleges are needed as centers for people either out of work or those who have lost their jobs due to technology.
“Community colleges should be a hub of vocation training for trades,” he said. “Community Colleges are very important to me. I started my story there.”
Lafazan went on to study at the Cornell University ILR School earning a bachelor’s degree in industrial and labor relations in May 2016 and then Harvard Graduate School of Education, achieving a master’s degree in education policy and management in May 2017. Currently, he is pursuing his doctorate at University of Pennsylvania.
At Cornell, he learned about the intersection between the public and private sectors and industrial and labor relations. At Harvard, he studied education policy and management. And at Penn, enrolled in the Chief Learning Officer Program, he is learning, among other things, how to run a large office. His academic background, he said, has prepared him for the challenges he will face as a congressman.
As for what he can bring to the table, he cites his age, as well as his experiences. “I will be the youngest Democrat in the House so I can bring a completely unique perspective in terms of representing the largest generation in the country,” he said. “But I’m not just running to be a representative of young people. I am running to represent all people to fulfill what was lacking on the school board and in the Legislature — I want to be the unifier.”
Melanie D’Arrigo, who lost a Democratic primary to Suozzi in 2020, has said she will also run.