Steven Saperstein, a special-education teacher and community activist from Brighton Beach, has declared for the Democratic nomination in the New York City Council’s 48th District in 2021, which includes Brooklyn neighborhoods like Midwood, Madison, Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach.
Saperstein, 36, a conservative Democrat, has been open about his intention to run for the seat being vacated by Chaim Deutsch, but announced his candidacy officially this week with the launch of a campaign video and an exclusive interview with Hamodia. He is the third Democrat to declare for the seat whose primary election will be held next June.
“Family safety is the cornerstone of a strong, economically viable New York City,” says the husband and father of two. “The direction that we’re going in is not the best direction. I look at what a city councilman can do, and it’s really to ensure a livable, safe, secure, prosperous life for our families.”
This is the third political campaign for Saperstein, and first as a Democrat. He ran unsuccessfully as a Republican against Deutsch in the general election in 2017, and in the 2018 general election for the 46th state Assembly seat against Mathylde Frontus.
As most elected officials in New York are Democrats, Saperstein says, he chose to run as a Democrat this year because “the best way to deliver services and funding to my community” is as a member of the majority. He also feels he can bring a moderate voice to a Democratic Party that is becoming ever more progressive.
But the man who during the Hamodia interview describes himself alternately as a “conservative Democrat,” “JFK Democrat,” “moderate,” “common sense Democrat,” “independent thinker,” and someone who “hates labels,” says he is “the same Saperstein from 2017, 2018. My platform has never changed.”
“I’m not driven by ideology; I’m a practical guy,” says the candidate. “There are fanatics on both sides. You have left and right, but I look at it as up and down: we’re going down, let’s bring people up, and I think that people are craving that.”
A police advocate, Saperstein decries what he describes as the mayor and other officials “bending to this mob mentality” of “hating the police.”
“The majority of people, especially in our district, love the police and appreciate the work that they do and the sacrifices that they made. But there are police haters out there, and the politicians are listening to the haters.”
Saperstein would like the city to return to broken-windows policing “in a more moderate way, in conjunction with community policing.”
He also blames the rising crime in the city on liberal district attorneys.
“We have laws, and the DAs don’t seem to want to prosecute them because of this narrative that we have to be kinder and softer to criminals. And we’re releasing criminals from jails,” he says.”There are bad guys out there who are being emboldened right now to do bad things because there are no repercussions for their crimes. I’m a father of two young girls who wants to be able to go on the subway and ride it safely. I worry about their future. I want them to grow up in a New York City that’s safe and livable.”
Steven Saperstein grew up in the Madison neighborhood until fifth grade, then moved to Brighton Beach. He was raised in, and maintains, a traditional Jewish home. When he attends shul, such as on the High Holidays, he goes to the Chabad at the Seabreeze Jewish Center in Coney Island.
Saperstein’s father is hard of hearing, and his mother and younger brother (his only sibling) are deaf. Steven hears perfectly, but, raised by parents who could not hear, his own first language was American Sign Language. He learned English as a child through a speech therapist.
Saperstein attended public schools through high school, then earned a Bachelor’s degree from New York University and a law degree from Syracuse University. But his passion was for teaching and helping those who have experienced the same hardships as his own relatives. Even while in law school, he worked in a special-ed legal clinic, and immediately after getting his law degree, he went back to school, earning Masters degrees in Deaf & Hard of Hearing Education from Hunter College and in School Leadership from Touro College.
His career, for the past decade, has been working with students who are deaf or hard of hearing, in public or charter schools. But he has always had an interest in community affairs, and volunteered on several political campaigns.
Last year, Saperstein and his friend Lev Ekster founded the Shorefront Coalition, a volunteer-based organization, self-funded by Saperstein and Ekster, that aids youth and seniors, and seeks to promote civic engagement and participation in community affairs.
The organization brought doctors from Coney Island Hospital into middle schools to discuss the dangers of opioids, conducted backpack giveaways, assisted food pantries, helped connect supermarkets with organizations – such as delivering dozens of kosher turkeys through Masbia around Thanksgiving – and coordinated volunteers to deliver food to seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a councilman, Saperstein says he would seek to reform the property-tax laws to ensure that “someone living in Park Slope is paying the same rate as someone living in Midwood or Manhattan Beach or Sheepshead Bay. We have to look at a cap and we have to look at the assessments and figure that out.” He would also propose legislation to protect low-income seniors “from being crushed by rising property taxes,” and says that if the city is spending money to help people with rent, it should do so as well for seniors struggling with mortgages.
Though he describes himself as conservative, Saperstein does not advocate for an extremely limited government, noting that his hearing-impaired family was beneficiary of government services.
“It’s about spending money efficiently. The money is there, it’s just not seeing its way down to the actual people,” says Saperstein, arguing that there is much waste in government spending. He points to Thrive NYC, a mental-health service run by First Lady Chirlane McCray, as “the poster child of government inefficiency. It’s almost a billion dollars of money just being lit up for pet projects.”
Saperstein is the third candidate to declare for the Democratic nomination in what is expected to be a crowded field of contenders for Deutsch’s seat. Amber Adler and Boruch (Boris) Noble have previously declared. Other rumored candidates include Deutsch’s wife, Sara; David Heskiel, a community liaison to Deutsch and police chaplain; Heshy Tischler, a community activist and radio personality; Lenny Markh, chief of staff to Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, or his wife Mariya Markh, an aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio; Jack Plushnick, an aide to Deutsch; and Inna Vernikov, an attorney and activist.
SAPERSTEIN ON OTHER ISSUES:
Sanctity of life: “I believe that we should do whatever we can do to preserve life, but I respect that an individual has their own value and belief system, and that this is going to guide the choice that they make.”
Mayor de Blasio: “If there was a letter lower than F, I would give it to him. It’s sad that we have to wait a year-and-a-half for him to leave office.” Saperstein criticizes the mayor for “the rhetoric toward police, his handling of COVID, and really crippling small businesses and just giving this mixed messaging,” and for the mayor’s failure to establish a good relationship with the Trump Administration to obtain a bailout. “Everybody ran on this platform of anti-Trump, but it’s about delivering resources. And now we’re going to go to the federal government with our hands out and expect the president to just say, ‘Okay sure, I’ll fill the gap’? That’s just not how it works, and we’re being penalized for that.”
Anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism is a serious issue,” on which “we need strong leadership,” and everything comes down to education and funding.”
Education: Saperstein says government should increase funding for all schools, both public and private, but that private schools should be free to devise their own curriculum. “We need more funding for yeshivas. Religious schools should have the ability to operate in the best way they can without government interference. There’s a narrative now against our yeshivas, and I’m more than happy to speak out against that narrative.”