First-Time Candidates Set to Square Off in Queens Assembly Special Election

By Reuvain Borchardt

Dovid Hirsch (L) and Sam Berger

QUEENS — Democrat Sam Berger and Republican Dovid (David) Hirsch will square off in the 27th Assembly District’s special election next September, after receiving nominations Monday from their county party leaders.

The district includes Queens’ Flushing, Kew Gardens Hills, Whitestone and College Point neighborhoods, and is heavily Orthodox Jewish and Asian-American. Berger and Hirsch are both young, Orthodox and running in their first political races.

Hirsch, 34, is a political consultant who learns in Yeshiva Ohr Hachaim. Berger, 25, a recent graduate of St. John’s Law School, is the son of district leader Paula Berger.

The seat became vacant when Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal announced he would step down to take a position as vice president of government relations at UJA. Gov. Kathy Hochul has set the special-election date for September 12.

There is no primary for special elections; each party’s candidate is chosen by party leadership.

“I am proud to announce that the Queens Republican Party is unanimous in their support of David Hirsch,” Queens GOP Leader Anthony Nunziato told Hamodia after a meeting of party leaders Monday evening. “AD 27 has been a historically Democrat strong hold, but because of the work of [former gubernatorial candidate] Congressman Zeldin and others it is ready for a common-sense leader, which is exactly what David Hirsch is. We look forward to supporting his campaign and a victory in November.”

Hirsch will run on the Conservative line as well.

“New York State is plagued by problems caused by the Democrat Party’s policies in Albany,” Hirsch told Hamodia. “We have bail reform laws that play ‘catch and release’ with criminals. We have a rise in hate crimes against Jews and Asians, with the lightest of sentences for the perpetrators. At a time when New York’s public schools are failing in Math and Reading, our Democrat-run government is going after yeshivas. Special Education in New York State is a mess with many vulnerable children falling through the cracks, or having to wait months for approval for vital services, and the Democratic Party is doing nothing to fix it. New York also has several proposals under consideration on social issues that would be harmful for Orthodox Jews and other people of faith. We need to draw a line in the sand and tell Albany that enough is enough.”

Rosenthal has endorsed Berger, telling Hamodia that Berger’s “passion, dedication, and knowledge will undoubtedly serve our community well.”

“Sam is a devoted father, an advocate, and a proud product of the very community he aspires to serve,” Rosenthal continued. “His personal and professional experiences equip him with the knowledge and passion needed to be an outstanding representative for our district.”

 “This nomination reflects the collective belief in a shared vision for a stronger, more prosperous District 27,” Berger said in a statement Monday. “I am committed to representing the values of the Democratic Party and working tirelessly to address the pressing needs of our community.”

Rosenthal has represented the district since 2017, winning a special election to replace his close friend Michael Simanowitz, a”h, who had died of cancer at age 46. Rosenthal was the youngest current Assemblymember when he won election at 26, and Berger would take that title if he wins in September.

The district has historically been a Democratic stronghold, but it has been trending rightward recently. Rosenthal, a moderate Democrat and Orthodox Jew, won his last election, in 2022, with 58% of the vote. But in the same election, the 27th Assembly district went 56% for Republican Lee Zeldin in his challenge to Hochul, the Democratic incumbent.

The minority party in the New York State Assembly has little power, and this election will be the latest installment in a long-running debate over whether a politically conservative community is best-served by electing a Republican who fully embraces and forcefully advocates for its values, or a moderate or conservative Democrat who can advocate for its needs and achieve within the majority.

“The most effective elected officials for the frum community in New York are moderate Democrats,” David Greenfield, a former Democratic City Councilman, told Hamodia. “That allows them to sit with the party in power and work with the officials who run New York government. Sam Berger had the added bonus of being a smart up-and-coming lawyer and someone who grew up in this community where he and his wife are now raising their small kids. That experience will make Sam an effective advocate to fight for the needs of the frum community.”

But Republican strategist Michael Fragin disagreed with that assertion, telling Hamodia, “Voters in the frum community firmly rejected that argument in the special election of Ari Brown to Assembly,” referring to a race in Long Island last year in which Brown, a frum Republican, soundly defeated a frum moderate Democrat. “Ari Brown has been a passionate fighter for the Jewish People in his time in office. David Hirsch will be the same.”

Brown wasn’t the only downstate Republican to flip a seat recently: three Assembly seats in South Brooklyn went for the GOP last year, as did several suburban Congressional seats, and a number of New York City Council seats in 2021.

Shabsie Saphirstein, a Queens community activist who serves as treasurer of the Queens Jewish Alliance, said both Hirsch and Berger are fine candidates and that he is looking forward to a gentlemanly race.

“I have seen both Berger and Hirsch raised in our community — they both come from amazing and influential families, and display the best of our yeshivah system,” Saphirstein said. “I encourage my fellow residents to be role models for all other religious communities and steer away from controversy. Instead, we must vote based on the issues, knowing full well that these candidates wear their yarmulkes proudly and will be shining examples for the values we hold so dear.”

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