Special Election Tuesday in Central Queens Assembly Race

By Reuvain Borchardt

QUEENS — Central Queens voters will head to the polls Tuesday to choose their next Assemblymember, in a special election that has largely come down to party identity rather than sharp policy differences between the candidates.

Sam (Shmuie) Berger is running on the Democratic line, and Dovid (David) Hirsch is running on the Republican and Conservative lines in the 27th Assembly District’s special election, after Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal vacated the seat to take a position as vice president of government relations at UJA-Federation.

Both candidates are Orthodox Jews running in their first political races. Hirsch, 34, is a political consultant who learns in Yeshiva Ohr Hachaim and is a member of the socially conservative Coalition for Jewish Values. Berger, 25, a recent graduate of St. John’s Law School, is the son of Paula Berger, the Democratic district leader and a long-time teacher at Shevach High School.

The district, which includes the Flushing, Kew Gardens Hills, Whitestone and College Point neighborhoods, is heavily Orthodox Jewish and Asian-American. It has historically been a Democratic stronghold, but has been trending rightward in recent years. 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 Democratic incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Berger campaigning

Both candidates list public safety and support for police atop their agendas, as well as promoting education in private schools, opposing congestion pricing, and concern over Local Law 97 that mandates energy efficiency in buildings.

Hirsch is more vocally conservative in campaign literature, speaking against migrant encampments and in favor of religious liberties and tax cuts, while Berger advocates for increased spending on public transportation and promoting programs for seniors.

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 within the super-majority caucus.

“As a Democrat,” Berger told Hamodia, “I will have a seat at the table to be heard about our local issues and ensure our communities are respected and our nonprofits are funded – something a Republican would be frozen out of almost instantly. The best way to send a message to Albany is to send someone who understands how laws are made, a frum leader loyal to our causes, a person with the backing of our district’s religious and lay leadership.”

Hirsch campaigning

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie himself alluded to this earlier this month, speaking at a fundraiser for Berger.

“This is politics, and representation matters,” Heastie said. “All of the decisions that happen in the Assembly are made within the Democratic conference. So you want to have your representative in that room when the decisions are made.”

But Hirsch told Hamodia, “This is not a time to ‘go along to get along.’ We need to send a message loudly and clearly to Albany that the status quo cannot stand, and we have had enough. Vote for me and I will be your advocate for change in Albany.”

Berger has been endorsed by rabbanim including Rabbi Herschel Welcher, Rabbi Peretz Steinberg and Rabbi Hayim Schwartz; as well as by Democrats Rosenthal, Assemblymembers Simcha Eichenstein, David Weprin and Stacey Pheffer Amato; Democratic party leaders including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Rep. Gregory Meeks; a group of askanim called the Queens Jewish Alliance; and several police and EMT unions, as well as 1199 SEIU.

Hirsch has the endorsement of rabbanim including Rabbi Zvi Romm, Rabbi Yigal Haimoff and Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Haim; Republican politicians including Councilwoman Vickie Paladino and former Rep. Lee Zeldin; conservative Democratic Councilman Robert Holden; and a group called the Asian Wave Alliance.

R-L: Republicans Assemblyman Lester Chang, Assembly candidate Dovid Hirsch, and Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay. Chang was one of three Republicans who flipped an Assembly seat in South Brooklyn last year.

Berger, who has benefited from stepping into Rosenthal’s political infrastructure, has raised $167,000, while Hirsch has raised just over $15,000 (according to numbers provided by the candidates to Hamodia on Tuesday).

One political insider, a conservative Democrat who has not gotten involved in this race and who spoke to Hamodia on condition of anonymity, said there is “zero ability to predict this race, which can legit go either way.

“Since this is a special election and there is no other reason for anyone to come out and vote that day, it’s hard to predict turnout. Many people in this community, who don’t follow politics closely and are unfamiliar with the candidates and issues, will just vote for the Republican, but who knows if they will even show up to vote.”

As to the effect of endorsements, the insider said, “It matters more for Berger than Hirsch, I would think. People there are predisposed to voting Republican, so every endorsement for Berger tells people, ‘Wait, don’t be so reflexively Republican.’”

Berger is flanked by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (right) and Queens Democratic Party chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks, at a fundraiser last month. (Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia)

Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran conservative Democratic consultant, told Hamodia he believes the race “will hinge on how angry people are about bail reform, migrants and the possibility that the problems of Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn will seep into their district, which they consider to be almost the suburbs.

“If they feel that these problems are seeping in, they will vote Republican – even if this Democratic candidate doesn’t support those policies.”

Sheinkopf points to three Assembly races in Brooklyn flipped by Republicans last year, as well as Orthodox Jewish Republican Ari Brown’s decisive victory over Orthodox Jewish conservative Democrat David Lobl last year in a Long Island special election, and says, “People, particularly Orthodox Jews, have been voting based on party lately, and are not swayed by arguments about majority vs. minority.”

Early voting has already begun and will continue through Sunday, September 10. Early-voting sites are open Wednesday and Thursday from 10:00 to 8:00, Friday from 8:00 to 4:00, and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 to 5:00.

Election Day is Tuesday, September 12. Polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.


Endorsement letter released by the Hirsch campaign below

Endorsement letter released by the Berger campaign below

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