In Public Service: Persaud moving up ladder fast
“I will work with everyone — Democrats, Republicans,” said Assemblymember Roxanne Persaud, who is a Democrat but has shown a willingness to work across the aisle in Albany.
Persaud said she will always put the best interests of her constituents first.
Persaud represents the 59th Assembly District, which includes parts of Canarsie, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach and Gerritsen Beach. Several famous Brooklyn spots are located in her district, including the Kings Plaza Shopping Mall, the Aviator sports facility and the Marine Park Golf Course.
She is the first female to serve in the Assembly from the 59th Assembly District. She won the seat in 2014.
The seat was formerly held by Democrat Alan Maisel, who is now a City Councilmember.
Persaud’s stay in the state Assembly could turn out to be short. She is running in a special election on Nov. 3 for state Senate in the 19th Senate District. It’s an open seat due to the conviction, on corruptions charges, of former state Sen. John Sampson.
Persaud’s life as an elected official is a continuation of her life as a community and local political leader. “My life is community service,” Persaud told the Brooklyn Eagle in a recent interview at her district office on Avenue N in Canarsie.
“I grew up in a family that you had to do community service,” Persaud said.
It was a part of her life in her native Guyana. “Community service is a given there,” she told the Eagle.
Persaud, who grew up in Georgetown, Guyana, came to the U.S. at the age of 17. Almost immediately upon her arrival, she served as a volunteer for I Have A Dream, a program that helps inner city kids.
“We were renting a house. People assumed we owned the house,” she said, adding that neighbors thought her family was more well off financially than it was.
Twenty years ago, Persaud moved to Canarsie. Her community service DNA followed her to her new neighborhood.
“I walked into the precinct and asked how I could become involved in the precinct community council,” she recalled. Members of the 69th Precinct Community Council asked her if she was willing to take notes during the meeting and she said she was. Before long, she was elected to the post of secretary of the community council.
Persaud also joined the Lions Club and other nonprofit groups, including organizations that help cancer patients. “How does it all connect? It all comes back to community and making a connection with each other,” she said.
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Persaud worked with civic and religious leaders to deliver food to families whose homes had been destroyed and to the recovery workers laboring to put communities back together again.
Persaud worked for 21 years at Pace University, where her warm personality and her natural curiosity about people moved her up quickly.
After leaving Pace she went to work for St. Frances College in Brooklyn Heights. “It was a culture shock. It was a much smaller college. But I really liked it,” she recalled.
Continuing her neighborhood service, Persaud was appointed to her local community board.
She was also involved in politics. She is a member of the powerful and influential Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, the same club that Brooklyn Democratic County Chairman Frank Seddio belongs to.
She was also appointed to serve as a commissioner of the New York City Redistricting Commissioner, the group that held hearings to give the public a voice in how the maps for City Council districts are drawn.
Looking back on her first term in the Assembly, she summed it up in one word: interesting.
It started soon after her arrival. “I was talking to Shelly Silver one day and the next day he was gone,” she said. Assemblymember Sheldon Silver served as Assembly Speaker for 21 years until he was indicted on corruption charges and was ousted from his post. He continues to serve as an assemblymember.
Persaud said she believes things worked out for the best.
“All of us freshmen came together,” she said.
Under new Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), the legislative process opened up, Persaud said.
“Carl has been very receptive to the things we ask for. We can go to Joe Morelli and they work with us,” she said. Assemblymember Joseph Morelli (D-Rochester) is the majority leader.
Under Silver’s reign, freshman members were made to understand that certain high-profile committee memberships were off limits to them. That changed under Heastie.
Persaud is a member of the Higher Education, Real Property Taxation and Libraries and Technology committees. “I got really good ones,” she said.
Persaud also enjoys good relationships with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staff. “My interactions with the governor have been positive,” she said.
What does she make of the feud between Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio? “I think it’s a shame,” she told the Eagle. “Their issues were personal and it just happened to spill out in public. If there is a personal dislike there, they should put it aside and work together for the sake of the city and state. There’s too much at stake to play games. It’s the people who suffer,” she said.
“In the long run, the mayor did not get what the city needed,” she said.
Still, she applauds several of de Blasio’s initiatives. “I applaud what the mayor is doing on homelessness. There is a need to address homelessness,” she said.
Persaud is still getting used to the ins and outs of being in the state Legislature. In her Brooklyn office, she has one full-time staff member and four part-timers. In Albany, she is assisted by an intern.
“The state does not provide housing for legislators or staff in Albany. Members get per diem money. But staffers are on their own,” she said.
Harkening back to her days as a precinct community council leader, Persaud said that one of her goals is to bring police and the community closer together. “I would like to see an open dialogue. We have to make sure that people understand that the police are there to work with them, not against them,” she said.
Most of all, she said, it’s important, especially for an elected official, to listen to the constituents.
“Elected officials tend to think they know what the people need. But the people know what they need,” she said.
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