In Public Service: Felder aims to make life easier for residents
“Life is complicated. Whatever we can do to make it a little easier for people we should do,” said state Sen. Simcha Felder, summing up his political philosophy.
Felder told the Brooklyn Eagle that what he likes best about his job is solving problems and boosting local services.
Libraries, public schools and parks are top priorities for him as a state senator. “These are basic foundations for families, for kids, for seniors,” said Felder, a Democrat who represents the 17th State Senate District (Borough Park-Midwood-Kensington).
He has secured grants for each of the public schools in his district. The money goes “to buy things they can’t get otherwise,” he said.
There are six libraries in his district. He has secured $50,000 for each. Libraries play a vital role in a community, according to Felder. “It’s a great place for seniors and for kids. It’s the best place to study,” he said.
He takes pride in the fact that he has arranged for free flu shots, mammograms and prostate cancer screenings for constituents in his district. He feels that the medical tests not only help people, but they also raise awareness of health-related issues.
“It’s not earth shattering, life-changing stuff,” he said, referring to various endeavors he has funded, “but it makes things a little easier for people.”
Felder, who won the senate seat in 2012, has earned a reputation as a political maverick.
Despite the fact that he is a Democrat, he decided soon after his arrival in Albany to caucus with Republicans, who hold the majority of seats in the senate.
“I don’t believe in any particular party,” he said, adding that he just wants to get things done for his constituents. “The Republicans believe in the free market. I agree with that.”
Like many Republicans, Felder is a supporter of charter schools. “The only way public schools will get better is though competition,” he told the Eagle during an interview in his district office on Avenue J in Midwood.
He is the chairman of the senate’s Subcommittee on New York City Education and is a member of the Cities, Aging, Health, Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Commerce and Infrastructure committees.
One goal he has is to bring art and music back into the public schools.
Special education students and their families are also a priority for him, he said. “That area is always targeted for cuts. And they don’t have advocates,” he said.
His parents, Zvi and Ida Felder, taught him about the importance of helping others. They did it by example. “My parents were like the local social service organization,” he said.
The family lived on 18th Avenue and 49th Street in Borough Park. Zvi Felder was a rabbi. Simcha Felder estimated that 700 to 1,000 people came to see his father throughout an average day to seek his support and guidance with a problem.
Young Simcha would often come home to find out that his parents had given someone a place to stay for the night.
The lessons his parents taught about helping others stuck with him. “Some things never leave you,” he told the Eagle.
Felder is a certified public accountant. He holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College. He also taught at Touro College and Brooklyn College.
He worked for many years as an accountant, including a stint at the New York City Department of Finance, where he conducted audits. He worked under Kathleen Grimm, who later became a deputy schools chancellor.
“I never really liked accounting, but I had to make a living,” he said. “I knew I was not going to be a rabbi like my father and that I needed to make a living in a different way.”
In his spare time, he did volunteer work in the community. He helped out with voter registration drives. It sparked something in him. “I really enjoyed it,” he recalled.
Felder became interested in politics and got a job in the 1990s working for Alan Hevesi, who was New York City comptroller at the time. Felder worked in Hevesi’s Intergovernmental Unit.
Felder then worked for Assemblymember Dov Hikind, eventually becoming Hikind’s chief of staff. He loved helping Hikind’s constituents solve problems, he said.
In 2002, Felder ran for City Council and won. He represented a district that covered Borough Park and included parts of Midwood and Bensonhurst.
He spent eight years on the council.
Felder said he still believes that the city should get rid of alternate side of the street parking regulations to make life easier for drivers and let them avoid the hassle of having to move their cars. “We didn’t have street sweepers in the 1960s and the streets still got cleaned,” he said.
Felder sponsored a bill several years ago to create sanitation routing hours for residential neighborhoods, similar to the routing hours in business districts, so that homeowners wouldn’t be threatened with sanitation fines for litter all day long.
He also pushed for the city to try a permitted parking system in which homeowners could pay a fee to park their cars on the street outside their homes.
In 2010, he surprised many political observers when he left the council to become deputy city comptroller under his former council colleague, John Liu, who had won election as comptroller. “I had 200 people working with me,” Felder recalled.
“But I had a hard time sitting behind a desk,” he added.
Two years later, he decided to run for the state senate. He won.
Felder reflected on the differences between working in the City Council and in the State Senate.
“It takes a lot more time to get something done,” he said, referring to getting bills passed in Albany. “But once you get it done, it’s very big and very permanent.”
In the State Legislature, there is a great deal of camaraderie among members, because, he said, “you’re stuck up there.”
Now that the city is in the de Blasio Era, Felder said he is concerned about what he sees as a diminishing quality of life for residents.
He cast doubt on NYPD statistics boasting that crime is down. “I don’t believe the numbers,” he said, adding that he thinks the crime rate is higher than is being reported.
“I also see more homeless people on the street,” he said.
He wants the stop-question-frisk policy brought back to full strength.
“I believe in stop and frisk. I also believe that there were problems with it. We could have had modifications. I want to bring back a modified version of stop and frisk. Middle income people want to feel safe. People do not feel as safe and secure as they once did,” he said.
“It is not too late, but we don’t want to wait until it’s too late,” Felder said.
He wants a city that is vibrant, where every child can get a good education and where families feel secure and safe, he said.
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