Assemblymember-elect Lester Chang insisted he does meet the residency requirements to serve in his new southern Brooklyn district on Saturday after the Assembly announced it would investigate claims that he did not live in the borough for long enough to meet the prerequisite.
“Until my wife passed in 2019, I lived with her in a Manhattan apartment,” Chang said amid chants of “Lester won!” at a Dec. 10 press conference in Sunset Park. “Even then, I still had residence here in Brooklyn. It was my childhood home, I never left.”
Chang, a Republican, defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Peter Abbate in Assembly District 49 last month — but within days, some opponents had raised questions about the Assemblymember-elect’s address. According to state law, Chang would’ve had to have lived in Brooklyn for a full year before the Nov. 8 general election but, according to City & State, he voted in lower Manhattan last fall, not in Brooklyn, indicating to some critics that he may have been living out of the borough at the time.
With urging from local politicians and the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced last week that the body’s judiciary committee would investigate Chang’s residency and pass its findings on to the incoming Assembly in January. If the committee found that Chang did not meet residency requirements, the Assembly could vote not to seat him — which would likely prompt a special election.
“I want to point out that the Assembly committee questioning my Brooklyn residency mailed their letters to me at my home address in Brooklyn,” Chang said. “I am personally offended that anyone would challenge my honor and integrity. I pledge to you that I will fight to see that your will, that your voice that was expressed on Election Day is heard.”
The Assemblymember-elect was joined by his lawyer, John Ciampoli, members of the Brooklyn GOP, and former mayoral candidate and Guardian Angels Founder Curtis Sliwa. Chang, a Navy veteran, has run for office twice before — once in 2016 in a lower Manhattan Assembly district, and again in 2020 in a state Senate district that encompassed parts of northern Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. In past years, candidates would have had to live in the district they’re running in for at least a year — the restrictions were loosened this year due to redistricting.
“After my wife passed, I spent more and more time in my Brooklyn home,” Chang said. “Life required me to be there to care for my mother, who is now 95 years old. She is frail and not in good health. By November 7 of 2022, it was without question that Brooklyn was my primary residence.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Chang said, he was called up by the New York Naval Militia to serve in Manhattan, where he was stationed at the Jacob Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s west side. The vaccination site at the Javits Center, which was staffed by National Guard and Naval Militia members, closed in July 2021. Whenever possible during that time, Chang said, he returned to Brooklyn.
Ciampoli, an election lawyer and former Nassau County counsel and state Senate legislative counsel, bashed the investigation — claiming the Assembly has not shared any specific complaints with he or Chang.
“We don’t know who complained, we don’t know what the complaint is, we don’t know what the facts are that the complaint is based on — how can you begin to say that this is fair – that this isn’t a hit job?” Ciampoli said.
The lawyer also accused the current Assembly of doing the job of the incoming class of Assemblymembers —including Chang — who will be seated in January. Heastie ordered the judiciary committee to complete the investigation by the end of the month and pass it on to the new Assembly class “for consideration,” according to a Dec. 2 statement.
“There’s a rush here, in case somebody was looking for that sign of what’s going on … let’s do this quick, so the man can’t put his evidence up,” Ciampoli said. “I have a small mountain of documents that Lester’s gotten to me, I haven’t even been able to look at them. This man grew up here, he lives here, he lived here at the time that’s relevant to the legal test.”
Michael Whyland, communications director for the New York State Assembly, said the body has been asking Chang “informally and now by invitation” to show that he meets the residency requirements for three weeks — and he has yet to do so.
“Instead of all his inflammatory statements, accusations of racism, and mischaracterizations he should just provide proof that he meets these constitutional requirements of residing in the county for 12 months prior to the election, something that anyone should be able to do with relative ease,” Whyland told Brooklyn Paper. “It’s just that simple.”