Class is in session: New state Senators, Assemblymembers get started in Albany

collage of brooklyn state senators and assemblymembers
The 2023 legislative term has begun in Albany, and a host of new elected officials hailing from Brooklyn are settling in.

The 2023 legislative session has begun in Albany, and a host of new and returning state Senators and Assemblymembers from Brooklyn are settling in after a hectic election season. They’ll meet in Albany each week until June, when the session adjourns for the year.

The first week of the session is a little bit like syllabus week in college — leaders are appointed, legislators are sworn in, and committee assignments are handed out. Hearings and committee meetings will begin in the coming weeks.

After a long and difficult election cycle, Brooklyn sent three new Assemblymembers, all Republicans; and three new state Senators, both Democrats, to the statehouse. Democrats maintained a majority in both houses.

The Assembly

Nationwide, no “Red Wave” emerged in the midterm elections, but one did sweep through southern Brooklyn, where three Republicans — Lester Chang, Michael Novakhov, and Alec Brook-Krasny — won their elections over a Democratic incumbent.

The trio arrived in Albany with the rest of their colleagues on Wednesday. Chang’s introduction to the body has been rocky — shortly after his victory, the Assembly began an investigation of his residency over claims that he had not lived in Brooklyn for a year before the election, as is required by the state constitution.

After days of discussion and debate, Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie announced on Friday afternoon that Chang would not be expelled from the Assembly at this time, but the body is sending the evidence they gathered during the investigation to state authorities for further review.

lester chang being sworn in
Assemblymember Lester Chang and two of his Republican colleagues were sworn into the Assembly last week. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced on Jan. 6 that the body would not vote to expel Chang over the residency requirement. Photo courtesy Lester Chang/Twitter

Heastie was re-elected Speaker on Jan. 4, and released committee assignments later that day. Eight Brooklyn reps have been appointed to leadership positions. Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, the representative for AD42 and head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, was named Majority Whip.

Bichotte Hermelyn thanked Heastie for trusting her with the assignment in a statement on Thursday.

“My focus remains relentless on advocating for the evolving needs of my constituents, while fighting for the issues affecting us, including housing, health, education, maternal care, economic development, criminal justice, safety and voting rights,” the assemblymember said. “As Majority Whip, I will relentlessly work to ensure that our esteemed legislators are united and laser-focused on aiding their constituents and uplifting all New Yorkers.”

The additional committee assignments for Brooklyn are:

  • Simcha Eichenstein (AD48) – Assistant Majority Whip
  • William Colton (AD47) – Chair, Majority Program
  • Helene E. Weinstein (AD41) – Chair, Ways and Means Committee
  • Erik Dilan (AD54) – Chair, Correction Committee
  • Latrice Walker (AD55) – Chair, Election Law Committee
  • Jo Anne Simon (AD52) – Ethics and Guidance Committee
  • Maritza Davila (AD53) – Chair, Social Services Committee
  • Robert Carroll (AD44) – Chair, Legislative Commission on Government Administration
  • Phara Souffrant-Forrest (AD57) – Chair, New Americans Task Force

The state Senate

Three new Democratic state Senators joined their colleagues from Brooklyn in Albany this week: Kristen Gonzalez, Iwen Chu, and Jessica Scarcella-Spanton. Gonzalez represents a brand-new district, SD59, that includes Greenpoint and parts of Queens, while Chu – the first Asian-American woman elected to the state Senate — hails from the first Asian-majority district in Brooklyn, SD17.  

Scarcella-Spanton succeeded her old boss, former state Senator Diane Savino, in SD23. 

State senator Andrew Gounardes was elected to his third term in Albany, though he represents a new area thanks to redistricting — he now represents SD26, which includes parts of nabes including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Sunset Park, Red Hook, Downtown Brooklyn, Boerum Hill, and more. 

kristen gonzalez getting sworn in to the state senate
Kristen Gonzalez, a Democrat from the new state Senate district 59, was sworn into office last week alongside several new state Senators from Kings County. Photo courtesy state Senator Kristen Gonzalez/Twitter

Redistricting also saw the exit of one well-known senator: Brian Kavanagh, who has represented parts of Brooklyn in Manhattan since 2017, now serves an all-Manhattan district. 

Brooklynites new and old were appointed to head several committees in the body:

  • Jabari Brisport (SD25) – Chair, Committee on Children and Families
  • Andrew Gounardes (SD26) – Chair, Committee on Budget and Revenue
  • Zellnor Myrie – (SD20) – Chair, Committee on Elections
  • Julia Salazar – (SD18) – Chair, Committee on Crime Victims, Crime, and Corrections
  • Kevin Parker (SD21) – Chair, Committee on Energy and Telecommunications
  • Kristen Gonzalez (SD59) – Chair, Committee on Internet and Technology
  • Iwen Chu (SD17) – Chair, Committee on Libraries
  • Roxanne Persaud (SD19) – Chair, Committee on Social Services
  • Jessica Scarcella-Spanton (SD23) – Chair, Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security, and Military Affairs
  • Simcha Felder (SD22) – Chair, Administrative Regulations Review Commission

While the Democratic contingent in the Assembly has leaned right, the opposite is true in the Senate, where four reps — Chu, Gonzalez, Salazar, and Brisport – ran on the progressive Working Families Party line. All but Chu are Democratic Socialists. Brisport, who served as the chair of the Committee on Children and Families last term, has championed free Universal Childcare for all New Yorkers. 

Update 1/10/22, 12:49pm: This story has been updated to reflect that state Senator Simcha Felder was named the Chair of the Administrative Regulations Review Commission.