Since Democratic challenger for the New York State Assembly's 17th District, Emil Samuels, moved to East Williston two years ago, he has tried to get involved in his community, speaking out against issues he feels will affect the quality of life for residents. Now, Samuels would like to fight for what he feels is right on the state level.
Samuels spent five years as legislative assistant for then New York State Assembly Deputy Majority Leader Alan Hevesi before becoming an attorney. He is now a personal-injury lawyer and feels his experience will serve him well in the state assembly.
"As an attorney, I know how to advocate positions. I know how to represent the rights of people and I think people come first. As a legislative assistant for five sessions in Albany, I know how to draft legislation. I know how the committee system works. I know how to navigate bills through the committee process and onto the floor," he said. "After passage in the assembly, I will walk over to the senate and advocate, negotiate or actively push for certain proposals to be voted on in committee. I won't just let them die in the senate."
Samuels said he is running an "issue-oriented" campaign. Among the issues he would like to address is state funding for education, HMO reform, and environmental protection.
When it comes to environmental issues, Samuels said he favors cleaning up Long Island and preserving open space. He said he also favors soil testing. "I want to clean up Long Island to stop the percentage of women getting breast cancer from growing," he said.
He said he is concerned about a superfund site at Roosevelt Field and that the fund for the state superfund is running out. "In May 2000, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency proposed the Old Roosevelt Field Contaminated Ground Water Area (ORCA) to the National Priorities List as a contaminated site and a possible threat to the safety of our public drinking water supply," he said. "I call for a moratorium on any redevelopment at Roosevelt Field and a clean-up of this contaminated groundwater area. We must ensure the safety of our drinking water and eliminate threats to our health."
Samuels said he will also fight to protect homeowners from the excessive costs for remediation of oil leaks from underground home heating, oil storage tanks. He proposes homeowners insurance policies covering damage resulting from leaking, underground oil tanks.
When it comes to healthcare, Samuels said he favors the elimination of an insurance deductible for mammograms and pap tests and not just for prostate screening. "I would have walked across to the senate and insisted that issue be taken up. Given the fact that one in nine women either have or will get breast cancer, I think that mammograms and pap tests should be covered," he said.
Samuels is also advocating HMO reform so that HMOs can be held accountable in a court of law, if necessary, if they deny or withhold necessary treatment to a patient. "You can sue the county; you can sue the state; you can sue the U.S. government for negligence; you can even sue a sitting president, but you cannot sue your HMO in New York State if they deny you coverage and you've paid for that coverage," he said. "I want to really hold them accountable...I'm not trying to promote lawsuits. What I want to do is just make sure they can't say no with complete immunity and that they will be held accountable."
Samuels said he would expand some of the programs that currently exist to benefit senior citizens. "Our senior citizens have paid their taxes in society. They've served in wars; they've held jobs; they've built our communities. What I want to do is make sure that our senior citizens have full coverage and if that means the state picking up the tab for their prescription coverage, then I favor that," he said. "I don't think senior citizens living on a fixed income should have to do decide whether to pay their rent bill, food bill or utility bill as opposed to their prescription drugs."
Another issue that the democratic challenger is concerned about is whether the school districts within the 17th Assembly District are receiving enough state aid to meet mandated standards. Samuels said the average state aid given per student is $4,233, excluding the STAR program, according to the Office of State Aid for the New York State Education Department. In the 17th Assembly District, students, he said, receive less than half that amount. "We're paying our fair share of taxes, yet we're receiving less than half the state average."
Samuels' opponent, Maureen O'Connell, argues that the schools in the 17th Assembly District, greatly benefited from state aid, stating the record increase in state aid for the fourth consecutive year. The amount of state aid awarded to each district is based on factors such as property values and income wealth. Samuels said, however, that the formula doesn't take into account the cost of living on Long Island, which is relatively high. "I propose a cost of living factor on how the aid comes into the [assembly] district," he added.
The East Williston resident believes more state aid can be secured and suggested using the New York State Lottery system to reduce school taxes. Lottery revenue has increased from $54 million to $1.4 billion since 1975. During the same time, Samuels said, school taxes have increased approximately 400 percent. "Clearly the lottery is not achieving its goal. I intend to change the lottery laws. The revenue from the lottery should be used exclusively to reduce our school taxes and help taxpayers as was promised," he said.
According to Samuels, lottery funds are currently part of the overall education budget as opposed to being additional funds for schools. Lottery contributions do not represent extra or supplemental funds for schools. "I propose to increase school aid by redirecting money from the lottery," he said, adding that the profits received from the lottery should be directed back into education as supplemental funds.
Now, consumed in campaigning for the New York State Assembly, Samuels said he is glad he has decided to run for election. "I will take an active advocacy role in terms of representing the people of this district, their needs and their concerns," he said.
Samuels hopes to use the practice he's gotten fighting for clients to fight for the residents of the 17th Assembly District. "It's exciting," he said of his campaign. "It's good to get out there and meet the people and really talk to the people. A lot of people share the same concerns I do and acknowledge that these issues aren't being addressed by anyone right now."