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Steve Israel: Reacquainting Himself With Great Neck

Friendly walk-about shows off the Plaza’s busy downtown

Congressman Steve Israel, the Democratic hopeful for the new Third District for the United States House of Representatives, is delighted to be spending so much time in Great Neck these days. Having worked for the American Jewish Congress that was located in Great Neck in the 80s, the congressman told the Great Neck Record that, the day after the new congressional maps were drawn, he phoned the district’s soon-to-be-retired Congressman Gary Ackerman and began to learn even more about the expanded new district.

And he immediately began “talking to people” to become familiar with a district that is set to encompass not only parts of Suffolk County, but as of next year will also include much of the North Shore of Suffolk County, plus Nassau County’s North Shore and a very small section of Queens.

Congressman Israel said that he has been to Great Neck four times in the past two weeks, learning all he can and enjoying all that the community has to offer. Religious services, meetings, breakfasts have all been a part of his orientation. Great Neck is hardly new to Steve Israel, but it has undergone changes since he worked here on a regular basis and he is eager to learn more about those changes and the issues facing this community. Last Friday, April 13, he met with the Record editors for a getting-to-know-you session and a stroll through Great Neck’s bustling downtown.

Congressman Israel, who has been in office since 2001, was eager to tell the Record of some of his most passionate interests, including civil rights, investing in schools and the environment, gay rights, and women’s rights. He noted that as a member of the House Democratic leadership, he has long “fought the Republicans” over women’s rights issues, as well as fighting for the other priority issues.

When the topic of the strong Great Neck School District arose, Congressman Israel said that he has worked long and hard in Congress “to fight” for investment in education, as opposed to what he calls the Republican desire to “undermine our schools.” For the congressman, “Our future depends on today’s classrooms.”

Turning to Kings Point’s United States Merchant Marine Academy, Congressman Israel said that he has been on the academy’s board of advisors for a long time and has visited the beautiful waterfront site many times. At one point, the congressman brought General David Petraeus to the academy for a lecture series. At that time, the general was in command of Fort Leavenworth. For the congressman, helping to improve the education at all of the nation’s military academies is a priority and he certainly supports all efforts to maintain and improve the infrastructure of the U.S.M.M.A.

Congressman Israel reiterated that he already has “strong commitments” to the academy. As a member of Congress he has appointed students to the academy. “This is a labor of love … the academy is a part of the fabric of this community,” he said.

The congressman is also well acquainted with environmental issues, national and global issues, as well as the very local environmental concerns.

The Record asked the congressman about the new pattern of flights to and from JFK International Airport and the NextGeneration technology that allows planes to take off and land in more narrow pathways at shorter intervals. He said that the environmental impacts of NextGen on air quality and noise were not thoroughly studied by the FAA in his opinion. He supports full vetting of the consequences of these new flight patterns.

And in regard to the highly controversial hydrofracking issue before New York State, the congressman is not satisfied that enough is known about the chemicals that would be pumped into the earth and the effects on the environment. He commented, “We need much more information before making such an important decision.”

And then it was time to go for a walkabout.

During a lively saunter through town, Congressman Israel pointed out some favorite shops and restaurants, and stopped into a few to make a purchase or just greet a shop owner. Walking along Middle Neck Road, he was most interested in absorbing the sights and sounds, and stopped to chat with friendly passersby who recognized a U.S. congressman in their own hometown.

A stop at Bruce’s Bakery provided the congressman with some cakes to end the Passover season and a surprise visit with an old friend, Great Neck’s Robert Zimmerman. With roots that go back to political ventures and a human rights trip to Russia in 1985, the two old friends took a few minutes to catch up. The informal gathering turned into a perfect opportunity for other patrons to “meet and greet” the man hoping to represent them in the near future.

Continuing through the shopping district, Congressman Israel learned even more about Great Neck as he peered into shops and asked about some old landmarks and new restaurant trends. It was perfect timing when he met Great Neck’s famous “Millie” from the long gone but well-loved Millie’s Place restaurant.

Trying to learn all about his new communities, Steve Israel told the Record that in his quest to win this new Third District, with the new Nassau County North Shore communities, he will be “studying with Gary Ackerman until the end of the year.” As he campaigns for another term, with a new district, Congressman Israel is eager to learn the community issues before the hopeful start of a new term next year. “I want to be ready to hit the ground running,” he said.

As Steve Israel moves forward, he is obviously enjoying his work, continuing his efforts in Congress and seeking re-election and a new district. He plans to keep up his visits to Great Neck, to learn more about the community, to visit the many municipalities, to meet the people. Next, he very much wants to visit the Old Village and learn of the revitalization efforts in that business and shopping area.

When the Record asked why such heavy workloads, why such efforts and so much less personal time, Steve Israel replied, simply: “I want to make a difference.”