Senator Gianaris Speaks to TNH about His New Role

FILE - New York Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Astoria, in the Senate Chamber at the state Capitol in Albany. Photo: (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

NEW YORK – New York State Senator Michael Gianaris took time out of his busy schedule to talk to The National Herald about his role as the new Deputy Majority Leader. He is the highest ranking member of the State Senate from New York City and the second-highest ranking member of the Senate.

Sen. Gianaris noted that he is excited to be in a position to help lead the direction of the state, and it is why he followed his career path.

He told TNH, “For example, in the first week we’re ready to pass laws to make it easier to vote, establishing early voting in the state, we’re already getting ready to do impactful things, and we’re going to continue doing that and to play such a large role making those decisions is an exciting thing for me.”

When asked about the priorities for the new session in the Senate, Sen. Gianaris said, “We have many, I’m going to try hard to deal with a lot of the crises we’re facing in New York, for example, trying to improve the subways which are falling apart, is a priority of mine, trying to make the city more affordable for tenants is another priority because the rents are going higher and higher every day and more people are being driven out of their homes. In addition to that I mentioned the voting reform packages, trying to improve our democracy by controlling campaign contributions more, and also making it easier for people to vote.”

About Automatic Voter Registration, Sen. Gianaris noted that the bill has not yet passed, but “hopefully in the next two weeks.”

When asked about the situation with Amazon and the concerns of the community, he said, “It’s related to some of the things I talked about. First of all the main concern is that we’re giving them $3 billion to come here and that’s outrageous. Aside from that, I don’t know how Long Island City is supposed to accommodate them, the subways can’t handle the people who are already there, never mind adding 50,000 more people, and the housing is already unaffordable in both Astoria and Long Island City. This will make it much worse. And so I’m very concerned. The schools don’t have enough space for the kids in the neighborhood. Everything about this would transform the neighborhood in a way that would be bad for us because we’re not using our money to build infrastructure we’re using our money to give to Amazon. That’s a huge mistake.”

When asked about meeting with Seattle city council members, Sen. Gianaris said, “We were trying to get a sense of what their experience is like because they’ve been living with Amazon for many years now and it was shocking to hear the major consequences to the city of Seattle, homelessness. If we think our homeless problem is bad in Seattle it is exponentially worse. Their homelessness increased well over a hundred percent because of the gentrification and un-affordability there, Amazon continues to fight efforts to have them pay their fair share so that the city can build enough infrastructure to handle them, so they haven’t been able to do that properly. It has created a big divide where only the wealthy are living in the downtown area and the people who are more blue collar workers are being shoved outside of Seattle and have to commute in some cases two hours to get to their jobs because there are no affordable places to live in the city itself.”

“It’s a huge mistake and I intend to fight it,” Sen. Gianaris said of Amazon coming to Long Island City.

When asked about the new Senate Majority Leader, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the first woman to lead either house of the New York State Legislature in its 241-year tenure, Sen. Gianaris noted that “it’s terrific. I’m honored to be her deputy. We form a very strong leadership team to move forward.”

When asked about the Greek-Americans in the Senate, he said, “We have more Greek-Americans in the Senate than there have ever been in history… and with Andrew Gounardes and James Skoufis we’re working together regularly on a lot of issues.”

About upcoming bills and legislation, Sen. Gianaris said, “We’re going to be passing some important bills to protect women’s health, and we’re going to be taking some important steps to increase funding for higher education so it’s easier for kids to go to college, and more in the coming weeks on public safety making sure that guns don’t get into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. So there’s a lot on our plate, but I’m excited that we get a chance to do all these things.”

Sen. Gianaris told TNH, “When I first got elected, and I was the first Greek-American, I promised the community that I would work hard to try and make sure that other young members of our community would have the chance to serve, and now that we have the most Greek-Americans that have ever been in the Senate I feel like we’ve done some great work, but it’s always important to me to keep opening doors for young people to serve the public. We will continue to try and do that. We’re starting to talk about forming a Hellenic caucus between the Assembly and the Senate, there’s six of us now, that would give us more of an opportunity to advocate for our issues.”