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A New Generation of Local Leadership Sustains Its Momentum

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Loves history and politics almost as much as Kurt Vonnegut novels.

Towards the end of last summer, I was a bit jealous. I kept hearing from many of my friends that there was this guy named Josh always inviting them to hang out. Why was I never called? Who was this “Josh?” Of course, after some much-needed clarification, they were referring to independent Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan and, no, they weren’t having massive ragers. They were canvassing neighborhood streets for his 2019 re-election.

With his legion of high school volunteers, Lafazan soared to re-election, winning 69% of the vote. I got a chance to speak to him and asked what he thought about the young students, too young to vote, who flock to his summer internship program. He said he targeted the internship to high-schoolers because “time and time again young people are relegated to get coffee and do manual office work… As a young person, if I’m not gonna be the guy at 26 to give a young person a chance, who is?” These student interns got the opportunity to canvass neighborhoods, research policy and hear New York State political officials speak.

And yes, Lafazan himself is only 26 years old and the youngest person elected to the Nassau County Legislature at the age of 23. He formerly served as the youngest member of the Syosset Central School District school board as well. Presenting himself as a liaison of young people to government, in addition to the internship, he published his book Political Gladiators: How Millennials Can Navigate the 21st Century Political Minefield and WIN! in 2015. He also teaches a course he wrote at the New York Institute of Technology and Long Island University Post. The busy vicenarian was actually heading to teach the class at 6 pm as I spoke to him.

While he is usually the one initiating contact with the youth, Lafazan told me a story about a time a young girl reached out to him. I had asked him if there is anything education-related he has accomplished or hopes to accomplish in the legislature. He recognized that jurisdiction regarding curricula and such somewhat skip over the county level, from the state to the school districts. However, he told me that when a 12-year-old girl named Shayna Sakhai reached out to him on Instagram, she prompted him to tackle the bullying problem in many Nassau County schools. Out of this encounter, Lafazan spearheaded the Nassau Stop Bullying initiative.

“The [Dignity for All Students] Act mandates that every school district has a DASA coordinator to handle incidents of bullying,” he explained. “The issue is very often parents couldn’t identify or contact the DASA coordinator for their district.” The initiative created a database on the county government’s website of all Nassau County school district DASA coordinators as well as other resources on the federal, state and local levels for parents and students concerned about bullying.

In addition to his efforts against bullying, Lafazan is also proud of his veteran housing package, gun storage safety reform and a mental health project in the works. Though he is personally ambitious, Lafazan makes it a point to stay away from partisan divisiveness in his legislative conduct and political rhetoric. “Potholes are not partisan,” he once said. He takes that attitude continuously to the county legislature, working to effect local— but not insignificant — change.

Non-partisan as he may be, it seems as I was the only one last summer, hearing from my braggadocious friends, without a party.