Joshua Lafazan said he knew he was in for a challenge when he announced five months ago he was seeking election to the Nassau County Legislature in District 18.
“Just like voters in 2012 took a chance on a teenager who wanted to make local government more accessible, voters in 2017 took a chance on a 23-year-old who wanted to make county government fairer, more equitable and more responsible to the needs of the people,” Lafazan said in an interview with Blank Slate Media.
“I know there was reason for skepticism and doubt because of my age, but the fact that people were able to eschew those doubts and believe in my ability to deliver, I’ll be forever grateful.”
Lafazan, who was elected to the Syosset Board of Education during his senior year, became the youngest public official in the state in 2012.
He promised voters he would stay in the area for the first two years, attending Nassau County Community College before finishing his bachelor’s degree in industrial and labor relations at Cornell University in 2016. The following fall, he went to Harvard University for a one-year master’s program in education policy and management.
Now, Lafazan is back in Syosset and on the cusp of becoming the youngest Nassau County legislator when he is inaugurated in January. Lafazan said he plans to offer an internship program next year as he did during his recent campaign.
“I was tired of hearing about brilliant and talented friends of mine doing rudimentary tasks,” Lafazan said. “Young people have unlimited potential, and I think the year of your birth has nothing to do with what’s in your heart or what’s in your skill set. I promised myself I would have a robust internship program where these kids could be on the front line.”
Lafazan used social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to increase his outreach across the district, which includes East Hills, Greenvale, Woodbury, Syosset, Laurel Hollow, Oyster Bay Cove, Oyster Bay, Cove Neck, Centre Island, Bayville, Mill Neck, Lattingtown, Locust Valley, Matinecock, the Brookvilles, Muttontown, East Norwich and Glen Head. Lafazan defeated three-term incumbent Donald MacKenzie with 55 percent of the 14,436 votes.
Lafazan said he and his energetic team of 40 interns, mostly high school or college students, knocked on 20,000 doors, taking a piece of advice from his mentor, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, to heart: “Face to face wins the race.”
Lafazan said the median age for his interns during the campaign was 16 years old, and his youngest, a voice heard thousands of times in the last five months through phone calls across the district, was 12-year-old Neal.
“You should see Neal work the phones. He is a magician,” Lafazan said. “What other campaign does a 12-year-old have an opportunity to not throw out the trash or get coffee, but to call persuadable voters and articulate our case?”
Lafazan, who was repeatedly told during both his campaigns that he was too young for the position, said during his packed victory speech at Hurricane Bar and Grill in Syosset, “If anybody tells you that you are too young to do something, they are wrong, and if you think they are right, remember what we did this night.”
A member of the milennial generation, Lafazan said he will focuses on all the people of Nassau County, but as a young adult he has a “unique burden to fight” for his generation, including affordable housing in his district and helping those with student loans, possibly with a state grant to help those commuting to Manhattan but living on Long Island with train ticket fares.
“Even though young people can’t vote, they have the most at stake in these local elections,” Lafazan said. “When they get home from college and there’s no affordable housing for young people, that’s on their legislators. As we deal with issues and we’re in the throes of climate change and environmental chaos and calamity, it’s our legislators who should uphold the Paris climate accord here in Nassau County.
“There’s so much riding on legislators making proactive decisions for the future so young people can benefit, so not only they should have a say, they should be active stakeholders and participants in our local democracy.”