Philanthropist, community activist and Democratic candidate Isaac Sasson is like the old New York Lottery slogan in it to win it this time in the race for state Sen. Toby Stavisky’s (D-Whitestone) seat.
Sasson, who lost to Yen Chou in last year’s Democratic primary for the Flushing City Council seat later filled by Republican Peter Koo and hit the $13 million Lottery jackpot in September 2007, said he is willing to dig deep into his winnings in order to capture the post.
“People ask me, ‘What’s a Lotto winner doing running for office? You should be traveling.’ I mean, I’ve lived in this community for 33 years in the same building and I don’t need a job,” said Sasson, who is committed to reforming the state Legislature. “I will spend whatever’s necessary to win the election. I feel it’s an opportunity to use some of the money I won to good use.”
He contends Albany has become ineffective and lost the faith of the people it is supposed to represent because of its loyalties to priorities that are not aligned with those of the average New Yorker.
Sasson, who used 15 percent to 20 percent of the lump-sum payment he received on the $13 million to fund a community foundation which has doled out $150,000 since January 2008, said becoming senator would benefit the people of his district because he is not in the pockets of special interests and would keep voters’ concerns paramount.
“When I win over an incumbent, it’ll send a strong message to the other senators that they’d better start listening to the people and not just to the lobbyists. I’m not beholden to anyone,” he said. “The people in office now are part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
Sasson, who lives in downtown Flushing, said if he were elected he would focus much of his efforts on creating jobs and keeping people and jobs in the state rather than driving them away with high taxes to fund unnecessary services and programs.
“We’ve got to give an incentive to small businesses, entrepreneurs and tech start-ups to come and create jobs,” the U.S. Army veteran and former cancer researcher said. “We’ve got to get people to move here and stop the bleeding of jobs.”
The state’s fiscal house must be put in order, Sasson said, before the house of cards comes tumbling down and New York reaches a Greek-style economic low. He said legislators need to look at longer-term budgets instead of simply taking money out to close fiscal gaps year after year.
And the state missed the boat during the booming early years of the last decade, comparing its failure to save money to the story of Joseph and the Pharaoh in the Bible’s book of Genesis.
“Joseph said now, in the seven years of plenty, let’s fill the granary for the seven lean years to come,” he said. “So we needed to fill the granaries during the good years and we didn’t fill the granaries.”
Sasson said savings might be found in the budget if it were opened up and more transparent, so legislators and others could examine where and how every state tax dollar is spent. He said savings could be identified in duplicative and unneeded programs and that some programs, such as Medicaid, may be particularly fraught with excessive waste, as New York spends vastly more per person on Medicaid than states such as California and Texas.
But his chief concern is to restore New Yorkers’ faith in their state government.
“Getting people again to have faith in Albany, that is critical to restore faith and restore trust in our elected officials,” he said. “That trust is gone.”
Born in Syria, Sasson grew up in Lebanon and moved to Brooklyn when he was 15. He served in the U.S. Army for several years, and holds a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Connecticut. He then moved to Flushing to do post-doctorate work at Queens College and spent almost 20 years teaching organic chemistry at the school and doing cancer research and other work at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and the Institute for Cancer Prevention.
Stavisky has been the senator for District 16, which includes part or all of the area stretching from Bay Terrace, Bayside and Whitestone to Flushing, Forest Hills and Woodside, since 1999. Oakland Gardens lawyer John Messer, a fellow Democrat, is also running for her seat. Robert Schwartz is opposing her on the Republican line.