Bedford Town Supervisor Chris Burdick this week bowed out of the race for the state Senate seat representing District 37, which includes the Town of Bedford. The seat was freed when incumbent George Latimer began his term as Westchester County Executive on Jan 1. Mr. Latimer, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Rob Astorino, a Republican, in the November general election, which widely saw local victories for the Democratic Party.
In a related development, Bedford resident and political newcomer, Sarmad Khojasteh, has entered the Senate race as the Republican candidate.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has the discretion to call a special election for the vacant Senate seat. If the governor chooses not to call a special election, Mr. Latimer’s seat would remain vacant through the end of 2018.
Mr. Burdick won his third term as Bedford Town Supervisor in the Nov. 7 general election after running unopposed on the Democratic slate. The following week Mr. Burdick announced his intention to run for Mr. Latimer’s seat.
At the Westchester County Democratic Committee’s mini-convention, held Tuesday at the Wetschester County Center, Mr. Burdick seconded the nomination of Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer as the Democratic candidate for the Senate seat. Ms. Mayer, who represents the 90th Assembly District, comprises much of Yonkers. Ms. Mayer won the party’s nomination.
In a statement delivered at Tuesday’s gathering, Mr. Burdick announced his withdrawal from the race and urged committee members to unite behind Ms. Mayer.
“This is larger than any one candidate It is about the direction of our state and about the critical control of the state Senate itself,” Mr. Burdick said. “The balance of power is at stake. Supporting Shelley is key to a Democratic Senate, which will advance our Democratic values, and she will be an outstanding voice for just that task.”
In addition to Mr. Burdick, other contender’s for the party’s nomination were public school teacher and activist Kat Brezler, and attorney and CEO of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce Mark Jaffe.
Mr. Burdick’s state Senate candidacy, if successful, would have resulted in a shift in the Town of Bedford’s local government. Under local law, the Bedford Town Board could have appointed a successor, left Mr. Burdick’s seat vacant, or called a special election. Mr. Burdick stated in a previous interview that he believed Lee Roberts, who earlier this week was reappointed as Deputy Town Supervisor, would have stepped up in the interim.
Following the results of the committee’s mini-convention, Mr. Khojasteh congratulated Ms. Mayer on securing the Democratic nomination in a statement. He continued, “However, Albany is broken and there is too much at stake for Westchester’s working families to allow this election to be about an Albany insider moving her picture frames and books from one office to another.”
The first-time candidate went on to say, “I look forward to a spirited campaign with Assembly member Mayer that is focused on the issues and each of our proposed solutions, background and experience.”
According to Mr. Khojasteh, while the current state of political discourse has driven some prospective candidates away, for him, it has “raised the stakes.” The Bedford Village resident aims to offer “a new voice for Westchester’s working families.”
In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Khojasteh, an attorney, explained that as senator he would promote policies that would help hardworking New Yorkers attain financial security and improve opportunities for upward mobility.
Mr. Khojasteh’s family emigrated to the United States from Iran shortly after his birth during the Iran-Iraq War. He noted that he and his wife, Anjella, who also emigrated to the U.S. from Iran, benefitted from the opportunities this country offered them, explaining that both of their families also ran small businesses after settling in New York.
“Both of us are the products of the ‘American Dream,’” Mr. Khojasteh said. “For too many New Yorkers, the American Dream is simply out of reach.”
The candidate said one of the policies he would support as state senator would establish a savings account for first-time homeowners that would grow over time and allow them to meet the threshold for down payment, similar to the state’s 529 college savings program. Mr. Khojasteh said he would look to create a similar policy for first-time business owners.
“What we’re attempting to do is provide people a leg up,” he said. According to Mr. Khojasteh, the county’s tax base would also grow with the improving fortunes of small businesses and middle-class families.
While his campaign is focused on economic growth, Mr. Khojasteh is also discussing prospects for reforming education and combating the state’s heroin and opioid crisis, among other issues.
According to Mr. Khojasteh, there is a false dichotomy between private and public schools. He explained that all children thrive and succeed with “invested and devote teachers,” calling quality, affordable education a “nonpartisan issue.”
Regarding the heroin and opioid crisis, Mr. Khojasteh noted the need to address the criminality surrounding the epidemic. He explained that in many cases the families of addicts are the casualties of repeated cycles of incarceration. Mr. Khojasteh, who serves on the board of Abraham House in the Bronx, which works with families of the recently incarcerated, said he has seen their struggles first hand.
According to Mr. Khojasteh, discussions on the crisis have been stagnating in Albany, and more needs to be done in the way of criminal justice reform.
State government needs “independent-minded, practical problem solvers,” which he said is exactly what he can offer as a state senator.
Mr. Khojasteh and his family moved to Bedford Village in 2015, where he and his wife are raising their two young children.