New chairperson maps out ambitious agenda
Fresh from his victory in the race to succeed New York State Conservative Party Chairperson Mike Long, Jerry Kassar, the Brooklyn-born new head of the party, was busy mapping out a busy agenda to attract young people to the Conservative movement and bring the party’s leadership closer to the grass-roots activists who provide much of the political passion across the state.
One of his immediate goals, he said, is to “expand the Conservative Party’s digital outreach” to try and bring more millennials into the party. As part of that goal, he will bring in a special coordinator to work with Conservative Party county organizations on the ground, he said.
Another goal Kassar has set is to bring the spirit of the party’s headquarters in Bay Ridge closer to the members around the state. “We’re going to be taking our headquarters on the road,” he told this newspaper on Monday. “I don’t mean moving it physically. The headquarters is the headquarters. But we will be traveling around meeting with our party’s leaders in regions around the state.”
But his more immediate goal is to take care of the nuts and bolts of party business, including ensuring that Conservative Party candidates garner enough signatures on nominating petitions to get on the ballot for the next election. “We will be working with our county organizations on that. We have to make sure our candidates qualify for the ballot,” he said.
Kassar, the former chairperson of the Brooklyn Conservative Party, was elected chairperson of the New York State Conservative Party at a meeting of the party’s executive committee at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Dyker Heights on Feb. 23, beating out Erie County Chairperson Ralph Lorigo.
Kassar, 59, succeeds Mike Long, the 78-year-old chairperson who shocked the New York political world last month by announcing his retirement. “Mike left an enormous foundation for the party,” Kassar told this newspaper in tribute to his predecessor. Long served as the party’s leader for three decades.
In his acceptance speech, Kassar had kind words for Lorigo. “To our Erie County Chairman Ralph Lorigo, thank you for a good race in which we engaged party leaders in discussions concerning the future of the party. These conversations and written exchanges will act as the foundation of my efforts,” he said.
For three decades, the Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights area of Brooklyn has served as the Conservative Party’s power base. Long lived in Bay Ridge and owned a liquor store on Fifth Avenue for many years. The Southwest Brooklyn dominance of the party’s leadership ranks will continue under Kassar, a lifelong Dyker Heights resident.
Kassar has deep roots in Southwest Brooklyn. He attended St. Ephrem Catholic School in Dyker Heights and Xaverian High School in Bay Ridge. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree in accounting from Pace University in 1981. Kassar and his wife Janet live in Dyker Heights.
Kassar cut his teeth in politics while still in college, working for then-Assemblymember Florence Sullivan, a Republican-Conservative who represented Bay Ridge in the 1970s. It was the start of a 40-year career in which he held several senior staff positions in the offices of state legislators.
In 2003, Kassar went to work for the New York State Senate Majority and was later appointed to serve as chief of staff to Republican state Sen. Marty Golden.
After Golden was defeated by Democrat Andrew Gounardes in November of 2018, Kassar retired.
Kassar writes “Common Sense,” a political column that appears weekly in the Home Reporter and Brooklyn Spectator.