BOROUGHWIDE — Jerry Kassar is a lifelong Brooklynite who has served his community for over 40 years. He is currently the New York State Conservative Party chair, succeeding longtime state Chair Mike Long. Also, like Long, Kassar first served as chair of the Brooklyn Conservative Party.
Kassar began his career in politics in 1979 when he joined the staff of Assemblymember Florence Sullivan. Thus began a 40-year legislative career in which he held several senior staff positions in the state Assembly minority.
From 2004 to 2018, Kassar served as former New York State Sen. Marty Golden’s chief of staff.
He is a former Conservative Party district leader, state committee member, county executive director in Brooklyn and member of the State Executive Committee, and columnist for the Spectator and Home Reporter.
Kassar took the time to answer some questions about his role in the Conservative Party, his past accomplishments and his vast community service.
Spectator: So how did you get started in politics? What motivated you to want to pursue a career in public service?
Kassar: I had a childhood interest in government and politics. As a kid, I would enjoy leafleting for candidates. In 1977, I took it a step further and petitioned for a candidate and enjoyed meeting many great people. That included Mike Long and many local Conservative Party leaders. My pursuit of a career in public service was an outgrowth of my interest in politics, the community and hoping to make an impact improving things.
Spectator: After serving as chair of the Brooklyn Conservative Party, please discuss the difference between state and city service, and the specific duties of being New York State chair of the Conservative Party.
Kassar: First, let me say there are many similarities such as interaction with candidates, addressing issues and leading a dedicated group of politically motivated people. The Brooklyn chairperson, Fran Vella-Marrone, is one of the most dedicated political and community activists I have ever met.
Of course, the major difference is the sheer size of the organization with party leaders and apparatus all over the state. In this role, regular travel throughout the state and to Washington is a must. The state chairperson is also the spokesperson for the state party. I spend a great deal of time interacting with media and giving remarks whenever asked.
The state chairperson also leads the annual effort to create our state and federal platforms and to produce a set of ratings for each member of the New York legislature.
All these efforts are coordinated with our party Executive Director Shaun Marie and my Executive Assistant Eileen Johnson.
Spectator: Let’s talk about some hot-button issues and where the Conservatives stand. Immigration: As advocates of less government, why do you support government immigration restrictions, including the building of the wall and strong policing of the borders, as well as detention centers for undocumented aliens and ICE raids?
Kassar: Simply put, for a nation to exist, it must have control over its borders. The wall plays an important role in protecting and securing the border, as does strong policing. The detention centers for undocumented aliens and ICE raids are logical extensions of border security and have existed for decades.
Spectator: Conservatives believe less taxation would keep New York residents from moving to other states, correct?
Kassar: Yes, we believe lower taxes support the retention of business, job growth, a cost of living that we can afford and finally making New York more attractive to its citizens. None of this can come about without getting control over government spending.
Spectator: Why are Conservatives not more involved in the gun control debate?
Kassar: We believe in the Second Amendment. The party has been involved in the gun control debate with many of our members having a keen interest in this issue. They often offer suggestions in an effort to balance public concerns with constitutionally-protected rights.
Spectator: The Conservative Party is currently backing Nicole Malliotakis in her bid for Congress. Why is it so important for her to be a U.S. representative?
Kassar: Smart, energetic with her pulse on the issues, Nicole has been an excellent member of the Assembly who will make an equally impressive member of Congress. Additionally, her election will bring the House of Representatives one seat closer to GOP control. For those who believe the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes and IIhan Omars should have a reduced role in government, changing political control of the House is key.
Spectator: You have also recently offered support to Michael Tannousis, who will be running for Malliotakis’ Assembly seat. Will he be officially endorsed by the party?
Kassar: I like Michael a great deal and hope he does receive the Conservative Party endorsement. He will continue in the same fine manner Nicole has conducted herself these past nine years. The final decision, however, does not rest with me, but rather with the Brooklyn and Staten Island Conservative Party organizations which have expressed strong support for him. So, I suspect he will be endorsed.
Spectator: What happened in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Staten Island during the last election? Why did the blue wave wash out former U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan and former State Sen. Marty Golden in those predominantly Republican/Conservative communities? What’s your theory?
Kassar: Turnout affected by weather was part of the problem, which likely negatively impacted on the older Republican/Conservative base. Taking nothing away from the Democrats, they were able to mobilize unusually large numbers of volunteers for many weeks to come into our community. This was unfortunately aided by a lack of opposition with candidates making the case in communities around the city, allowing the maximum number of Democratic volunteers to make the trip over from Williamsburg, the Upper West Side, the Bronx and other far-flung reaches of the city.
Spectator: Are you encouraged that the Conservatives and Republicans can win back some of the seats they lost in the last election?
Kassar: Yes, I expect 2020 to be a better year. The president will increase turnout for conservative-oriented voters in Staten Island and Southern Brooklyn, increasing our ability to win back the Congressional and State Senate seat, hold the Assembly seat and increase our chances in the other seats in which we hope to run strong candidates.