From high school senior to politician, Josh Lafazan continues his political quest

By Caroline Tanner
Medill Reports

SYOSSET, N.Y.— On most days, at just 23 years old, Democratic Nassau County Legislative candidate Josh Lafazan is the youngest one in the room. It’s something that Lafazan is used to by now, since becoming one of the youngest elected officials in the history of New York State. In 2012, at 18, Lafazan was elected to the Syosset Central School Board of Education in Long Island, winning 82 percent of the vote.

Syosset, New York

Now he’s running for the 18th district legislative seat against Republican incumbent Donald N. MacKenzie, 39.

Take a look around his campaign headquarters in Syosset and you might call him a kid among kids. Though he’s certainly not the tallest one in the room, standing a few inches under 6 feet, he may be the oldest. On his campaign team, some interns are as young as 14, marking what is perhaps the most unique part of Lafazan’s campaign and his candidacy — the youth of it all. His campaign team consists of his 25-year-old campaign manager, Rob Silverstein, and about 40 interns, ranging in age from 14 to 21.

Lafazan and his campaign manager, Rob Silverstein, show their support for NYS Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino. Photo courtesy of Josh Lafazan’s Twitter-@JoshLafazan.

Less than two weeks prior to his election to the school board, Lafazan graduated from Syosset High School, known for being one of the top public high schools in the state, with famous alums including actress Natalie Portman and director Judd Apatow.

It was at Syosset High School that Lafazan’s passion for politics was born and where he served as junior class treasurer and senior class president.

“I found my lifelong passion of politics when I participated on the speech and debate team in ninth grade,” said Lafazan. “I loved working with other people in the room to get something accomplished and get them to come over to my side of thinking.”

To show his commitment to the school board, Lafazan spent his first two years of college as a student at Nassau Community College. Outside the classroom, he spent his time meeting residents at local baseball fields, school events and at the supermarket, so that no one would ever doubt his commitment to the position and his ability to serve.

And even when he went to Cornell University in Upstate New York for his final two years of college, he commuted back every weekend, driving five hours each way. After graduating in 2016, he went on to graduate school at Harvard University, decreasing his weekly commute by 30 minutes.

While a student at Cornell, he was re-elected to the school board and authored a book about millennials and politics called “Political Gladiators: How Millennials Can Navigate the 21st Century Political Minefield and Win!” And somewhere in between the two degrees and his five years as a board trustee, Lafazan decided to move on to his next political challenge.

“I decided I was going to run in fall 2016 when I was sitting in my dorm room in Cambridge reading about the indictments of both our town supervisor and county executor.” – Lafazan

“It made me realize that I wanted to run now and I had a real opportunity to make a better and more transparent government.”

Lafazan graduated from Harvard on May 25 and announced his campaign for legislator for the 18th District on June 8.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride of a lifetime but I’ve loved every single minute of it,” said Lafazan.

Shari Bieber, 20, of Dix Hills, New York, is spending the summer between her junior and senior year at George Washington University as an intern for the Lafazan campaign. While Bieber is technically an intern, the political science and economics major is known as the research director.

“I heard about Josh’s campaign and internship opportunities on Facebook,” said Bieber. “I’m from Long Island and wanted to learn more about Nassau County politics specifically, because I have family and friends that live here.”

Intern Jesse Levitan, 14, knocking on doors in Syosset, New York on July 28 Photo courtesy of Josh Lafazan’s Twitter- @JoshLafazan.

Many of the unpaid interns are from high schools all over Long Island. They are grouped into different teams, including policy, letter writing, social media, outreach and fundraising. They split their time between team work in the office and work in the field, where they spend a few hours each day canvasing door-to-door and calling locals on the phone to connect with constituents.

Lafazan admitted that dealing with constant ageism has been frustrating.

“There was rampant ageism when I ran for the school board in 2012 and when I was re-elected in 2015,” said Lafazan. “I had and continue to have to re-convince people that being young is actually an advantage.”

Lafazan’s platform is simple — people are tired of the status quo and demand a fresh start in their government. He believes he brings unique and fresh ideas, along with the ability to make decisions outside of the box.

If elected, Lafazan hopes to slow the rise in growth of property taxes and ensure that young people have job opportunities and affordable housing options. Because of high rent, he is currently living with his parents in the house in which he grew up, about 40 minutes east of New York City.

Lafazan’s team is targeting young people like himself, mostly through social media, making sure they vote on November 7.

“Millennials are the largest, most diverse and most educated generation in America, yet they’re the most underrepresented demographic in U.S. politics today” said Lafazan.

To millennials and interns alike, Lafazan hopes to encourage more young people to take an active role in politics, whether that be volunteering for a young person’s campaign or running for office themselves. His book attempts to help young people fully understand the power they have in the political process.

Lafazan and some of his interns at their campaign HQ in Syosset, NY. Photo courtesy of Josh Lafazan’s Twitter-@JoshLafazan.

“I think it’s especially important now [that young people are involved in politics] because we are the future of America,” said Bieber. “If we want our county to reflect our needs and opinions, we need to take action, and grassroots organizing is the way to go.”

“If the 2016 election taught us anything, it’s that anyone can get involved in politics,” said Silverstein.

Silverstein, of Brookville, New York, is on team no sleep, as he balances responsibilities as campaign manager and graduate student at Columbia University.

“We don’t see enough young people with their perspectives in government,” said Silverstein. “As a result, a lot of government officials don’t take into account what they really need.”

While Lafazan is focused on the task ahead, and it is too early to predict the likelihood of adding the role of Nassau County Legislator to his resume, he hopes people will take away one thing on Election Day, regardless of the outcome.

“Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something because of your age,” said Lafazan.

After all, the first vote Lafazan ever cast was for New York State Comptroller Thomas Dinapoli, a politician who also started his career young, as a member of the Mineola Board of Education, 10 miles east of Syosset. That election was in 1972 and Dinapoli became the youngest person in the state history to be elected to public office. He was 18.

PHOTO AT TOP: Josh Lafazan, a Democratic candidate for Nassau County Legislature. Photo courtesy of Josh Lafazan’s Facebook-@JoshuaLafazan.