king of queens

Sam Berger running to fill Dan Rosenthal’s shoes in Queens

Rosenthal vacated the seat to take a position at UJA-Federation of New York

Sam Berger for Assembly

Sam Berger

As voters in central Queens gear up for a Sept. 12 special election to fill a vacant state Assembly seat, Democratic candidate Sam Berger has emerged as the frontrunner to succeed state Assemblyman Dan Rosenthal, one of the leading Jewish advocates in the state legislature.  

Rosenthal has endorsed Berger, and the former assemblyman has reportedly also been calling labor unions and advocacy groups to ensure his seat remains in Democratic control. 

Berger, like Rosenthal, is an Orthodox Jew. He’s also the grandson of two Holocaust survivors.

“When this opportunity came up, I met with Dan and we spoke about what the job could be, and there’s a lot of good that can be done. So I said, ‘OK, put me in,’” Berger told JI. 

“I find any type of baseless hatred to be abhorrent,” he added. “Whether it’s anti-Jewish, anti-Asian, anti-elderly, baseless hate has no home in our community. The Assembly has made great strides when it comes to addressing hate crimes,” he said, pointing to the Hate Crime Reporting on College Campuses bill, legislation sponsored by Rosenthal that requires colleges that receive state funding to disclose hate crimes that occur on campus. 

Berger said that like Rosenthal, he would champion legislation that would “hold people accountable when they commit acts of baseless hatred. We are making them think twice and we have to maintain a laser focus in Albany to ensure there are severe repercussions when hate rears its ugly head.” 

Berger also touted his deep ties to the local community as a central argument for his candidacy. “I grew up [in Kew Gardens Hills], I went to law school here, and now I have two little girls and I’m raising a family here,” Berger, who graduated from St. John’s Law School in the spring, said. 

“I only went to law school to help people,” said Berger, 25, whose mother is Paula Berger, a local Democratic district leader.  

Rosenthal resigned in June to become vice president of government relations at UJA-Federation of New York. In a statement, Rosenthal said he was “confident in [Berger’s] ability to advocate for the best interests of our constituents.”

“His passion, dedication, and knowledge will undoubtedly serve our community well,” Rosenthal said. “Sam is a devoted father, an advocate, and a proud product of the very community he aspires to serve. His personal and professional experiences equip him with the knowledge and passion needed to be an outstanding representative for our district.”

District 27 covers Pomonok, Electchester, College Point, Whitestone and Kew Gardens Hills, the latter consisting of a heavily Orthodox Jewish electorate. 

Berger, a father of two, said his top three priorities, if elected, would be making “strides in public safety, education and affordable living.” 

A product of yeshiva education, Berger said Orthodox education in New York has been “targeted and put under baseless scrutiny.”

A New York Times investigation, published in September 2022, found that many Haredi yeshivas were not meeting state standards for secular education. A subsequent report by the city’s Department of Education revealed that 18 yeshivas failed to provide adequate secular education. 

“I’m proud of the education I received,” Berger said. “It’s disturbing to me when there’s misinformed information on yeshiva schools. I stand firm in my conviction that any genuine concerns about yeshiva schools should be addressed in an unbiased investigation. There does not seem to be a genuine intent to uplift these institutions, and there needs to be. Rather, we paint them with a broad brush based on select narratives. I will be opposing that as much as I can.” 

Berger will square off against Republican David Hirsch, 34, an Orthodox rabbi who works in education policy. Orthodox Jewish voters in the district have in recent years been increasingly casting ballots for GOP candidates. In 2022, Republican Lee Zeldin, a former congressman from Long Island who ran for governor against Gov. Kathy Hochul, won the district with 56% of the vote to Hochul’s 44%. 

At 25, Berger would be the youngest current Assembly member if elected. Rosenthal held that title when he was elected in 2017 at age 26. Rosenthal first won office in a special election to replace Michael Simanowitz, who died of cancer at 46. 

Politico reported that a source in the Democratic Party said “there has been some pushback on Berger on his age and inexperience.” 

But Berger countered that his age and newness to politics are positives. 

“I’m in a unique position at my age to bring a clear head and fresh set of eyes to Albany,” he told JI. 

“I’m not really here to play politics,” the Democrat continued. “I haven’t come into this with an eye for politics, I have an eye for helping people and I have a legal background.”

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