Just a year after graduating from Cornell, Joshua Lafazan ’16 announced his campaign for Nassau County Legislature in the 18th District.
Lafazan currently serves as Trustee on the Syosset School Board of Education, making him the youngest elected official in the state of New York. Lafazan graduated from ILR in 2016 then received his Masters of Education from Harvard University in 2017.
Lafazan said his political career has been heavily influenced by his time at Cornell, specifically his transfer to Cornell from Nassau Community College. This transition “changed my life forever,” he said.
“Getting to Cornell and seeing how much effort, dedication and the level of commitment that went into student trustee races and Student Assembly races was impressive,” he said.
“The political participation showcased at Cornell should be emblematic of what we have in this country,” he added. “We should have 100 percent participation in our elections.”
Lafazan was then inspired to apply this level of local involvement on a single college campus to his own community, stressing the importance of local government.
“Local government is where the action is at. People often forgo local elections,” he said. “Your school board, your city council, your county legislature, that’s where the action happens, that’s where you can have the most direct impact.”
Lafazan continued serving on the Syosset Board of Education even after moving to Ithaca. He was simultaneously managing his later Cornell years with the duties of being a trustee.
“I commuted home each week,” he said. “I was running for reelection my junior year so I would go to class Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and then I would commute home and campaign.”
Lafazan continued this dual occupation, as both a student and as an elected official, up until graduation. He kept the same routine through senior year “to ensure that [he] was home for all the school board meetings,” he said.
“It was the best of both worlds for me, to both get the Cornell education I needed to make me a better board member, but to also show my constituents how much I cared and how seriously I took the job that I was given,” he said.
Before coming to Cornell, Lafazan had been interested in politics, even throughout high school.
“I’d always been passionate about local government and politics,” Lafazan told The Sun. “I was senior class president at the time, I was very active in forensic speech and debate and I was actually the CEO of a community outreach program called Safe Ride Syosset.”
Safe Ride Syosset was a program Lafazan started to offer rides home to teenagers and young-adults who had been drinking throughout the night.
“Kids who drank or were driven by someone who drank would call my cell on Friday and Saturday night,” he said. “[Me] or my volunteer drivers would go pick these kids up and take them home free of charge. No questions asked and no judgements passed.”
In addition to his commitment to Safe Ride, Lafazan is also actively combatting drug problems in his community. Nassau County is one of the top five deadliest regions for heroin, according to Pix 11 news.
“When you take kids who are part of a problem and turn them into part of the solution, amazing things can happen,” he said.
Lafazan became committed to this purpose after Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, CEO of Long Island Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, asked him personally to become a board-member.
After LICAAD, Lafazan then joined the Nassau County Heroin Prevention Task Force, saying he “became so passionate about helping the thousands of people who are suffering from a disease.”
“There are 23 million Americans, 23 million, living in long-term recovery,” Lafazan said. “This is a disease that we can tackle. This is the greatest national disaster of our time.”
“I wanted to dedicate my effort toward a population of people who really need help,” he added.
Being a young person plays a crucial role in this scenario. “There’s a tremendous amount of addicts who are millennials,” he said. “We have to engage young people to talk about what [is] missing in schools, in homes and in communities that [are] allowing this to happen.”
Using his age to his advantage, Lafazan said that he wants to promote a voice for the young people on Long Island.
“I want to make keeping young people on Long Island my legislative legacy,” he said. “I’m the luckiest kid in the world to get to grow up here [on Long Island].”
Lafazan is currently campaigning for the County Legislature, with voting opening on Nov. 7. He will be visiting Cornell in mid-October at a fundraising event hosted by ILR professors.