Courtesy of Josh Lafazan

Josh Lafazan ’16 poses with campaign posters. Lafazan became one of New York's youngest politicians when he won his race for a seat in the Nassau County Legislature at age 23.

October 22, 2019

‘Potholes Are Not Partisan’: How A Cornellian Became One of New York’s Youngest Elected Politicians

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After graduation, students often find themselves in an all-too-common dilemma: what to do with the rest of their lives. For Josh Lafazan ’16, this was never a question. At the age of 23, he was elected to the Nassau County Legislature, becoming one of the youngest elected officials in New York.

Hailing from Woodbury, Long Island, Lafazan got his official start in politics at age 18, winning an election for a seat on the Syosset Central School District Board of Trustees in 2012, where he served from 2012 to 2017.

“The superintendent in Syosset was collecting a [salary] of over half a million dollars, while at the same time our teachers were facing a pay freeze,” Lafazan said of his motivations for running In an interview with The Sun.

“I don’t come from a political family, but I thought, who better to understand the needs of the students?” he continued.

This, however, was not Lafazan’s first foray into community service. In 2011, his junior year of high school, driven by getting his driver’s license and a desire to “protect his classmates,” Lafazan founded an organization called Safe Ride Syosset, which is “a community outreach program dedicated to ensuring that no Syosset teenager gets behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated,” according to his bio on the Nassau County Legislature website.

The organization, which was initially just Lafazan, his car and his phone, quickly expanded to 40 volunteer drivers, credited with providing rides home to over 350 students in just less than a year.

“On nights we operated there wasn’t one single teenage driving accident [in Syosset],” said Lafazan. He urged people that might consider following in his footsteps to “pay it forward,” adding that the second volunteer driver was “somebody we had picked up, drunk, the night before.”

Lafazan attended Nassau Community College after graduating high school, later transferring to the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations, of which he spoke highly of.

“I don’t believe that there is a program that better prepares you for a career in public service than ILR,” he said. “Plenty of skills that I utilize in my job every day, I got from there.”

Unlike the average Cornell student, Lafazan split his time between Ithaca and Long Island, New York, making the six-hour trip every three days in order to fulfill his responsibilities on the Syosset school board.

Lafazan mentioned turmoil in his county as part of the reason he decided to run for Nassau’s 18th district — after receiving a Master’s degree in Education from Harvard University — highlighting the arrest of former Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano for corruption as a driver for his run.

Lafazan ran as an independent, basing part of his campaign on issues shared by all the residents of Nassau County. “Potholes are not partisan,” he told The New York Times, “There is no Republican or Democratic way to pave a road.”

The then-prospective legislator faced an uphill battle against two-term incumbent conservative Donald McKenzie, a veteran attorney, along with a “5,000 vote enrollment edge” from the Republicans, as reported by Newsday. Ultimately, Lafazan’s campaign, staffed by student interns, was able to win the race with 56 percent of the vote.

As a freshman legislator, he was responsible for the passing of a number of bills that drew support from both parties through the county legislature. “Timothy’s Law,” passed unanimously in 2018, provided for the creation of a 24-hour hotline meant to raise awareness of substance-abuse issues.

Another recent bill involved tackling the issue of food allergies, requiring restaurants across Nassau County to comply with more stringent food safety measures in order to increase their accessibility to those with sensitivities to certain foods.

Lafazan is up for re-election in 2019, and is employing over 70 student interns aged 12 to 22 — barely younger than the candidate himself — in a bid to retain office. His campaign stresses bipartisan cooperation on salient issues in Nassau County, specifically a shortage of affordable housing.

In addition to his political career, Lafazan authored a 2015 book titled, “Political Gladiators: How Millennials Can Navigate the 21st Century Political Minefield and WIN!” He is also a TED speaker, expressing concerns about the college admissions process in addition to other topics.

With a final word, Lafazan talked about his reasons for running for office. “I didn’t know I wanted to pursue a career in politics.” He continued, “Quite frankly, I got pissed off because this is a time where people can’t afford to live in Syosset, and I thought, why not me?”