Cyperstein seeks to offer new leadership in Council bid
by Benjamin Fang
Dec 16, 2020 | 2400 views | 0 0 comments | 100 100 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kew Gardens native Avi Cyperstein is one of 12 City Council candidates in District 29.
Kew Gardens native Avi Cyperstein is one of 12 City Council candidates in District 29.
Growing up in a family involved in local politics and community activism, Avi Cyperstein has always stayed behind the scenes. Now he’s ready to step up and lead.

Cyperstein, 35, is running for City Council in District 29, which encompasses Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill. He is among 12 candidates seeking to replace the term-limited Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz.

A Kew Gardens native, Cyperstein said his family immigrated to Queens in the 50s and 60s, setting up one of the first synagogues and Jewish day schools in the neighborhood. His father was elected to the school board many years ago, and previously worked at the Queens district attorney’s office.

Over the years, Cyperstein said all of the area’s representatives, from Koslowitz to District Attorney Melinda Katz to Congresswoman Grace Meng, have paid a visit to his home.

“They’ve had a relationship with the family for many years,” he said.

After graduating from local schools, Cyperstein began his career as a health care professional. For eight years, he worked with various health care agencies, helping patients set up health care services, medical supplies and oxygen in their homes.

He briefly took a “turn into entrepreneurship,” investing in a few projects. Cyperstein said none of them really panned out, so he went back to the health care industry, this time doing staffing for health care agencies.

Along the way, Cyperstein began volunteering for a local EMS group called Hatzolah. He said that was his first real step into community activism, helping local people during emergencies.

In 2008, at just 22 years old, Cyperstein joined his friends in co-founding a new nonprofit called “Chaverim,” which in Hebrew means “friends.” The organization provides volunteer services for non-medical emergencies, such as flat tires, dogs locked in a car, or families locked out of their homes.

His volunteerism also included raising over $20,000 for local food pantries, Cyperstein said, and delivering food from warehouses to neighbors in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens.

For two years, Cyperstein was part of an organization that helped people across the country connect with rehab facilities through a hotline and crisis intervention counselors.

He became involved after a friend who had a substance abuse addiction went to rehab three times, recovered and wanted to give back in the mental health field.

“We’ve dealt with people on the low end of society all the way to CEOs on Wall Street who snapped based on their addiction,” he said.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cyperstein said he began noticing major issues in the way political leaders made decisions on health care. After speaking with nursing facility administrators, he learned that officials were telling them to take COVID-19 patients back, which led to many deaths.

“That was the first thing that sparked my passion,” he said. “Why are we making poor decisions for our most vulnerable citizens?”

Cyperstein said he started paying more attention to regional politics, like the rift between the governor and the mayor that he felt played a role in these outcomes. With the pandemic raging, he decided that the community needed new leadership.

After consulting with his father and meeting with community leaders and activists, Cyperstein said he felt confident in his abilities and comfortable taking the step to run for office.

“I felt it was time for me to step up,” he said.

In addition to health care, Cyperstein said his campaign will focus on issues like helping small businesses, improving public safety and expanding education resources.

On the issue of policing, Cyperstein said crime has gone up and that people are worried about their safety. He believes that the police department “is in need of education as far as dealing with certain communities,” which will lead to better understanding, sensitivity and proper reactions.

When asked about his stance on decreasing the police budget, Cyperstein said he wants to take a “deep look” at all agencies and see where money is being spent.

“A lot of it is being wasted,” he said. “I believe if we take a good look and keep politics aside, we can reallocate a lot of the funding to be able to better all the agencies and how they respond to emergencies.”

As for education issues, Cyperstein said he supports expanding initiatives like 3K. He also wants to pay attention to the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children.

He does not support the Department of Education’s integration efforts for the school district because he doesn’t think the answer to inequities is to “move kids and shuffle them around.” That would just make their lives more challenging, Cyperstein said.

“I think there are many smart children out there and they should not be denied their ability to thrive,” he said. “I also believe that areas where education is lacking, we should be putting money into those resources and bringing those levels up to par and even better.”

On transportation issues, such as the Queens Boulevard bike lanes, Cyperstein said he believes anybody who wants to bike should have a right to do so safely. But he said it’s also important that the city pays attention to where infrastructure is placed so everyone is safe.

“We need to make it safe and comfortable for all citizens,” he said. “There’s a way to do that.”

Cyperstein said his campaign has been able to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. They do a lot of phone calls and Zoom meetings, but also try to meet with store owners and people on the streets in a “safe and socially distant way.”

The candidate said he still hopes to eventually do door-to-door campaigning when it’s safe because that’s “part of the fun.”

“It’s a different kind of campaigning,” he said. “People are much more connected to the issues more than ever because people are finally seeing how our leaders’ decisions affect their day-to-day lives.”

Cyperstein said fundraising has been going well, and that he’s used to calling people for charities, but he’s still working on it everyday.

“We’ve been very well received by many people,” he said, “far beyond my initial expectations.”

A new dynamic in local races this year will be ranked-choice voting, a new system in which voters can rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated, and those voters will have their second choices counted.

The process continues until a candidate receives the majority.

Cyperstein said he believes it will lead to less negative campaigning, as well as new alliances. Still, with a system so new, he said it’s hard to say how it will play out.

“I believe that regardless of alliances, it’s still up to the individual candidate to resonate and connect with each individual voter in the community,” he said, “in a way that gets them to want to vote for that person.”
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