Though he’s spent most of his career to this point working in law and politics in the Ithaca area, Jordan Lesser isn’t a household name like some of his opponents for the Democratic nomination for the New York State Assembly’s 125th District seat. That, however, has not quashed his confidence in his experience and how it would translate to a term in Albany.
Lesser announced his intention to seek office in mid-February, just after Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, for whom Lesser served as general counsel, announced that she would not seek a 10th term. He is now part of a group of seven Democratic candidates competing for the nomination; the primary election is being held June 23.
Lesser, an Ithaca native, said he thinks his campaign thus far has been hurt by a lack of name recognition locally, largely because he has done much of his work in a behind-the-scenes capacity instead of already holding public office, unlike several of the other candidates have. Regardless, Lesser said his background in law and particularly his experience in Lifton’s office position him as the best candidate for the assembly seat.
“I care about reforming the structural inequalities of our society at every turn,” Lesser said, pointing to his experience as a park ranger in Louisiana, providing aid to people when Hurricane Katrina hit. “As we clearly witness during this pandemic, certain communities are suffering more because of racial disparities in the health system. We all know that structural inequalities are prevalent in our daily lives ranging from funding gaps for schools, the gender wage gap and the wealth gap.”
That focus on larger topics, he said, is exemplified by what he’s been successful at pushing while with Lifton’s office, including the banning of waste incinerators and public transportation access. If elected, Lesser said he’d prioritize the climate change fight saying that the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis represent only a fraction of the long-term threat of a warmer globe. Beyond that, he focused on the pandemic for his other two main priorities if elected: first that it has exposed the need for universal healthcare, meaning he would push and vote for the NY Health Act to pass, which would effectively provide universal healthcare to New York residents.
Plus, he said, it’s important not to allow the pandemic and its fallout to “undermine our critical public institutions,” arguing that things like a strong education system is crucial for a sustainable future and should be a protected element of the path back from coronavirus. State aid to schools seems like one of the most likely direct reductions in the wake of the outbreak.
Economic development is what Lesser feels sets him apart from his counterparts in the race; he laid out a campaign plank that would give businesses wage subsidies, up to 80 percent of salary, in order to keep workers employed, able to access their employer-based healthcare and not using unemployment insurance. He also proposed, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, that skilled workers should be placed in a “coordinated worker training and apprenticeship program” if they are laid off which would help them re-enter the workforce in a job that matches their skills. The program could be administered through local institutions like BOCES, SUNY Cortland or Tompkins Cortland Community College.
Perhaps the most notable effort of his career with Lifton was helping lead the charge against fracking, writing the amicus brief in support of the Town of Dryden’s fracking ban, which Lesser points to as an example of his climate change bona fides. The ban, which then went into effect statewide by an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was codified into permanent law by this year’s state budget.
“It was my expertise that informed every pushback against the oil and gas industry, especially in drafting legislation and letters of support for banning fracking, and my three legal briefs written to uphold zoning law for the Town of Dryden to ban gas drilling at the local level,” Lesser said. “No one else in this race comes close to my track record and can immediately accomplish our progressive goals in Albany.”