Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie was expected to appear last week at a meeting of Gordon Heights residents for about 90 minutes, maybe two hours tops.
He stayed for more than three hours.
A visit from one of the state's most powerful elected officials would be notable under any circumstances. But in Gordon Heights, a minority community that struggles with high fire department taxes, homelessness and a paucity of economic opportunities, the appearance by the state's first Black Assembly speaker was a milestone in efforts for recognition, organizers said.
“There has never been a time when the Speaker of the State Assembly has been into these communities," Gordon Heights Civic Association president E. James Freeman, who helped organize the July 20 gathering at the hamlet's firehouse, told Newsday. “He was also asking for paper and pen because he was actually taking notes of what people were saying so he could bring those back [to Albany].”
Heastie stopped in Gordon Heights as part of his summer tour of Long Island, which also included visits to Wyandanch, Stony Brook and Rockville Centre.
Over 3½ hours in Gordon Heights, the Bronx Democrat talked to about 90 residents about climate change, the economy, electric vehicles and charging stations, redistricting and his time as a student at Stony Brook University. He holds a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics and statistics from the university.
Heastie announced no specific initiatives for Gordon Heights, but said the state has made “historic investments” in education and child care during the COVID-19 pandemic and added he was "fascinated" by the history of the community, a former resort that evolved during the past century into a year-round suburban community.
In an interview before the meeting, Freeman said Gordon Heights residents often feel they don't have "a voice" in decisions affecting the community.
In part, he said, that stems from the hamlet's history of being split into different political districts. One part of Gordon Heights currently is represented in the State Legislature by Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and the other part by Assemb. Joe DeStefano (R-Medford).
“We want to make sure we don’t get cut into such small pieces that we don’t have a voice in decisions,” Freeman said. "We want to make sure we’re heard.”
New district boundaries enacted by the legislature this year place Gordon Heights in a single Assembly district starting in 2023, Englebright said.
Heastie said during the meeting redistricting "was a confusing thing to many people," adding, "The cracking of communities ... is so unjust.”
Englebright, who attended the meeting, said Heastie "really enjoyed the event," adding he hoped the speaker's visit would help spur economic development efforts in the hamlet. Heastie did not return a call seeking comment.
“I’ve never in my history tried to make promises that I can’t keep," Heastie said at the meeting. "I only promise effort. When it’s all said and done, for us, you want to make sure you left the place better than it was.”
Gordon Heights at a glance (all figures are as of 2019):
Median household income: $92,548
Median property value: $303,400
Poverty rate: 10.7%
Median age: 31.8
Diversity: Black, 49.6%; white (non-Hispanic), 22.4%; white (Hispanic), 18.9%
SOURCE: Data USA