ALBANY — Assemblyman-elect Lester Chang defended his Brooklyn roots during an hours-long hearing Wednesday to determine whether he is eligible to represent a portion of the borough.
The Republican, who defeated longtime Democratic Assemblyman Peter Abbate last month, testified at a Judiciary Committee hearing as part of an Assembly investigation into whether he truly lived in Brooklyn for at least a year prior to Election Day, as required by law.
Chang’s lawyers claimed that questions about the member-residency elect’s should have been addressed during the petitioning process rather than after the Nov. 8 election.
“Why are we going against the will of the people of the 49th Assembly District, who duly voted to elect him?” Hugh Mo, a lawyer, stated.
Chang defeated Abbate in a close race to represent the district, which includes parts of Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst.
Post-election, questions were raised about whether the Navy veteran, who previously ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat in 2020 and lost a special election for a Manhattan Assembly seat in 2016, is eligible to represent the area because he voted in Manhattan in 2021.
Chang admitted that he lived in lower Manhattan with his wife until her death in 2019, but he maintains that he is a Brooklyn resident who has spent the majority of his time in recent years in the borough caring for his elderly mother.
“I am a product of Brooklyn, and I am a product of Brooklyn public schools,” Chang told the committee. “I lived there for at least a year before being elected by the people.”
Stanley Schlein, a lawyer close to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) who was brought in to serve as special counsel for the committee, grilled Chang over documents proving his rent-stabilized apartment in lower Manhattan was his primary residence.
During the hearing, Schlein stated that the constitutional requirement is “not as eligibility to run, but as eligibility to serve.”
He went on to question Chang about the fact that he must keep the Manhattan apartment as his primary residence in order to comply with rent-stabilization laws.
“Yes,” Chang replied, adding that he still pays rent on the apartment even though it is unoccupied.
In most election cycles, candidates must have lived in the district they seek to represent for at least a year. Due to redistricting, those running for legislative offices this year only had to live in the same borough as the seat they were running for.
If lawmakers vote to remove Chang during a full-house vote in January, Governor Hochul could call a special election to fill the seat. Republicans, on the other hand, could file a legal challenge to Chang’s possible expulsion.