Newly-Elected Senator Roxanne Persaud On Guns, Corruption & The Bragg Street Halfway House

Newly-Elected Senator Roxanne Persaud On Guns, Corruption & The Bragg Street Halfway House
Roxanne Persaud at the state capitol.
Roxanne Persaud at the state capitol. (Photo: Roxanne Jacqueline Persaud / Facebook)

Roxanne Persaud took her seat on the floor of the New York Senate for the first time this week when the state legislature began its first session of 2016. Persaud has been in campaign mode for much of her political career, which began in 2014 when she won the Assembly seat vacated by Alan Maisel.  Soon after beginning her role in the Assembly, she was called to run for office again to fill the Senate position left open by John Sampson, who was convicted in a corruption case this summer.

Despite the endless campaigning, she has accomplished much during her time as a lawmaker: becoming a member of the Higher Education, Real Property Taxation and Libraries and Technology committees and sponsored a number of bills related to housing, healthcare, criminal justice reform, and education.

She also recently worked with other elected officials to put forward legislation that would limit the amount of ammunition people can purchase in New York State and introduce new regulations for licensed gun owners. The proposal has made her a target of the NRA. Persaud is also one of several elected officials working to block a proposed halfway house for Sheepshead Bay, arguing that the proximity to schools, playgrounds and senior centers makes the location inappropriate for such a facility.

A former community organizer who worked with youth and local police, Persaud entered office with the support of Brooklyn’s powerful Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club and was the first woman to represent the 59th Assembly District.

Her new senate district covers parts of Sheepshead Bay, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Canarsie, and East New York.

We spoke with Persaud about what she plans to accomplish as a New York State Senator.

Sheepshead Bites: You’ve had a whirlwind year in politics. In 2014, you won a seat on the State Assembly and now you’ve moved into the Senate. Have you even had time to appreciate your election victories?

Roxanne Persaud: In all honesty, I haven’t taken a vacation in the past two years. I had to hit the ground running. When I went to the Assembly, there was a vacancy for a year. So it was time to do all the things that people needed. There was no down time to really sit back and say: Wow. And the same thing with the Senate. Everything is rush, rush, rush. Because you are trying to catch up to make sure there is continuity and people are getting things done.

Along with Borough President Eric Adams and Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, you are working to pass legislation to limit the amount of ammunition a person can purchase. The legislation has made you a target of the NRA. Why is this an important issue for you?

There was an FBI report about mass shootings. And they counted about 162 of them between 2000 and 2013. In 2015, we’ve had 354 mass shootings. And in every instance, the person was able to purchase large quantities of ammunition. The last mass shooting in San Bernardino, the shooters had over 6,000 rounds of ammunition stockpiled in their home. No one should be allowed to stockpile that much ammunition. You’re not arming a militia. And if you’re a hunter, there’s no need for you to have 6,000 rounds of ammunition in your home.

This summer, the Democratic-controlled Assembly put forward significant reforms to New York State’s rent laws in order to preserve more affordable housing. Those reforms were blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate. Now that you are going to be part of the minority party, do you think that empowers you as a legislator or will make it more difficult to get things done?

It’s a motivator. We see our colleagues on the other side of the aisle turning their backs on the needs of people.  Being able to live in affordable housing is a basic need for some in parts of my district. We have to work harder to overcome these obstacles. That means we have to work harder to retake the Senate.

You have joined with Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, Councilman Alan Maisel, and others in opposing the halfway house on Bragg Street. Why is that location inappropriate for a halfway house?

It’s too close to schools and the parks. There are young children just walking by and you have people who will be [at the halfway house] who are not supervised when they come out on the street. And I think there is the possibility for them to stray and do illegal activity on the streets with the kids.

There have been a number of high profile corruption cases in the state legislature this year, including a conviction against your predecessor, former senator John Sampson. What does the state legislature need to do to combat corruption and regain the public’s trust?

I think the public has to understand that the cases they see do not mean that every single elected official in Albany has an issue. But on the other hand, to regain the public’s trust, we have to show that we are willing to take steps to cut out corruption.

Are there any laws being considered in Albany to increase transparency?

In the last session, we looked at laws to penalize someone by stripping away their pension and those kinds of things. So those are the laws they are going to look at again. Really, it’s about penalties. But to prevent elected officials from getting to that stage, I think we have to look at why an elected official sees this as so lucrative? Because the bottom line is that some people, I think when they become engaged in the activity, it’s because they are trying to maintain their lifestyle.  It’s a complicated issue. It’s not just one bill will solve the problems.

But when someone decided to become an elected official, they knew what you were getting into. You knew the salary. You knew the requirements. You knew the restrictions. And I think we all agreed to be governed by those restrictions. And if someone falls by the wayside because it’s not what they expected, then they should be held accountable.