Q&A with Josh Lafazan, one of NY's youngest elected officials, on bringing millennials into politics

Photo: Josh Lafazan
Syosset school board trustee Josh Lafazan with presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Q&A with Josh Lafazan, one of NY's youngest elected officials, on bringing millennials into politics

Q&A with Josh Lafazan, one of NY's youngest elected officials, on bringing millennials into politics
April 28, 2016

When Josh Lafazan was elected to the Syosset Board of Education in 2012 at age 18, he became the state’s youngest elected official. Although he has since relinquished that title, he is still in office and makes a point of advising other young candidates. In an interview with City & State’s Jon Lentz, Lafazan discussed how he got into politics, his recent book and whether he or state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli was younger when first elected. The following is an edited transcript.

C&S: You’re the author of a recent book, “Political Gladiators: How Millennials Can Navigate the 21st Century Political Minefield and WIN!” So, how can a millennial win?

JL: A millennial can win by embracing their youth and not running away from it. I say that because too often in life people blame barriers for their lack of success. There are a million barriers in life. What I tell millennials is to run into those barriers. Yes, I’m young. That means, yes, I have creative ideas. Yes, I think outside the box. Yes, I have more time to devote to this job. And yes, I’m going to work smarter and harder than any other candidate in this election and win. So by embracing our youth, millennials can win in the 21st century political minefield.

C&S: You interviewed a number of other young elected officials, or officials who were elected at a young age. Were there any stories that stood out?

JL: Cyrus Habib is one of the most impressive individuals I’ve ever met in my entire life. Cyrus is currently running for lieutenant governor in the state of Washington. He was the first Iranian-American ever elected to public office, he’s legally blind, and he’s a Yale Law School graduate. What’s so incredible about him is he’s starkly honest about how to break into politics. What he did, and what he shares with other young candidates, is a lot of times running for office isn’t the first step. It’s really the third step. You should get involved in your community first, because getting involved in your community is like auditioning for that role as a public servant.

C&S: What did you do before running for office?

JL: My introduction to public service came when I started Safe Ride Syosset in September of my senior year. I love the Jets – my heart is crushed every year, but I’m a huge Jets fan. I bring that up because when then-Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards got caught drinking and driving, he got lambasted by everybody in sports radio. But what nobody spoke about was Edwards was eligible for the Player Protect program, which enables any player on the Jets organization to a free ride home, 24/7. I didn’t drink until I was 21, so when I got my license at 17 I became the designated driver for my friend group every weekend. I would often drive 10 to 15 kids home a night because I just wanted to make sure they got home safely, and because drinking and driving is so prevalent on Long Island. When this happened with Edwards, I thought if this guy, with millions of dollars, the support of the entire Jets organization, and the Player Protect program, can make this stupid decision to drink and drive, what about my Syosset high school classmates? So I started Safe Ride Syosset, a community outreach program. If students either drank or were driven by someone who drank called the Safe Ride Syosset hotline, on Friday and Saturday nights, volunteers would pick these kids up and take home, free of charge and no questions asked and no judgment passed. In 2012, my senior year, we took home 350 kids safely, and not one drinking and driving accident occurred on the nights we were operating.

C&S: Thomas DiNapoli, who is now the state comptroller, was also elected to a local school board as a teenager. Did you break his record as the youngest person ever elected in New York?

JL: It’s funny. Tom DiNapoli is a mentor of mine. We have breakfast on occasion, and he likes to tease me that he was younger by a month, or his election was later than mine, so pretty much I say that because he’s a mentor of mine, I conceded to him. I think the fraternity of us is all within a month or two, but we were both elected at 18.

C&S: You’re graduating in May from Cornell University. What’s next?

JL: I’m enrolling in August in the Harvard Graduate School of Education for a master’s in education policy and management.

Jon Lentz
is City & State’s editor-in-chief.