Democrats won’t kick Lester Chang out of the NY Assembly


Democrats in the New York State Assembly will not vote to remove Republican Lester Chang from office, despite lingering questions about whether he actually lived in Brooklyn long enough to legally represent his district.

The decision, announced Friday by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), means Chang will be able to hold on to his seat, which he won by defeating longtime Democratic incumbent Peter Abbate Jr. last year for a district that includes parts of Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights.

But Chang could still face repercussions. Heastie vowed to send the findings of his chamber’s investigation to the relevant authorities and law enforcement. It could lead to Chang facing further scrutiny for holding a rent-stabilized Manhattan apartment vacant in apparent violation of the city’s rent-regulation program. Under the program’s rules, a rent-stabilized apartment must be the leaseholder’s primary residence and can’t be kept vacant.

“Although it is clear that there were more than enough votes to expel Mr. Chang, we will not do so at this time,” Heastie said in a statement.

According to Heastie spokesperson Mike Whyland, the Assembly will forward the investigation to federal prosecutors, as well as state Attorney General Letitia James. Under state law, James can petition the courts to remove someone who “usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds” public office in the state.

The findings will also be forwarded to state and city housing agencies, Whyland said.

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, an Oswego County Republican, said Chang has “taken his rightful place” in the Assembly.

“Any attempt to expel Mr. Chang from the Assembly and unilaterally deny the will of the voters in Brooklyn would set a terrible precedent,” Barclay said.

Chang officially took his Assembly seat for the first time Wednesday, after his term began on Jan. 1. He could not be reached for immediate comment on Friday.

Democrats began publicly raising questions about Chang’s residency this past November, when Chang, a Navy veteran who is Chinese American, defeated Abbate, a 34-year incumbent, by fewer than 600 votes in a heavily Asian district in south-central Brooklyn,

By law, Chang had to have been a Brooklyn resident for the 12 months leading up to his election in a redistricting year such as 2022. Chang listed his address as a Brooklyn home owned by his mother and uncle, saying he had transitioned his residence back to the Midwood address in the years after his wife died in 2019.

“I am a Brooklynite,” Chang said at a December hearing.

But Chang voted from a Manhattan address in October 2021, and didn’t change his voter registration to Brooklyn until February 2022 — only nine months before Election Day. He also sought to run for office in Manhattan in 2020 and 2021.

Neither Abbate nor his allies, however, challenged Chang’s residency prior to Election Day, allowing him to remain on the ballot and ultimately win.

Instead, the Assembly took matters into its own hands after Chang’s victory, citing a portion of the state Constitution that gives the chamber broad authority to remove a member with a simple majority vote — a clause the Assembly hasn’t used in more than 100 years.

Republicans immediately accused their Democratic counterparts of trying to essentially overturn Chang’s election, noting that his win was certified and not in dispute.

Last month, Heastie had the Assembly Judiciary Committee launch an investigation and hold a hearing on Chang’s living situation. The committee hired Stanley Schlein, a Bronx election attorney with deep Democratic ties, to lead the probe and write a report.

Schlein’s report found Chang still held a lease on a rent-stabilized apartment on Cleveland Place in the Little Italy neighborhood of Manhattan. He used the Manhattan address on a June 2022 application for a housing allowance after he was summoned to active duty with the National Guard.

Chang claims the Manhattan apartment is vacant, and his sister provided an affidavit saying Chang renewed the lease in 2021 because he didn’t want to lose a valuable asset. That, however, could cause trouble for Chang going forward if he’s found to have violated the rent-regulation program.

In his statement Friday, Heastie made clear the Assembly could revisit the issue at any time.

“Let this be a warning to anyone who tries to dupe voters – the political manipulation of residency will not go unchecked,” he said.


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