It wasn’t enough for Josh Lafazan, 24, of Syosset, to become the youngest Nassau County legislator in history in November. Now, he’s bringing his contemporaries with him into local government at an unprecedented rate.
The gregarious, fast-talking young politico, who first made headlines when he was elected to the Syosset Central School District Board of Education at 18 and who now represents Nassau’s 18th Legislative District, says he doesn’t mind being the “young guy.” The questioning perks him up — even if he sometimes finds himself being condescended to.
“I’m the only legislator who lives in mom’s basement,” he jokes.
Lafazan’s age gives him a rapport with his interns, he says, and about 40 of them will gradually take over the Franklin Avenue legislative building before July, well above the about five interns that lawmakers typically have. When dozens of young people volunteered to work on his campaign a little more than a year ago, he got the idea to create a bona fide government internship program — one where students would be able to do a whole lot more than fetch coffee.
“No matter how young they were, no matter whether they were a political science major or never watched a minute of C-SPAN in their life, I promised myself I would give them the opportunity to dive headfirst into the world of politics,” Lafazan says.
Diving headfirst into something new seems to be a popular refrain for the freshman lawmaker, who is a registered independent but caucuses with Democrats. He eagerly rattles off a list of rehearsed 100-days-in-office accomplishments, and although there’s something admittedly politician-like about it, Lafazan has undoubtedly had a front-loaded year.
He drafted a bill to require American Sign Language interpreters at every county emergency press conference — one that received bipartisan support at the legislature and that County Executive Laura Curran ultimately signed. He appointed a council of representatives to act as liaisons to the Nassau County Police Department in the 18th District. He voted to strengthen county policies on sexual harassment and to expand social host laws to include language about opioids. He’s proposed a package of bills to address the opioid crisis in concert, including provisions that would create 24-hour addiction assessment centers, an addiction crisis hotline and stricter enforcement of substance-free dormitories at Nassau colleges.
With the workload Lafazan describes, his team of interns sound more like junior staffers — young people who mirror his enthusiasm.
“Many of them have no interest in politics,” he says, referring to some interns who are studying criminal justice, “but they have an interest in me because I treat them like an equal.”
As Lafazan made the jump from aspiring politician to elected official, he says, the internship program became more governmental than political. To start with, the summer interns work together conducting a deep dive of the Nassau County Charter, to both familiarize themselves with local government and also to try to spot potential areas for revamped legislation. Lafazan says the interns are polled on their interests and skill sets, and he and his team try to make it as individualized as possible.
Those interested in lawmaking would be placed on a “policy team,” which focuses on poring over Nassau County laws and proposed bills throughout the tri-state area, and “actually will recommend policies for our office to introduce as bills, which again, is so substantive and you don’t find in other internships.”
One of Lafazan’s interns, Victoria Edwards, 21, of Hempstead, said that her first week on the job has “made politics come alive” for her.
“I was honestly inspired because he’s the youngest legislator,” Edwards says. “He’s so close to me in age, so I just wanted to see what it was that he was doing, and I wanted to be a part of that in some way.”
It’s jarring to see Lafazan’s zest for public office at a time when Americans are increasingly divided on how government should function — but he’s aware of that contrast. What’s refreshing about Lafazan is that he doesn’t seem to entertain the idea of political opponents or partisanship, often touting his registered independence.
He hopes his optimism can infect some of his jaded colleagues at the infamously combative legislature, and “open up their minds to a new way of doing business,” he says, “the millennial way of doing business.”