As I peered around his innovative first floor Brooklyn based office, freshmen Chaim Deutsch seemed eager to tell me what he had accomplished in his first year as councilman of the 48th district.
Although he isn’t featured frequently in the media, within the first few minutes of the interview, I realized that he had been working silently and diligently to improve his residents’ daily lives.
A member of the council, Mr. Deutsch sat relaxed and confident behind his desk, encased by glass windows, his name in crisp lettering on the door. After he won the election he made it a point to remodel his office, promoting a welcoming atmosphere for everyone who enters.
These renovations align with his goals to constantly improve his district. He is adamant about listening to what his constituents need and sets forth on an ambitious path to achieve each goal.
Whether it’s for education, street safety, promoting justice or improving the quality of life; he always looks to hear the voices in the community.
In an exclusive interview with JP, Councilmember Deutsch reflected on his achievements in the first year in the City Council, while always looking for new ways to ease the daily dilemmas his constituents may face.
Prior to his previous capacities, Mr. Deutsch had been involved in public services for over twenty years. In 1991 he founded the Flatbush Shromrim Safety Patrol to help keep the streets of New York City safer.
From 1996 to 1999 he worked for Councilman Lloyd Henry, who mostly represented the African American community. After Mike Nelson won the special election for Anthony Wiener’s seat in 1999, Mr. Deutsch also worked for his office as a constituent liaison for 14 years until he obtained the seat in 2013.
Through his years working alongside political figures, he saw that there was always something that could be done to help the community and the daily lives of the residents. This ultimately is what prompted him to run for office.
Although he admits it was a hard run, especially after redistricting removed an area where an enormous amount of his supporters resided, he still managed to reach out to all parts of the diverse district and win the election.
When questioned about his belief concerning Orthodox officials being elected into office, he simply said that where someone comes from shouldn’t matter. “I was honest about who I was from the beginning, and I believe that’s why I was elected,” he said.
With his constituents speaking a variety of languages and the needs of their communities differing, I asked what his priorities were for the 48th district which includes Brighton Beach, Brightwater Towers, Luna Park, Madison, and Manhattan Beach, parts of Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, and Trump Village.
“Everything is a priority. If it’s important to that person then it’s important to me.” Mr. Deutsch said.
He explained that he built a diverse council staff that logs in calls and places them in a database, ensuring they record every concern the community has. In 2014 the council received approximately 3,000 calls from inside and outside of Mr. Deutsch’s district.
Within his council staff he has people that can speak Mandarin, French, Spanish, Yiddish and Russian. This allows him to work with the different ethnic groups in his district, while also assisting other districts that many not have representatives who can speak a specific language.
He has helped residents fight bus lane tickets. There were many calls from people that had thousands [up to $30,000] in tickets for driving in the bus lane, simply because they didn’t understand the rules and they were being repeatedly ticketed every several blocks.
The residents weren’t receiving their first violation until three months later, which was preventing them from rectifying their mistakes because they weren’t given fair warning. He contacted DOT and the Department of Finance and was able to gain reimbursements for hundreds of people in Flatbush, Borough Park, Williamsburg and Sheepsbay.
Mr. Deutsch took it a step further and urged DOT to clarify their rules to the public, issues tickets in a timely fashion and allow for grace periods in the beginning and end.
He was appointed the chairman for the subcommittee for non-public school education by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
The rookie councilman works closely with administration on Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK), to guarantee fairness for non-public schools. “Every child deserves Pre-K, no matter where they are from.”
Though when asked what he thought about the lack of half days and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s adjustments to UPK, he stated that it was a “step forward” but there was still work to be done. The new changes allow for a short break in the day where schools can use it for a variety of activities, in the case of the Jewish community it could be used for religious studies.
He also heavily promotes increased security measures and assists parents with special needs children to receive their reimbursements in a timely fashion.
Once a month in his office he has a support group for parents with special needs children so they can voice what he could work on. There are people from the Jewish, Irish, Italian and Chinese backgrounds that attend these meetings.
Although he is not endorsed by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), he openly states his support for all teachers and all students of any background.
Following the attacks in the Jerusalem and Crown Heights synagogues Mr. Deutsch introduced legislation on school security, which is co-sponsored by Councilman Peter Koo. This broad peace legislation discusses the varying security measures needed for non-public schools.
“Whether it’s a private school or a public school we all need to be educated and vigilant on safety awareness,” Mr. Deutsch commented.
In addition to being an advocate for the education system and the senior citizens, he has other numerous resources that he offers the community. These programs include welcoming the Department of Aging and New York City Academy of Medicine on Feb. 24 to inform the senior citizens of the available resources they have, while also listening to their needs.
He offers free legal once a month in his office, allowing them to consult with a lawyer for free. He is currently working on building a Community Response Team that will help people be equipped for another natural disaster, such as Hurricane Sandy that caused extensive damage to his district.
Mr. Deutsch is a huge supporter of “vision zero” and improving intersections throughout New York City. He also spoke up about the rules for the blinking light at Manhattan Beach, changing it to a normal traffic light during Shabbos so all residents can cross the street safely.
He has also donated to the 9/11 Memorial Park to replace the flag and create a new path. Mr. Deutsch also allocated money to locate parks, especially those affected by Hurricane Sandy.
His district office also hosts New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), offering residents the opportunity to speak to a judge from the truck, which can send representation to court and issue orders of protection for domestic violence victims. They also assist with healthcare, housing, employment rights and public benefits.
“Build it Back” comes to his office every two weeks. They have helped nearly 200 people get reimbursement checks for Hurricane Sandy damage.
“I saw many people suffering after Hurricane Sandy, and build it back helps those still feeling the effects, move forward. We have helped nearly 200 people receive reimbursement checks,” he said.
With many advocating for term limits I wondered what Mr. Deutsch’s stance was on the issue. He revealed that he does support term limits, but doesn’t think eight years is enough time to accomplish everything he would like to do.
He didn’t offer an alternative number of years for term limits, but instead said the voters already chose who governs over them and how long they remain in power.
Currently, more discretionary funds are allocated to needier communities and Mr. Deutsch believes this process has proven to be the most effective. It only makes sense to assist those who need it most.
In the 48th council district there is a large population of senior citizens and he places immense emphasis on improving their quality of life.
“We need to take care of those who took care of us,” he said in reference to allocating discretionary funds to help senior citizens.
Mr. Deutsch has organized bus trips to Governs’ Island, offered free transportation and endorsed Mobi Mats that stretch from the boardwalk to the water. This permits mothers with strollers and senior citizens to also enjoy the view, despite their physical limitations.
Recently, Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York stated that 50 percent of politicians are corrupt. These individuals have the power to fight off violations, meet prestigious people and allocate millions to the projects of their choice, but does the power really go to their heads?
Mr. Deutsch declined to comment on any specific political figure, but he did state that a person’s actions in office will depend on the values and circumstances they were brought up with.
For instance, his father was a Holocaust survivor and he grew up in Borough Park before it became the kosher neighborhood it is today. He played alongside children who weren’t Jewish and his family lived on a tight budget so he learned to appreciate what he had.
This has caused him to listen to the individual needs of the different ethnic groups that make up his district. While he may proceed in one way, someone who grew up well off may govern in a completely different manner.
When asked if he would compare or align himself with any other political figures he refused to comment on any other elected official. However, he did consider himself somewhere in the middle. He advocates for the Jewish community’s needs, but his priorities are to everyone in the district.
As for Chaim Deutsch’s first year, there are many projects in progress but he is optimistic that he can achieve the goals set out before him.