Brooklyn Assemblyman Lester Chang seated as session begins despite residency questions

ALBANY — Democrats took no action against Republican Assemblyman Lester Chang on Wednesday as the legislative session kicked off despite concerns about his failure to meet the residency requirement.

The Republican, who defeated longtime Democratic Assemblyman Peter Abbate in November, took his seat and participated in a vote to reelect Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Oswego) as minority leader in the chamber.

A day earlier, Chang participated in a ceremonial swearing-in held as Republicans welcomed new members. Chang defeated Abbate in a tight race to represent the 49th Assembly District, which covers parts of Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst.

“Assemblyman Chang is the first Asian-American from Brooklyn to be elected to state office,” Brooklyn Conservative Party Chairman Gerard Kassar said in a statement. “We look forward to working with him as he fights to make New York safer, more affordable and more accountable in the years ahead.”

Democrats took no action to expel or prevent Chang’s seating although questions have been raised about whether he lived in Brooklyn for a year prior to Election Day, as required by law.

Chang defended his eligibility during a hearing held last month after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) called on the chamber’s Judiciary Committee to probe the matter.

A report released by the committee last week detailed a mountain of evidence showing Chang resided in Manhattan.

Voting records show Chang first registered to vote using his Manhattan address in 1994, and voted in Manhattan through 2021. In February 2022, he updated his registration with a Brooklyn address and voted in Brooklyn in both the June primary and November general election last year.

Other evidence included with the report similarly shows Chang only began using a Brooklyn address months after he would have needed to in order to be eligible to run for the seat.

Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Democrats, said there are no plans to vote on Chang’s expulsion at the moment.

“They can challenge me anytime, if they want to,” Chang told The Associated Press. “But I want to keep it civil. We have people’s business to do.”

Meanwhile, incumbent Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Queens) declared victory over her Republican challenger on Wednesday, two full months after voters cast their ballots.

A final hand recount, which followed court challenges and lawsuits over contested ballots, determined that Amato beat Republican Thomas Sullivan by only 15 votes.

“I know this has been along and difficult process for everyone involved,” Pheffer Amato said in a statement. “The wheels of our American democracy do not always turn as quickly as we’d like, but preserving the integrity of our elections, ensuring the accuracy of the count and defending the right of every voter’s voice to be heard is more important than expediency.”