James Gisondi might be new to New York’s legislative branch, but he’s no stranger to another side — the judicial. A former lawyer and law secretary for the Bronx County Supreme Court, Gisondi’s legal background has influenced many of his policies, from criminal justice reform to tenants’ rights.
“I’ve always been involved in the community,” Gisondi said, first serving on Community Board 11, and later chairing its real estate committee.
He would go on to serve as treasurer and secretary on the executive board, but gave it up when he entered the court system. Now, he’s ready to jump back into politics.
One of Gisondi’s biggest concerns is housing — while reforms usually have tenants’ rights in mind, he said that smaller landlords — who both live in and own two- to three-family homes — are left without much protection under the law. That leaves them at a serious disadvantage in housing court.
“What I would like to do is I’d like to set up a separate part of housing court for owner-occupied housing properties, two or three families,” he said. “Have a 10-day notice, get them into the court system, and find out what the problem is. Is the problem with the landlord? Or is it a problem with the tenant?”
A tenant could face health problems, he said, making it difficult to pay rent. Or a small landlord could be a senior citizen on a fixed income, finding it difficult to make major repairs.
Getting into housing court quickly for small landlords is important, Gisondi said, because in either case, if a tenant isn’t able to pay rent, the landlord would quickly run out of money to pay the mortgage, and the property could be foreclosed. Quickly finding out the cause of the problem could let whichever party was in need get the proper services, be that a homeowner grant or a caseworker for a tenant in need of medical help.
Court hearings would have different social services at the ready, and would act as a mediatior between tenant and landlord, rather than a legal process.
That would require a strong security net, Gisondi said, with ample resources available, no matter what the problem was. Such a net doesn’t exist now.
“I think heath care is truly important, I think there should be health care for everyone,” Gisondi said. “Even in law school, we had these conversations back in 1995. At the time, that was something that was just coming to a head. I felt that health care was a right, especially in the United States, where we have so much. How can people not have health care?”
Preventive medicine is “more important than anything else,” Gisondi said, because maintaining health could easily keep an issue from growing to the point of hospitalization.
He wasn’t sure if he supports the New York Health Act, or an equivalent to Medicare for All. While New York has a fairly robust system to cover children with Child Health Plus and those 26 and younger covered on their parent’s plans — when they have them — Gisondi believes there should be “investigations and hearings” into how to adequately cover people currently without insurance.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has created health and economic crises unimaginable just a few months ago, and anyone elected to a new position will grapple with the aftermath of tens of thousands of deaths and a long economic downturn.
“I think a lot of the small businesses — especially restaurants and salons, nail salons and hair salons — are going to need some help,” Gisondi said. “To get back on their feet, a lot of stores may not be able to open up again and come back into business. Even though they may only employ two or three people. That’s jobs to people.That’s income to people. That pays their bills.”
Nonprofit organizations, like those that provide day care for both senior citizens and children, would need a boost too, he said, especially those not affiliated with the city.
“This is very important for this community, and I think they’re going to need help,” Gisondi said. “Whatever the city doesn’t do, these groups and these organizations, they come up and they fill the gaps.”
Gisondi’s lifetime living in the district means he knows what issues peopleare facing, he said, and what he thinks needs to be done.
“What I would like to do, as the next state senator from the 34th district, is go to Albany, and I want to bring back as much funding for my community as I can,” Gisondi said. “And block whatever negative legislation, or whatever negative policies, that would affect my community. That’s my agenda.”