by Brandon Reiter
Today, my former camp bunkmate, Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, announced that he is running for Congress. Over the weekend, I talked with him about his journey, and how he was able to become the youngest elected official in the state of New York.
In a previous article, I discuss the many challenges entrepreneurs face when trying to establish credibility for their start up, and ways they can do so. If there’s one person who is an expert on establishing credibility with little experience, it is none other than Joshua Lafazan.
Lafazan was re-elected, last month, as the legislator for Nassau County of New York’s 18th district. In 2012, he made headlines when he became the youngest elected official in the state of New York, after winning a seat on the Syosset Board of Education, in a landslide win before he even graduated high school, at the age of 18.
In tandem with his political career, Lafazan went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a master’s degree in education from Harvard University. Ever heard of it?
Just like starting a successful business, winning a political campaign at a young age, let alone before you graduate from high school, is no easy feat. I asked Lafazan why he even wanted to join the school board in the first place. I’m always perplexed that people wake up and want to be dentists (no offense to dentists), but it’s even more atypical for a senior in high school to want to join the school board. When I was a senior in high school, I was way more concerned with doing as little homework as possible, than I was about the school budget.
So, why did he actually want to run?
“I ran for two reasons: we had a superintendent making half a million dollars, which I thought was outrageous, and I also wanted to represent young people. On a schoolboard of nine people, who knew better what students needed than a student themself.”
He had issues, he wanted to address, but why did he think he could actually win an election?
“I had a great mentor, Tom DiNapoli, who was the state comptroller; he was elected to his schoolboard at the age of 18 in 1972. As well as my father, who often says, ‘If not you than who?’ I felt that I had a great opportunity to make my community a better place, and if not me, than who was going to do it? So I put my hat in the ring.”
With his hat in the ring, how did he establish credibility despite the lack of experience?
“Two things to establish credibility, [especially] with the presence of agism, that are nonnegotiable, are work ethic and preparation. I knocked on every door (which isn’t typical for a school board election) in the freezing cold. I went to the supermarkets and the bagel stores, and really put myself out there. But also, preparation. I knew every single issue. I knew statistics on the budget, and [every metric]. You have to be the most prepared person in the room. When there’s skepticism of your ability, you have to be prepared.”
Despite his amount of preparation, Lafazan still had to convince people that he could accomplish the issues he was going to try to tackle, despite having no political experience. How did he pull it off?
“I made the case that on a school board of nine people, perhaps nine 18-year-olds wouldn’t make the most robust board, but one with fresh ideas would offer great perspective, and could make a change.”
His political career didn’t stop there. In 2017, he decided to run for county legislature.
Despite having the experience of being on the schoolboard, was he still faced with the same challenges of being young and lacking experience?
“Arguably the agism was even worse for this. I was running to be the youngest legislature at 23, but I had the same playbook to tackle the skepticism. Hard work and prepare.”
Lafazan’s victories were not achieved without adversity along the way. According to an NBC article at the time, parents in Syosset received an automated phone call message stating that his father, stole sensitive records right before the election: A last ditch smear tactic by his opponent.
How was he able to handle the challenges thrown his way?
“Adversity is unavoidable. What you can control is your reaction. When adversity hits, that is when you have to be the calmest. When things are the toughest, that’s when I’m the coolest and the calmest.”
“I can vent in therapy,” he laughed.
Before we wrapped up, he reiterated that the best thing you can do establish credibility is to be the most prepared person in the room. Lafazan is set to embark on his toughest political campaign yet, vying to become the youngest Democrat in Congress. To learn more about Josh and to donate to his campaign, visit his website.
Good luck, Laffy!