The following article originally ran in the Queens Tribune, an editorial partner of NYJL
Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) died on Saturday after a battle with an undisclosed form of cancer. He was 46 years old.
Simanowitz, who represented the 27th Assembly District, took office in 2011 after serving for years as the chief of staff for his predecessor, former Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn.
Simanowitz was an Orthodox Jew and Forest Hills native. Prior to joining politics, he was an auxiliary police officer for the 107th Precinct who had been recognized for his volunteer work after September 11 and during the blackout of 2003, according to his official website.
On Sunday, hundreds of family members, friends and fellow elected officials attended an emotional funeral service at the Schwartz Brothers Jeffer Memorial Chapel in Forest Hills. They packed the chapel beyond capacity, with dozens forced to stand and watch the service from out in the hallway.
Among those who came to pay their respects were Simanowitz’s colleagues from Albany. They were somber and jolted over his death.
“I’m just in utter shock,” Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) told the Queens Tribune after the service. “Words can’t describe, I think, what we’re all feeling.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said that Simanowitz’s death leaves “some really big shoes to fill.”
“Over the last couple of years while he was battling this, he never felt sorry for himself and he came to work every week except for the times that he was receiving treatments,” Heastie told the Tribune. “If there was an issue that he felt passionate about, there was no bigger advocate or better spokesperson than Mike.”
Simanowitz was especially passionate about advocating for education issues up in Albany, said Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Flushing). She said that people would remember him as a problem solver with an “effusive energy” that brought people together.
“It’s a huge hole,” Rozic said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be able to fill that gap.”
Many recalled a man whose quick wit brought a unique flare to his work.
“He had one of the best sense of humors that I’ve seen among anyone,” said Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows). “It was kind of a dry sense of humor that it wasn’t always apparent that he was joking until you realize after the fact.”
Jeff Leb, of the government relations firm Capital Consulting offered an example of the assemblyman’s humor. When Simanowitz was working in Albany, he would wake up every morning at 6 a.m. to do daily prayers at a local synagogue, Leb said. When Leb, who is also Jewish, was up in Albany lobbying, he would often eschew the morning synagogue trips. Simanowitz would tease him: “So Jeff, must have missed you today!”
Leb described Simanowitz as a friend and mentor. In the early 2000s, Leb worked for former Councilman Jim Gennaro and collaborated closely with Simanowitz, then Mayersohn’s chief of staff, for several projects.
“He could be a really tough cookie to deal with, politically or even personally,” Leb said. “But if he had a position, it was a position based on principle. Everything he did was based on his conscience and his principle.”
After Simanowitz’s death made headlines, reactions poured in from all levels of government. Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement praising him for working “every day to make life better for his constituents.” U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said she was “shocked and devastated,” and fondly recalled his “heart of gold,” while U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) called him a “person beyond reproach.” And Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) issued a personal and emotional statement praising his friend.
“May his good deeds live on forever,” Grodenchik said. “May the thousands and thousands of people he helped in his all too short life remember his kindnesses and may they be multiplied many fold. May the life he led inspire all who knew him to live lives consecrated to good deeds and helping others.”
Among those most familiar with Simanowitz’s good deeds was Tim Thomas, Simanowitz’s chief of staff. Thomas will remember his boss for his staunch commitment to the community. It was a commitment unfazed by illness, Thomas said.
Only a month ago, Simanowitz attended a press conference with Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), celebrating a new handicap accessible ramp at Flushing’s PS 201. A few weeks later, he issued a fiery joint statement with Lancman decrying the Queens Museum’s controversial decision to cancel an event commemorating the foundation of Israel.
“He’s been in tremendous pain for over a year now,” Thomas said. “He lived his life in a way that put others before him all the time.”