For the first time in almost 30 years, Kemp Hannon is not in Albany serving in the New York Senate. Instead, the man now representing the sixth district is Kevin Thomas. The 34-year-old civil rights attorney from Levittown was sworn in on Jan. 5.
“When I found out I won, I was speechless,” said Thomas. “I remember the [Nassau County] Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs telling me ‘Kevin, you won.’ I was just standing there shocked. At the same time I was like, ‘Alright, it’s time to get to work.’”
Thomas, who grew up in Dubai, immigrated to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. His family wanted to start a better life in a democracy with more freedom and better opportunities.
“The education back then in Dubai was not as great as it was over here,” said Thomas. “And there’s no way I would have been able to rise to where I am now if I stayed there.”
His family moved to the island after spending his middle school and high school years in Queens. When he was in college, Thomas worked in the city, getting the chance to work for the NYPD as a civilian for the legal bureau and working under city councilmember Peter Malone Jr. Following his work there, he went to law school in order to serve his community further.
“I went to law school so I could help others,” said Thomas. “I saw the impact of justice and what has been happening to a vulnerable population.”
For the last decade, he worked as a lawyer for the New York Legal Assistant Group in the Bronx, helping one of the most poor areas in the country with legal assistance in the event they were sued for not paying back debt. Thanks to the success he had in that role, he was later appointed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to the New York State Advisory Committee. But it was ultimately the issues impacted by the 2016 election that got Thomas interested in a government position.
“I never thought I would be running for office,” said Thomas. “Because of that election and the changing policies, I saw how my clients were being impacted. My colleagues’ work was also being affected, and no amount of protesting was helping the situation. I just thought someone needs to get into government that thinks like the rest of us do. That’s where I came in.”
Thomas choosing to run against Hannon was a tough task considering the stronghold Hannon had on his seat. But Thomas pulled off the shocking victory by a slim margin of 50.8 to 49.1 percent. While he was stunned in the moment of his victory, his campaign polling numbers showed he had a great chance at winning. He understood why voters wanted someone new in the seat after multiple decades.
“He wasn’t really reaching out to the community he represented,” said Thomas. “When he first took office, the district looked completely different. Now, we have the largest number of minority voters on the island and he wasn’t reaching out to them. He also didn’t really have a campaign either. Whenever we drove past his campaign office in Garden City, it was always dark.”
After the election, before Senator-elect Thomas took office in January, he wanted to sit down with Hannon about the job as part of the transition process. However, Hannon never gave him the chance.
“My opponent did not sit down with me to discuss anything as to what programs he has running or what we should continue to do,” said Thomas. “We had scheduled a meeting, but he decided not to show up for it. So we’re waiting for constituents to call us and invite us to events and go from there.”
In terms of what he wants to accomplish while in office, Senator Thomas is hoping the “Long Island Six,” referring to the six Democrats that are representing Long Island in the senate, brings a lot of jobs and investment back to the area. He wants the younger generation to be able to afford to stay on the island, while hoping to fund a “world-class” education in the public school systems.
“In our district, I’m so happy the Nassau County legislator passed a resolution to build the Nassau Hub,” said Thomas. “That multi-use structure will be an incredible place for the county, the expansion of the taxpayer base and jobs for young people. We want to make sure Long Island isn’t forgotten anymore.”
As for his first 100 days in office, Thomas will be focusing on his position as chairman of the Consumer Protection Committee. He will be looking to pass a consumer privacy bill that will prevent websites, such as Facebook, from harvesting consumer data for their own use, as well as a bill regulating student loan servicers to prevent them from giving incorrect information to those that are paying loans back.
“It’s been an incredible two months,” said Thomas. “I had a great transition team and now a great team that is with me to help with the district and legislation. I’m really happy about everything that has transpired since.”