Great Neck resident Michael Weinstock, a former prosecutor and longtime volunteer firefighter with the Vigilant Fire Company, announced on Tuesday, May 14, that he will run for Congress.
Weinstock is challenging Tom Suozzi for the Democratic nomination in New York’s Third Congressional District, which includes parts of Nassau, Queens and Suffolk counties. If elected, he would be the first 9/11 firefighter to serve in Congress, the first openly gay person to represent New York City in Congress and the only openly gay man serving in elected office on Long Island.
“I hope to work really hard and become a role model for all New Yorkers,” he said.
Weinstock, who moved to Great Neck in second grade and attended Saddle Rock Elementary School, was a Vigilant firefighter and emergency medical technician for 12 years. On the morning of 9/11, he was working as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn’s Special Victim’s Bureau. After looking out the window and seeing the massive amount of smoke pouring from the World Trade Center, he ran outside and waived down a passing ambulance.
“I saw the smoke from my window in Brooklyn,” Weinstock recalled. “I had just completed a course in high rise–construction fires at the volunteer fire academy in Bethpage, and I knew right away that the fire was far worse than any high-rise fires we had studied at the academy. The amount of black smoke, and the darkness of the smoke, told me that the fire was going to be a horrible mass-casualty incident with a large number of fatalities.”
He arrived at Ground Zero while both towers were still standing and was unloading emergency medical supplies from the ambulance when the first tower came crashing down. Although the ambulance was crushed and destroyed, Weinstock escaped physical injury. His best friend and brother firefighter, Jonathan Ielpi, for whom Grace Avenue Park was renamed, was killed in the line of duty. In the days that followed, Weinstock returned to Ground Zero and worked on the pile of rubble with his fellow firefighters.
“I felt the towers falling before I saw anything,” remembered Weinstock. “The ground started shaking and I quickly made eye contact with the guy I was working with, unloading equipment. After making eye contact, we both dropped everything in our hands (on the ground) and we quickly started running in the opposite direction from the rumbling. We ran as quickly as possible and we were both jumping over the bodies that were already on the ground.”
On the first anniversary of 9/11, Weinstock was flown to Wellington, New Zealand, where he was honored by New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and reunited with two 9/11 victims he treated.
“The two victims from New Zealand told me, ‘We are so sorry for what happened to your country today,’” noted Weinstock. “Their words sounded so peculiar to me, because I take such pride in being a New Yorker, I never stopped to think about being an American.”
Weinstock’s Vigilant training has provided him the tools to help so many people. During his first year at St. John’s Law School, Weinstock witnessed the dean suffering a heart attack and helped save his life. Upon graduation, Weinstock was hired as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn. He asked to be assigned to the Special Victim’s Bureau, where he protected thousands of women and men who were the victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
Following a discussion at the Vigilant firehouse in 2017, New York State Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso asked Weinstock for help finding the Jewish family that D’Urso’s parents hid from the Nazis during WWII. Weinstock used the skills he developed as a prosecutor to confirm the story of heroism.
After locating the Jewish family, Weinstock organized a reunion in Italy on the eve of last year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This past February, Pope Francis invited the D’Urso family and Weinstock to the Vatican. The pontiff told Weinstock that he was quite impressed by his volunteer work on behalf of Holocaust survivors, as well as his service as a rescue worker.
The life-long Democrat is challenging Suozzi for the Democratic nomination. In 2018, Suozzi wrote a letter of support for disgraced politician Gerard Terry, after Terry was convicted of failing to pay his income tax for 15 years. Shortly after Suozzi wrote the letter of support, Terry was caught practicing law without a license, which is a felony.
“I was thunderstruck when Congressman Suozzi decided to pull strings and get his friend released from jail,” said Weinstock. “In addition to tax evasion and practicing law without a license, Gerard Terry has a long history of pressuring young people for sex in exchange for government jobs. I spent most of my career putting sexual predators in jail. Congressman Suozzi likes to write letters and get them out.”
Weinstock announced his candidacy with the release of a video, “Hip Kosher,” which can be viewed at www.weinstockforcongress.com.
The candidate selected the title, “because I keep kosher and that happens to be one of my favorite cookbooks,” said Weinstock. “It was on the counter the day we were filming in my kitchen, and my friends were goofing on me for it.”
Weinstock is hoping to bring integrity into the Third Congressional District.
“Tom Suozzi did something that made me really angry,” explained Weinstock. “He wrote a letter of support on behalf of a politician who committed some very serious crimes. It really bothers me that so many of our politicians are getting arrested or protecting their buddies who have gotten arrested. I’m hoping to start a new chapter.”