Lisa Do Hofflich points to her experience as a child refugee and work in state, federal governments in Senate bid

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Lisa Do Hofflich has joined a populated race for a state Senate seat that represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester.
Photo courtesy Lisa Do Hofflich

As a Vietnamese refugee and former political staffer, Lisa Do Hofflich believes she has the professional and life experience needed to advocate for working families in state Senate District 36.

Hofflich, 49, first came to the United States at the age of three, during the fall of Saigon. Her family was sponsored by a Lutheran church in North Dakota, where winters were cold, but her parents couldn’t afford to pay the heating bill.

So while her father worked night shifts as a diesel mechanic, Hofflich spent winter dinners with her mother sitting on overturned buckets at a card table in front of the open oven.

Because of this experience, she said she understands what families are going through as energy bills skyrocket.

“Because my parents had to deal with that too,” she said, “where they had to really make that decision: Are we going to be warm or are we going to try to afford food?”

That young girl trying to keep warm ultimately became a journalism student at New York University and then an investigative television news producer, before pursuing a career in government.

Hofflich, who calls herself a Pragmatic Progressive, has lived in the Fleetwood section of Mount Vernon for more than two decades, where her husband runs a dental practice connected to their home. But she doesn’t see borders between the neighboring Westchester communities and the Bronx, where her five kids have attended Jewish day school in Riverdale and her family attends the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale.

“I feel as much of a connection to the Bronx as I do for my Westchester side,” she told the Bronx Times.

District 36 encompasses neighborhoods across the Bronx from the top of Riverdale to the bottom of Silver Beach, as well as Westchester County’s Pelham, Pelham Manor and Mount Vernon, with a similar footprint to the previous District 34, which, since 2019, has been represented by Alessandra Biaggi, a Pelham Progressive who is running for Congress.

Hofflich has worked in both state and federal government. Most recently, she worked for U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand as the lower Hudson Valley regional director and special advisor for issues related to Asian American Pacific Islanders and human trafficking. Before that, she was a legislative advisor for New York State Assembly members Amy Paulin, who represents parts of Westchester — including Pelham Manor — and Sandy Galef, who represents parts of Westchester and Putnam counties. Hofflich said her “claim to fame” was being the only staffer working for more than one lawmaker at once in the Assembly.

Through volunteer work and legislative efforts, the candidate said she has advocated for domestic violence survivors, human trafficking victims and LGBTQ people.

Ultimately, the most pressing issues throughout District 36, to Hofflich, are public safety and environmental justice.

Hofflich, who chairs the Westchester Asian American Democratic committee — formed in April in response to anti-Asian American violence — said she knows what it’s like to feel uneasy about her children’s safety.

“I really want to work to make sure that this district and New York state gets to that place where I don’t have to worry like this anymore,” she said.

Addressing illegal gun transport along I-95, curbing the number of ghost guns, and investing in education to keep students in school are all part of her approach to public safety. Also, she believes there should be an investment in police force training on mental health issues and young people.

She said residents she has spoken with want more of a police presence in the Bronx.

Hofflich also emphasized the importance of fighting climate change, especially with two shorelines in the district. She pointed to superfund sites, asthma rates, air quality issues and protecting green space, and said remediating these problems can create jobs along the way.

Gary Pretlow, whose district encompasses Bronx-adjacent Mount Vernon and Yonkers, has endorsed Hofflich.

Read about Christian Amato and Miguelina Camilo, who are also running for the seat.

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.