New York State Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow knows that every vote counts. “I won my very first primary for State Assembly by 37 votes,” he says, smiling as he recalls his victory in 1992. Mr. Pretlow has served the 89th District of the assembly ever since, representing Mount Vernon and Yonkers in a career spanning more than 26 years and countless pieces of legislation—though it’s a career he never planned on pursuing.
As a young man, Pretlow dreamed of becoming a commercial pilot for Pan Am and even began his college career studying engineering. Imperfect eyesight, however, derailed those ambitions, leading him to Baruch College, where he earned a BBA in accountancy. He worked as assistant accounting department manager at Bloomingdale’s and assistant controller for The Limited, a national retail company, and later established Moncur-Pretlow & Company, his own financial planning and management-consulting firm.
Pretlow’s business career was going smoothly, but public service beckoned when some of his neighbors in Mount Vernon encouraged him to run to fill a vacant city council seat. “Everybody didn’t like someone, but nobody didn’t like me,” he laughs, noting he didn’t expect his involvement in politics to “snowball like it did.”
After two 4-year terms, those same neighbors encouraged Pretlow to run for the New York State Assembly—an election he won, propelling him into a full-time career in politics.
His signature accomplishments include Cynthia’s Law, which raised awareness about shaken-baby syndrome and established reckless assault of a child as a class D felony, and sponsorship of a law that legalized and implemented consumer protections for fantasy sports, a bill that would go on to become the national model.
“Politics wasn’t on my mind when I was younger, but I’ve always had a desire to work with people and help others, to do what I could for the greater good,” Pretlow explains. “And it’s very rewarding—especially with Cynthia’s Law, for example—because I know I’ve affected lives in a very positive way.”
—Gregory M. Leporati