Nice guys don’t finish last; Hoylman is sworn into officeJanuary 24, 2013 • By The Villager
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A week before a crowd of hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington to celebrate President Obama’s inauguration, a smaller, but no less passionate group of more than 500 gathered at F.I.T.’s Haft Auditorium in Chelsea for the swearing-in of one of their own — the new state senator for the 27th District, Brad Hoylman.
The state Senate district includes Greenwich Village, Hudson Square, most of Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, part of the Upper West Side, Midtown and East Midtown and most of the East Village, plus Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.
The 27th’s lines, which were recently redrawn, unite Greenwich Village in one district. Major additions are the East Village and part of Midtown, including Times Square, while lost was the Upper West Side north of 72nd St.
For President Obama, his inauguration marked the start of his second term, as he now confidently settles into office for another four years, after mapping out a firmly progressive agenda in his speech on Monday. For Hoylman, on the other hand, it was just the start — yet, in a sense, also the end, as in the fulfillment of his long quest to hold elected office.
In 2001, Hoylman ran in a crowded field of candidates for City Council in Lower Manhattan’s First District, finishing a close second in the primary election to Alan Gerson, losing by just 500 votes.
Hoylman went on to rise to the chairpersonship of Community Board 2 — no easy feat in itself — and six years ago was elected the Village’s Democratic district leader, an unsalaried, party post. And yet the goal of higher elected office continued to elude him.
Duane steps aside
He was facing a race for City Council in the Third District coming up this year — against at least two tough candidates, Corey Johnson and Yetta Kurland — when, in June, state Senator Tom Duane suddenly announced he wouldn’t seek re-election. Shifting his sights to the state Senate, Hoylman was well positioned for a run and, facing only token opposition, won easily.
In another connection with Obama’s speech, it was noteworthy, among other things, for being the first time a president has ever mentioned the word “gay” in an inaugural address.
Referring to the journey “through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” the president linked the struggles of women, blacks and gays and lesbians for equality.
Hoylman joins a strong contingent of openly gay and lesbian politicians — with one among their ranks, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, standing a good chance of being elected the city’s next mayor this year.
An L.G.B.T. continuum
Hoylman is the latest link in a chain of gay and lesbian political trailblazers coming out of Downtown Manhattan. In addition to Duane and Quinn, these include Assemblymember Deborah Glick, as well as Councilmember Rosie Mendez, and before her, Margarita Lopez and, to a certain extent, Antonio Pagan, who was more publicly ambiguous about his sexuality.
Fittingly, it was Glick — New York’s first openly gay or lesbian elected official — who emceed Hoylman’s swearing-in ceremony.
Hoylman was given the oath by New York’s J. Paul Oetken, the first openly gay judge appointed to the federal bench.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, a gay and lesbian synagogue, gave the invocation.
“Brad Hoylman, you stand on the shoulders of many, many great people who preceded you,” she said. She exhorted him to work “to move things forward when so much has conspired to keep us back. … We pray to whomever, whatever to give you strength.”
Seated to Hoylman’s side during the ceremony was his fiancé, filmmaker David Sigal. Together since 1992, they plan to marry later this year. They have a daughter, Silvia, 2, born via a surrogate mother in California.
Glick noted that the event was actually a twofer — “a goodbye to a very good friend, Tom Duane, and a big hello to Brad Hoylman.”
Packed with politicians
Among the many other elected officials seated on the stage were Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler and Jose Serrano, state Senators Liz Kreuger and Dan Squadron, Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried, Linda Rosenthal, Keith Wright and Brian Kavanagh, Councilmembers Margaret Chin, Dan Garodnick, Robert Jackson, Jessica Lappin, Gale Brewer and Jimmy Van Bramer, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and city Comptroller John Liu.
Also on hand was Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the new leader of the Democratic State Senate Conference. She said she’ll be counting on Hoylman’s help in “fighting the good fight for everyone — making sure we do minimum wage, campaign finance reform, making sure we stand up for the L.G.B.T. community…especially for transgender people.
“From the first day I met Brad…he was so ready,” she said. “He knows where we’re going.”
She praised Hoylman as “obviously, so well-educated, an activist, an attorney.”
Hoylman, originally from West Virginia, was a Rhodes scholar. When not wearing his C.B. 2 hat, he worked as the counsel for the New York Partnership, stepping down from that job when he launched his campaign for City Council last year.
Quinn: ‘Just good people’
Quinn, in her remarks, said politics needs more individuals like the freshman state senator.
“There are people you meet who desperately want to be elected officials,” she said, “and there are people who should be, because their compass points true north and they’re just really good, loving people. That’s Brad Hoylman.”
Quinn praised Hoylman, in his tenure as C.B. 2 chairperson, for working “thoughtfully and deliberately” to create a forum “where everyone gets a chance to be heard.”
Acknowledging the work over the years of her early political mentor, Duane, Quinn quipped, “There are enormously huge pumps to fill — enormously high stilettos,” eliciting laughter from the audience.
Schumer in Sunday form
Schumer earlier in the day had given one of his famous Sunday press conferences, in this case, calling on Walmart and Sports Authority to stop selling assault weapons. He noted he’s the “N.R.A.’s Public Enemy No. 1.” The pro-gun group puts out a photo of Schumer with a bull’s-eye on his forehead, and he noted he gets 20 to 30 of them back each year with a bullet hole through them. That’s a symbol of what’s wrong with America, he said.
On the other hand, he said, “Brad is a symbol of what’s so good about this country, because he works so hard, and always believed in community.”
Unlike in New York City, there are no term limits in the state Legislature.
Noting, “We don’t inaugurate new state officials very often,” Nadler said, it’s important to install good ones. Hoylman, he said, has the right stuff, and is someone “who knows that the aim of good government is not to balance the budget, but to protect civil liberties and empower communities.”
Stringer, who oversees the Manhattan community boards and appoints their members, relied on Hoylman to help get C.B. 2 back on track after a leading chairperson candidate had hidden from the board a conflict-of-interest ruling about his restaurant and his relationship to the board.
After serving two years, Hoylman stepped down, following C.B. 2’s self-imposed term limit for chairpersons, only to run for chairperson two years later and win again, only to have to face dealing with the review of New York University’s enormous and hotly debated 2031 development plan. The board voted an “absolute no” on the mega-plan.
Stringer: ‘Smart, strategic’
“He’s so smart, so strategic,” Stringer said of Hoylman. “When he became chairperson of C.B. 2, we were able to navigate some rocky waters, accomplish so much. … Then, with N.Y.U. coming in, all the issues coming, he re-enlists and does it again.”
In a novel twist for a swearing-in ceremony, author Maureen McLane, one of Hoylman’s best friends from their days together in Oxford as Rhodes scholars and an N.Y.U. English professor, read a lengthy poem, written for the occasion, including lines the likes of:
He’s not from Texas, he’s no oilman
He’s state Senator Brad Hoylman
Yes, it’s true, it’s no rumor
He’s heralded today by Chuck Schumer
See him head for Albany
His Empire State of Mind’s like Jay-Z’s
And if you heard just one faint boo
It might be from expansionist N.Y.U.
But I’m from there and say, Yahoo!
Glick called the moment “bittersweet,” as it also represented the retirement from Albany politics of her longtime comrade Duane, who was elected to the City Council just one year after she won her seat in the Assembly.
“Can it really be 30 years?” she asked, “I’m gonna plotz.” Pointing to the close friendships between the Downtown L.G.B.T. officials, she recalled how she met her partner while out petitioning for ballot signatures with Duane.
Duane passes the torch
Yes, it was a political love fest, to be sure, but the sentiment was genuine.
“I love Brad,” Duane said. He recalled sitting down to meet the aspiring politician in 2000 and thinking, “ ‘Wow, this guy is the real deal,’ ” Duane said.
Again, pointing to the friendships between the tight-knit group of politicos, Duane said Hoylman had really supported him during one of the “most difficult times of his life,” though he didn’t elaborate.
As it was finally time for Hoylman to take the oath of office, his daughter, Silvia, came running up to the stage from the audience and he lifted her up with him. Silvia helped hold Sigal’s bar mitzvah Bible as Hoylman prepared to be sworn in, and he and Sigal both held Silvia.
“This will be interesting,” Hoylman remarked, to the audience’s laughter.
They finally managed to get everyone in position, after going through a sort of “political Twister.”
The making of a senator
In his remarks, Hoylman thanked his parents, who couldn’t attend, for instilling in him at an early age the belief “that politics could be an honorable profession — even as President Nixon was resigning [on TV] in our living room.”
He thanked his allies for encouraging him to stay in politics after he lost the Council race in 2001, and to run for district leader.
“And you said, ‘Don’t worry, a seat will open up very soon.’ And I waited…and waited — 11 years,” he quipped.
But that waiting period only seasoned Hoylman for becoming a state senator.
“I’m a better public servant today because you thought that political office should be earned the old-fashioned way, through hard work,” he told the crowd at F.I.T.
Saying the 27th District includes “really the best neighborhoods in New York State,” he pledged to represent all its diverse areas, including the Village, its public housing complexes — like the Riis Houses, Campos Plaza and Chelsea-Elliot Houses — along with Penn South, the Westbeth artists’ complex and Manhattan Plaza, and Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village — the latter which, he noted, “is more than 10 times the size of my hometown in West Virginia.” He promised to work to keep Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village affordable.
Will fight for the 99%
He vowed to work, as he put it, “to reverse the growing chasm between the rich and the poor, to fight for New York City’s fair share of education money and for parent involvement [in public schools], to ensure passage of GENDA [the Gender Non-Discrimination Act] and to keep our water safe from hydrofracking.”
His comments on fracking elicited the loudest cheers of his bucket list of stated goals.
He also said he’ll push for surrogate pregnancy to become legal in New York, one of the few states where it’s still banned.
Hoylman indicated Albany’s infamously dysfunctional politics will be a challenge, but that he’s got hope.
“It’s gotten to the point where, some of our members, during roll call, don’t know whether to say, ‘Present’ or ‘Not guilty,’” he said. “But it’s getting better under new leadership.”
‘East Village is important’
Asked afterward if he’ll face a learning curve in representing the East Village, since C.B. 2’s eastern border is the Bowery/Fourth Ave., Hoylman said, “It’s an important new part of the district. I have knowledge of East Village issues as a Village activist and former community board chairperson, where many issues have overlapped, such as N.Y.U., public schools, nightlife, tenants’ rights and historic preservation. Plus, I’m fortunate in having pre-existing strong alliances with C.B. 3, community members and local elected officials in the East Village, including Rosie Mendez, [Congressmember] Nydia Velazquez and Brian Kavanagh. But there’s a lot of work to do in this neighborhood and every part of the district!”
Mendez missed Hoylman’s swearing-in because she was at Velazquez’s.
Helps pass gun laws
Just days after Hoylman’s swearing-in at F.I.T., the state Legislature passed Governor Cuomo’s N.Y. Safe Act of 2013, implementing the toughest assault weapons ban in the country. Hoylman called the package of gun laws “an urgent necessity” and “long overdue.” Still, he said there is more work to do, including pushing for microstamping to link bullet cartridges to criminals who fired them.
“Voting on the gun bill was an exciting and momentous way to begin my legislative career in the Senate, demonstrating that we as legislators are no longer under the thumb of the gun lobby,” Hoylman told The Villager.
As for how things are going so far, he said, “Everyone — senators and staff of both parties — has been incredibly welcoming and helpful. And I’m lucky to be sitting next to my colleague to the south, Senator Squadron, on the Senate floor, who has been generous in showing me the ropes.”
‘It’s nice to have hope’
Meanwhile, his supporters who helped him get there are pulling for him with a renewed sense of hope in Albany politics.
Said Jo Hamilton, a former C.B. 2 chairperson and a close friend of Hoylman’s, “Brad has, deservedly, earned the respect of the community and elected officials. He is trusted and it seems that so many consider him a friend. It’s a great combination in a political world where it is too easy to be cynical. It’s nice to have hope.”
Hope — in the form of a nice, highly intelligent, handsome guy with progressive politics elected to office. Hey, where have we seen that before?