FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 21, 2018
CONTACT: Chris McCreight
TRANSCRIPT: COUNCILMAN BRANNAN’S INAUGURAL ADDRESS
Councilman Justin Brannan’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
Hello, fightin’ 43rd!!!
Just about a year ago today, in the neighborhood where I grew up and have always lived, where my wife and I opened a small business and my mother has been an educator for over 30 years, in a room full of family, friends, and respected community activists, I announced my candidacy for City Council.
Today, on the stage of my high school, I stand before you humbled to be the newly-elected Councilman for the 43rd District representing Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst.
My mother will tell you I was born with an activist heart — my mother will tell you a lot of things — but as a kid, not only did I wanna change the world but I wanted it changed overnight. The pace of the political process left me feeling disaffected, disillusioned and dissatisfied. I didn’t think voting mattered and I didn’t think my opinion counted. I certainly never thought I would one day run for office.
Growing up, I wanted to be a member of The Ramones, not a member of Congress. I didn’t have JFK’s picture on my bedroom wall; I had Joe Strummer from The Clash. After I was done with school, I got lucky. A band I started in the hallways right here at Xaverian got a record deal and went on to tour world. If a show promoter sent us 5 plane tickets, we would go and perform our songs. And we played everywhere – from South Africa to Belgium; from Brazil to Japan; from New Zealand to Russia and everywhere in between. And I learned so much about life on those tours just by talking with kids from every background under the sun.
Above all, I learned that we are all far more alike than we are different. And we all share the same desire to build a better life for ourselves and a brighter future for our families. Locally, we all want clean and safe streets, excellent schools, and great parks. But we cannot accomplish these most basic goals if we aren’t listening to each other. Before we can all work together, we must first take the time to understand just a little bit better, what it’s like to walk in our neighbor’s shoes.
They say you can judge a society by how well it treats its most vulnerable. That is why empathy and respect must be the foundation upon which we build all things. I often think of my great-grandparents who came from Italy. People spat at them, made fun of their broken English, the way they looked and the food they ate. But they didn’t flinch or hang their heads; they were proud, hardworking people who looked forward and never back. That’s why I am so incredibly honored to represent the neighborhoods where I grew up.
Like America, Brooklyn is a rich mosaic of traditions and cultures. Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst are some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country.
We are at a critical time for our city, state and nation. And while some inexplicably see diversity as a threat, I know our diversity is our true strength. Our community has a long and beautiful tradition of welcoming new immigrants with open arms – I don’t care if you’re a new arrival or a native – my door will always be open to you, and I swear today to make sure that on these streets, from Colonial Road to Cropsey Avenue, from Shore Road to Shore Parkway, everyone will be treated with respect.
All those years on tour with my band made me realize just how special our little corner of the world is. So once my days of sleeping on floors and traveling the world were over, I knew if I wanted to be a part of what makes this community great, and if I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, I was gonna have to get off the sidelines, roll up my sleeves and get involved. About 10 years ago, I walked into Vinnie Gentile’s office and said, “Put me to work!” I quickly discovered the importance and the power of local government. For me, this is where the rubber meets the road. Here, I’d found a place where I could affect real change in the lives of real people in real time — whether it was helping a senior living alone on a fixed income freeze her rent, getting stop signs and traffic lights installed at dangerous intersections, getting the swings replaced in a playground or helping the parents of a special needs child navigate the intricacies of the school system – helping people was where I felt most at home. I want to thank Vinnie for teaching me how to get things done and how to fight for this community. Vinnie, you gave us your blood, sweat, and tears, for nearly three decades, and we all owe you a debt of gratitude for your service.
I was at home, thinking about how important this job is and how this speech today would set the tone for what I want to accomplish over the next four years, when a friend asked me, “Who are your heroes?” And aside from my mother or my father, none of the obvious people came to mind. My hero is the single mom who wakes up at 5:00 AM to get her kids ready for school and still somehow makes it to work in midtown by 9; the shop owner on the avenue, struggling just to keep the lights on in the small business he dreamed about opening for years, but still smiles when you come through the door. My heroes are the young family living in a tight apartment above the bodega on the corner, just one paycheck away from being homeless, but instilling in their children that you must never give up hope; the teacher who spends half of her hard-earned salary on supplies to make sure the students that she loves get the education she knows they deserve.
My heroes are the DREAMERS, the seniors, the nurses, and firemen. My heroes are cops, and secretaries, construction workers, and bus drivers, young moms, and dads, and everyone who still believes in the covenant that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead. YOU are my heroes. Everyone in this room today. You are the ones I think about most when I get up in the morning so humbled and grateful for the trust that you’ve bestowed on me.
To me, representing our community means making sure everyone has a fair shot at opportunity no matter who they are, or where they came from. It means making sure that our government is functioning efficiently – because in order for government to truly be a tool to advance equity, it must first and foremost work for ALL people.
That is why my office will be a place where your voices are most important. I promise to listen carefully for the most quiet and marginalized voices, and to raise up those who may feel they’ve been shut out of the process or ignored. In my office, you will always have a seat at the table in the room where it happens. My office will be a place where we help organize people to play a more direct role in their local government. My office will be a place that demystifies the role of government and refuses to sit idle when a person needs help, no matter how big or small. And for those times when the system fails, my office will be the place that demands accountability and lasting change. I don’t care if you swing left or sway right, if you’re gay or straight, if your skin is light or dark. I don’t care if you’re Democrat or Republican, if you voted for me or not, or maybe you were like me when I was younger and you didn’t even vote at all – no matter what, we are all in this together – bound by our collective dreams and struggles – and by a desire to leave this world just a little bit better than how we found it.
During my campaign, I made it a point not to make empty promises. But as many people in this room can attest, I don’t take “No” for an answer when it comes to getting things done. I have vowed to build a new public school, to keep our streets safe and clean, to bring community policing to this district, to build a real community center and performing arts space and of course to fight like hell to get the reliable subway and bus service we need and deserve. The 43rd District is the small town in the big city. We have some of the best schools, the most active and engaged civic organizations, and some of the most generous people you’ll ever meet. Not to mention 100 acres of parkland, 5 miles of waterfront and a vibrant community of entrepreneurs and small businesses. I love all the neighborhoods in this great district and I know you all do too or you wouldn’t be here today. This is one of the strongest communities I have ever known but one I know we’re going to make even better and stronger, together.
My name might be on the door of the office but this is your neighborhood, your city and your future.
Thinking back to my days as a restless, teenage activist, walking the halls of this school, daydreaming about playing CBGBs, and now being here today, humbled and honored by the opportunity to serve you and the neighborhoods where I grow up, looking out at all of you in this room – I know there is nothing we can’t accomplish when we work together. The future of our community is in your hands just as much as it is in mine.
My mission is simple: to make your life just a little bit easier by ensuring local government is working for everyone who calls the 43rd District home.
In closing, I want to take this opportunity to thank the two most important people in my life: my mother Mary and my wife Leigh. There is no way I would be here without their support, patience, understanding and love.
And to all of my neighbors, colleagues, friends, family and all those who call this great district their home: thank you again. I will always be in your corner and I will always have your back.
I am humbled and excited to serve. OK. Enough talk. Let’s get to work!