Corey Johnson, far left, was sworn in on December 27 as two of his top aides, Louis Cholden-Brown, center, and R.J. Jordan, looked on. | SAM SPOKONY
In a surprising turn of events, two days after taking office as the new city councilman for the Third District, Corey Johnson named Jeffrey LeFrancois as his chief of staff. It had previously been widely thought that R.J. Jordan, his campaign manager, already had the job nailed down.
LeFrancois was West Side Assemblyman Dick Gottfried’s deputy chief of staff for five years, also serving as his community liaison and LGBT liaison.
Political observers got news of the appointment when, slightly after noon on January 3, Gottfried, who was among the elected officials whose endorsements Johnson touted in his primary contest with Yetta Kurland, tweeted out: “Congrats to @jlef423 Jeffrey LeFrancois, my former Deputy COS — Councilmember @CoreyinNYC’s new COS. Great news for all of us!”
Johnson, after his election in November as one of three new out gay councilmen — all of them running as progressive agents of change — had publicly stated, at venues including a meeting of the Village Independent Democrats, that he intended to name Jordan his head staffer. That was clearly Jordan’s expectation, as well. He posted that news on Facebook and had recently been signing emails as “chief of staff.”
In a telephone interview after news of LeFrancois’ appointment emerged, Johnson said he originally thought Jordan would fill the slot. “That was the plan,” he said. “[But] R.J. told me he wanted to pursue other opportunities. That’s the end of it. There’s nothing negative about this.” Jordan, the new councilman said, who pursue an acting career, something for which he studied at NYU.
Johnson had nothing but praise for Jordan, saying, “I wouldn’t have been elected without him, and I hold him in high regard,” he said. “I respect him and people in the community respect him. I consider R.J. to be the best campaign manager on a local level in the entire city.”
In response to a request for comment, Jordan emailed a succinct statement: “I am proud of my work on Corey’s campaign for City Council. I have decided to go back to school and pursue other opportunities. I believe Corey will be an outstanding councilmember and I wish him the best.”
Johnson also offered effusive praise for the man who has taken the chief of staff post. “I’m thrilled about Jeffrey — he’s a rock star in the community.
Apart from running Johnson’s successful Democratic primary race — which was a bitter, hard fought contest — Jordan, who previously worked in catering, lacks political experience. LeFrancois, on the other hand, is a seasoned political aide, well known in the community for his work for Gottfried. As the chair of Community Board 4 in recent years, Johnson frequently worked with LeFrancois on community issues.
Wendi Paster, Gottfried’s longtime chief of staff, had high praise for her former colleague LeFrancois. “He’ll be terrific for Corey,” she said, “because he knows the district and the community very well. He knows city government very well… Everyone who knows Jeffrey engages very well with him — he’s very smart, he’s personable.”
Asked if Gottfried had lobbied for LeFrancois to be Johnson’s chief of staff, Paster responded, “That is absolutely untrue. I have no knowledge of why R.J. is pursuing other things, but I think he would have been an excellent chief of staff to Corey.” She then stressed, “Dick had absolutely no hand [in this], and would never interfere with an elected official hiring. There were no phone calls or conversations [about LeFrancois] between Corey and Dick, ever — ever.”