Amid considerable pomp and circumstance at the sparkling new Tony Bennett Auditorium at Astoria’s Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, longtime gay activist Jimmy Van Bramer was sworn in as the District 26 City Council member.
The January 9 celebration was a veritable who’s who of local Democratic power brokers, with Senator Charles Schumer, Congressman Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic leader, Congresswomen Nydia Velázquez and Carolyn Maloney, City Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Council Speaker Christine all rising to honor Van Bramer’s achievement.
In a ceremony that emphasized the new Council member’s working class roots in western Queens, the Sunnyside Drum Corp and Aviation High School Color Guard from Long Island City mounted the stage at the opening in a medley performance of “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.”
Out gay activist, former library official is now the 26th District Council member
Several speakers talked about the heart and soul that Van Bramer’s mother, Elizabeth, a former painters union member who sat next to her son on the stage, put into his campaign. In his remarks, Van Bramer recalled those voters who confided in him that he had their vote largely due to the impression left by his mother: “I told them, ‘I don’t care why you’re voting for me. As long as I have your vote.”
Quinn recalled meeting Van Bramer, then completing his studies at St. John’s University, when he volunteered in the campaign she helped run that first put out gay State Senator Thomas K. Duane on the City Council. Duane, she said, pointed him out, telling her he was impressed by his likeability and determination. In the years since, when Van Bramer worked first with Clean Money, Clean Elections, a campaign finance reform advocacy group, and more recently as the government and community relations director for the Queens Public Library system, Quinn said, she learned firsthand the impact of his persistence, often at one end of a telephone call.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall was among the speakers who recognized the contribution Van Bramer’s work — particularly his ability to win greater public funding — made toward the upgrading and expansion of the library system there.
In his remarks, Schumer noted Van Bramer’s freelance journalism work for the gay press writing about HIV/ AIDS, and acknowledged Van Bramer’s partner, Dan Hendrick, a former journalist who now is the communications director at the New York League of Conservation Voters and with whom the new Council member shares a Sunnyside Gardens home.
Hendrick was a constant presence working to nail down Van Bramer’s hard-fought September Democratic primary victory that virtually assured his November election.
Van Bramer acknowledged both Hendrick and his mother in emotional terms and thanked other key supporters, including union leaders from the Service Employees International Union 32BJ, which represents building doormen, porters, and maintenance workers, and the Hotel Trades Council, representing hospitality industry workers. In singling out his labor support, Van Bramer underscored his commitment on the Council to bolster progressive initiatives based on coalition politics.
“Know that the long march to freedom and justice includes marriage equality,” he said, to thunderous applause, in his most direct reference to the importance of LGBT civil rights.
Van Bramer particularly thanked State Assemblywoman Catherine T. Nolan, a fellow Sunnyside Democrat with whom he has long been allied politically.
Van Bramer took his oath of office from Justice Paul G. Feinman, an out gay judge on the civil branch of the Manhattan Supreme Court who was first elected to the bench in 1996.
The evening also included Woodside singer Nicholle Bittlingmeyer’s performance of “Somewhere,” the “West Side Story” ballad celebrating the hopes for freedom and justice, and gospel hymns from Queensbridge’s Center of Hope International Choir. Bishop Mitchell Taylor, who is affiliated with that church, was among the celebration’s speakers.