Volume 19 Issue 39 | February 9 -15, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Asssemblymember Brian Kavanaugh, right, at a ceremonial swearing in event Sunday with his father John and mother Eileen.

Super Sunday for Kavanaugh as he celebrates Assembly win

By Lincoln Anderson

Despite the freezing weather and impending Super Bowl later that evening, more than 150 people turned out at The Cooper Union’s Great Hall last Sunday afternoon to celebrate Brian Kavanagh’s swearing in as the new 74th District state assemblymember.

Kavanagh defeated the incumbent, longtime Gramercy area politico Sylvia Friedman, last year in the September Democratic primary and again in the November general election. Following Assemblymember Steve Sanders’s resignation after 28 years in office, Friedman had won the seat last March in a special election — which Kavanagh strategically chose to sit out.

The 74th District stretches from East Midtown to the Lower East Side.

The swearing-in ceremony was open to the community, with more than a dozen elected officials on hand to toast — and, sometimes, roast — Kavanagh and wish him success. The officials included Senator Chuck Schumer; Congressmember Carolyn Maloney; City Comptroller Bill Thompson; Borough President Scott Stringer; State Senator Tom Duane; and Councilmembers Rosie Mendez, Alan Gerson and Gale Brewer. Assemblymember Jonathan Bing, who represents the district north of Kavanagh’s, was emcee. Assemblymember Thomas DiNapoli -- who was selected by his colleagues to be state comptroller Wednesday over the objections of Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the independent panel set up to pick a successor to Alan Hevesi -- also appeared at the event but he did not speak to the audience.

Several speakers noted that Kavanagh, by going into politics, chose to forgo “big bucks” in the private sector. One of a family of six children from Staten Island, Kavanagh, 40, attended Princeton University, as did three of his siblings. While his four brothers all work in finance, he chose a different path. After a stint as a City Hall staffer, Kavanagh got a law degree from New York University School of Law, then returned to politics, working for Upper West Side Councilmember Brewer.

His father, John, an Irish immigrant, was a three-star chief in the Transit Bureau, before it merged with the Police Department. The father devised tactics to wipe out graffiti in the subways and introduced the department’s first K-9 units. His mother, Eileen, still works part time as assistant to the publisher of the Staten Island Advance and is a community activist.

In 2005, Kavanagh finished second to Mendez in the Second District Council race, then took on Friedman, who had most of the political support, except for Sanders, who backed Kavanagh. Stringer recalled his own election setbacks.

“When you lose a race and you get up next year and run again, you really have to have your head examined,” Stringer said. “He went to the senior centers in the summer; he had very little institutional support [in the Assembly race].” When he was an assemblymember, Stringer led a reform movement in Albany, and he predicted Kavanagh will follow his lead.

“He’s ready to go,” Stringer said. “He understands that there needs to be fundamental change in Albany.”

When he was younger, Kavanagh tutored middle-schoolers at the Lower East Side’s Nativity Mission Center, later serving on its board. Sister Paulette LoMonaco, a fellow board member, said of Kavanagh, “He became committed to a New York City where all people have equal access to opportunity and education.”

In his own remarks, Kavanagh began by quipping he’ll have to buy some warmer clothes for Albany. He indicated he means business and that he’ll look to shake things up in the Legislature.

“This is an amazingly diverse district with a diversity of races, ethnicities and lifestyles,” he said. “But from Tudor City to the Lower East Side people said they need change in government. By some accounts, we have one of the most dysfunctional state governments in America.” Kavanagh said he’ll work to preserve affordable housing and to create new middle- and low-income housing. He expressed concern over the recent sale — “right in this district” — of Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town. He said he’ll work to ensure “that education works” and that “growth and development are balanced with the need to preserve open spaces.” He also said he’ll advocate for drawing fair election district lines.

Not all the comments were so glowing, however. Afterward, Michael Farrin, a power in the Coalition for a District Alternative organization, which supported Friedman over Kavanagh, said Kavanagh was a “liberal” — as in not left enough to be considered “progressive.”

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