An interview with Justin Brannan, the 43rd District’s new councilmember

There’s a new elected official in town.

Newly minted Democratic Councilmember Justin Brannan became the official representative of the 43rd City Council District on Monday, January 1 after defeating Republican hopeful John Quaglione and Reform Party contender Bob Capano in one of the city’s tightest races in November. Prior to the election, Brannan beat out four other Democratic hopefuls in a heated primary that saw nine vying for the seat.

During his campaign, Brannan – a lifelong Ridgeite and small business owner – focused heavily on issues like education, transportation and inclusivity in the district, which encompasses the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach.

Just days after Brannan assumed office, the former Department of Education employee, founding member of a pair of hardcore punk bands and aide to his predecessor, Vincent Gentile, spoke with us about his vision for the district.

How does it feel finally to take office?

It’s a little surreal. When I won, the analogy I made was that I’ve never won the lottery, but [winning] didn’t feel like what I assumed winning the lottery would feel like. It was certainly gratifying and exhilarating but it also came with this understanding of what a tremendous responsibility and honor it is to represent the people of this district. It was very humbling.

Does it feel any different after your first few days?

I think my office fought off just about every element last week [laughs], but I’d say it feels the same. I think that one of the reasons people chose to elect me was because I built a reputation of being very responsive and very accessible – that’s just who I am – but I think one of the challenges is going to be making sure that I maintain that responsiveness and that accessibility now that I’ve got a job to do, so to speak.

But again, that’s just how I am. I’m an open door, always accessible, basically working 24/7 and that’s only going to get more so as we go on. It’s also a matter of making sure I have the right people around me who can maintain that pace – whether it’s showing up to a fire at 2 a.m., responding to a water main break or helping a senior citizen back into their home. It’s making sure you’re always there and making sure you’re in as many places at once as you can be – and that’s certainly how I spent my first week.

What are you working on now that you’re here?

We’re working on a couple of things. I just introduced my first bill which would hold big businesses accountable for snow removal and really work to make sure that all businesses in the district are good neighbors. I also spent a lot of time with the DOE and so, having been behind the scenes there and able to sort of look behind the curtain, I certainly have some ideas of things we can make a little bit stronger on our end.

I think the beauty of the council – and I saw this when I was working for Councilmember Gentile – is that a lot of legislation sees its start at this level, which is very exciting because if someone has an idea for a piece of legislation, it’s probably the only level of government where you can really see that through from a basic idea to a law for the city of New York in a very real and fast way.

What that means is that constituents who come into the office with an issue or something that bothers them, we can turn that into a piece of legislation that then makes life a little bit easier not only for the 150,000 people of my district but also for the 8.5 million people of the city. That’s why I was so attracted to local government. It’s where the rubber meets the road and we’ve already got some of that legislation in the works.

What are your goals for the rest of this year, and for your first term as a whole?

I want to work on building a new school. I had a couple of meetings about that today, actually. I think we need a new middle school, so that’s something that I’ve been prioritizing.

Obviously the buses and the subways. I campaigned on that. I take the train to work just like everybody else and I certainly am not looking forward to taking the R train home from City Hall tonight. I want to really do what I can on that level to fix the system.

Property taxes is something else I ran on. The mayor is going to put together some sort of commission to look at fixing the property tax system – it’s just completely lopsided. I definitely plan on leading the charge with that for this district.

Also safety net programs. I want to work on ensuring stuff like Meals on Wheels and senior centers and Access-A-Ride. I want to make sure all that stuff is solid and safe and secure enough to survive the cuts that may be coming down the line with the looming budget gap.

I also want to work closely with the new speaker Corey Johnson. He and I have been discussing our dream of creating a municipal single payer system. So, really a lot of big dream stuff like that as well as more tangible goals.

How do you feel the response to your induction has been thus far?

It’s been good. A lot of people have been saying very nice stuff like, “It’s cool to see you’re just as accessible” and “you’re the same person you were before you were elected.” That’s really what it’s all about.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t take myself too seriously but I certainly take this job and the responsibility it comes with very seriously. At the end of the day, I’m a working class kid who grew up in the neighborhood and now I have this tremendous honor of representing the neighborhoods I grew up in.

I’m going to have some fun with it while also taking very seriously the issues of the people that I represent. But hey, if you’re not having fun, you might as well go home.

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