Democratic state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who defeated Republican incumbent Marty Golden in November, was ceremonially sworn into office at Fort Hamilton High School on Jan. 27 in an event featuring guest speakers like U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer talking with optimism about New York’s future. But it was a stinging defeat Gounardes suffered at Golden’s hands in the past that shaped much of the narrative of the day.
Several of the speakers mentioned that Gounardes, a lawyer and community activist from Bay Ridge, ran against Golden in 2012 and lost. The speakers offered their thoughts on how that campaign wound up planting the seeds for his win in the rematch.
“When you lose, you have to re-evaluate everything. That’s what Andrew did in 2012,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James, like Gounardes a Fort Hamilton High School graduate, said Gounardes won this time around because he was able to take lessons from 2012. “A setback is nothing more than preparation for a comeback. You reset the table, Andrew,” she said.
“The lessons he learned in 2012 served him well in 2018,” said former City Council member Vincent Gentile, who gave the young Gounardes his first job in politics when he hired the high school junior to work part-time in his district office in 2002. Gentile is also a graduate of Fort Hamilton.
In November, Gounardes beat Golden, a 16-year incumbent, to win the seat in the 22nd Senate District, that includes parts of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Manhattan Beach, Gerritsen Beach and Marine Park.
Hundreds of people, including elected officials, Democratic Party leaders, campaign volunteers and residents of the Senate district, packed the auditorium to see Gounardes’ big moment on Sunday. It was a family affair, as the senator’s brother and sister, Gregory Gounardes and Patricia Orphanos, served as masters of ceremonies. His parents, Steven and Dianne Gounardes, were in attendance.
Gounardes was surrounded by his family and his girlfriend Melanie Graf when he took the oath of office administered by Gentile. Preston Liao, a young pedestrian safety advocate from Queens whose sister was killed by a speeding driver, held the Bible.
In his speech, Gounardes sought to strike a hopeful tone. “Let us embark on a new chapter that seeks solutions, not divisions. No matter how much we disagree, we don’t have to be disagreeable,” he told the audience.
He also urged his constituents to perform three small acts of service a week for their neighbors, like taking out their trash, and calculated that if 5,000 people took up the challenge, the result would be 780,000 acts of service.
Gounardes vowed to work to solve problems and said he recognized that life is hard for many people in his district. “Eighty percent of us squeak by living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “It is incumbent on me to do the most good I can I the next two years.”
In an effort to put the bitterness of the campaign behind him, Gounardes saluted Golden, his vanquished opponent. “I want to thank him for his service,” he said.
Golden did not attend the ceremony. Instead, he took part in an anti-abortion demonstration across the street from Fort Hamilton to protest the Reproductive Health Act, which Gounardes voted for.
Inside the auditorium, the mood was festive.
“No one deserves to have this office more than Andrew,” Schumer told the audience. “We’ve put in one of our best. You are going to get the kinds of services you deserve.”
Councilmember Justin Brannan, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst, said Gounardes is the right person at the right time. “We elected Andrew to fight for the New York we know is possible,” he said.
Still, Gounardes could not escape the specter of previous losses, including one from his distant past. Lawyer Yasmin Dwedar recalled how she defeated Gounardes for school president by 16 votes when they attended Fort Hamilton together.
“Our race was his first close race,” she joked, adding that they later became friends. “I really believe in you and all that you stand for,” she told him.