In 2009 I covered the New York City Council primary race in the 39th district, which includes Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensignton and Boro Park, for my blog. Brad Lander won the race, inching out a stellar group of candidates that included Josh Skaller, David Pechefsky, John Maier, Bob Zuckerman and Gary Reilly.
It was an intense race but not a negative one. For many of the candidates it was their first run for office. The debates were always interesting because the candidates were well informed, articulate and well mannered. Because I love to hear the trajectory of people’s lives and how they came to do what they do, I conducted extensive one-on-one interviews with each of the candidates, a series I called Breakfast of Candidates.
Recently I got an E-mail from Reilly, who is now the treasurer for Community Board 6, because he is hosting a benefit for the reelection of City Councilman Lander in 2013.
Reilly, 36, an environmental lawyer and transportation advocate, was one of the youngest (and most politically inexperienced) of the candidates. Still, he ran hard against Lander and pushed a strong public transportation and livable streets agenda.
In an E-mail he told me that it feels great to be supporting his old opponent.
“You get very wrapped up in a campaign, and all of things you'd like to accomplish, and bottom line, the only person's motivations, judgment and dedication that you can truly, 100 percent know are your own. Every other candidate is, to some extent, an unknown quantity.”
That said, Reilly was impressed with Lander’s qualifications and work ethic. Since Lander’s election, Reilly has appreciated Lander’s reasoned and nuanced approach, as well as his sound judgment on a range of issues.
I wondered if there was some kind of formal reconciliation between the candidates after the race. Reilly told me that he worked hard to run a positive campaign that was first and foremost about the issues. “I called Brad to congratulate him after the primary, and later we met up and talked policy over a beer. Of course he had my support in the general election, but it's what he's done as councilman that turned me into a Brad Lander supporter.”
So what motivated Reilly to run for office in the first place? For Reilly, who was already a civic activist, it was when he learned that former 39th district City Councilman Bill deBlasio was term limited (he is now Public Advocate) that he realized there would be an open primary to succeed him. That’s when, he says, the proverbial light bulb went off.
“The Council doesn't have a lot of strong advocates for transit and livable streets. How much could I accomplish if I had a seat at the table?”
There’s probably no better way to get to know a district than to run for office there. I asked Reilly what he learned about the neighborhoods that comprise the 39th.
“The different neighborhoods have different concerns and different cultures, different densities. The best part of campaigning was this incredible opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation about the community with literally thousands of people who I would otherwise probably have never met.”
At the end of a campaign there are always the wouldas, coulda and shoudas. I asked Reilly his lessons learned. “Eloquence, intelligence and policy positions are not enough. The 39th District had a wealth of eloquent, intelligent candidates with good policy ideas. If you want to win in a district like this, you need to build a track record and reputation well beforehand. And you should really have your route planned out years in advance,” he said.
He also learned that campaigning is a full time job. “There is not enough time in the day to do everything you need to do, let alone just on evenings and weekends.”
Since the campaign much has changed in Reilly’s life. In addition to being elected the treasurer of Community Board 6 in 2010, Reilly and his wife, Mia, who live in Carroll Gardens, were awarded custody of a niece and a nephew, who are students at P.S. 58. They are also expecting their first baby soon.
You could say that Reilly is keeping busy. Very busy. But not too busy to lend a hand to help Brad Lander stay on as City Councilmember in the 39th.
“I can personally attest that by far the worst part about running for elective office is raising money,” Reilly wrote. That’s why he is helping out in this crucial way to support the man he thinks is an excellent, responsive and constituent attuned member of the City Council.
As for Lander, he’s glad to have the support.
“I'm honored to have the support of my former opponents in the Democratic primary,” Lander wrote in an E-mail. “Even more, I'm glad to be working with each of them to make our neighborhoods better.”
The benefit for Councilmember Brad Lander will be on April 7. For more information visit lander2013.com