Squadron following example set by his parents
In Public Service: Mom and Dad Fought for Human Rights in 1960s
It was pretty much a given that Daniel Squadron would someday go into public service. Squadron, who is now a state senator, grew up in Riverdale in a household where human rights and racial equality were dinner table conversations on many nights.
His father, Howard Squadron, marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King for civil rights. His mother, Anne Strickland Squadron, took part in Freedom Summer in 1964, when thousands of young people descended on Mississippi to help African-Americans register to vote.
“I was always interested in public service,” Squadron told the Brooklyn Eagle during an interview over lunch at Queen Restaurant on Court Street on a recent afternoon.
Even as a child, Squadron was full of ideas on how to make the world better. “I had a view about kids voting,” he recalled with a smile.
His parents always encouraged Squadron’s career goals.
He brings a sense of idealism coupled with sharp political skills to his job representing the 26th Senate District. Now in his fourth term, Squadron was first elected in 2008, beating out fellow Democrat Martin Connor in the primary and then going on to win the general election that year.
Squadron was 28 years old at the time. He had worked as a top aide to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and had co-written a book with the senator called “Positively American: Winning Back the Middle-Class Majority One Family at a Time.”
The fact that Connor had been in office for more than 30 years didn’t faze Squadron. He campaigned the old fashioned way, by crisscrossing the district and knocking on doors to introduce himself to voters. “I knocked on 7,600 doors, literally,” he told the Eagle.
When he got into office in January of 2009, “I had to learn the Legislature but I didn’t have to learn my district,” he said.
He represents a district that cuts across two boroughs, Brooklyn and Manhattan, taking in such neighborhoods as DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Vinegar Hill, Fulton Ferry, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront, Tribeca, Battery Park City, the Lower East Side, Chinatown, the Financial District, Little Italy and SoHo.
“You can travel around the world traveling around my district,” he said as he enjoyed a bowl of pasta fagioli.
But when he was asked how he manages to serve the needs of constituents in such varied neighborhoods, he dismissed the question. “It’s not a constituent’s job to worry about their senator having to deal with two boroughs,” he said.
He approaches each end of the district individually and treats constituent problems individually, he said.
During his years in the state Senate, Squadron has introduced several pieces of legislation, including a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for workers employed by businesses that make more than $50 million in annual gross revenue.
In the wake of the closure of Long Island College Hospital (LICH), he introduced the LICH Act, legislation that would allow the commissioner of the New York State Department of Health to approve a hospital closure application only if the needs of the community and impacted stakeholders can be met. Access to emergency medical care would be included in the needs assessment process.
Also under Squadron’s bill, the health commissioner would not be allowed to close a hospital without a community input process dictated by a statutorily imposed timeline.
Squadron, however, said that many of his ideas “come up against the reality of Albany.”
Republicans hold a majority of seats in the state Senate, relegating Squadron and the Democrats to minority status.
Squadron charged that many changes important to New York City have been blocked by the Republican establishment in Albany. “Mayoral control of schools became a political football,” he said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio went up to Albany seeking the state Legislature’s support for a permanent mayoral control law but got only a one-year extension of the current law.
Squadron, a reform-minded lawmaker, also introduced legislation to remove a loophole in campaign finance laws. Under current rules, fat-cat donors can usurp campaign contribution limits by setting up dozens of limited liability corporations (LLCs) and then make the donations through those LLCs.
“The Republican Senate won’t get it done,” Squadron said. “The Republican majority is a barrier to a lot of good legislation. We need not just a changing of the guard but a change in the process.”
The bill is important because “the campaign finance system structurally flows to the incumbent,” Squadron said.
Another one of his ideas is to have top-grossing parks conservancy groups put a percentage of their funds toward smaller, neglected parks around the city.
Despite facing a succession of uphill battles, Squadron is looking forward to the future in Albany. He feels confident that Democrats can win back the majority of state Senate seats in 2016. “The Senate Democrats are in a position to take back the majority,” he told the Eagle.
Squadron praised state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester), the Senate’s Democratic leader. “She is a strong leader,” he said. “We have a really good team in place.”
And he does work across the aisle when he finds a cause in which he agrees with a Republican.
For example, he worked with GOP Sen. Patrick Gallivan (R-Erie County) and fellow Democrat Diane Savino (D-Coney Island-Bensonhurst-Staten Island) to secure funding in the state budget for the Maternal Home Visiting Programs, a project that links Medicaid-eligible, first-time mothers with a nurse home visitor from pregnancy through the child’s second birthday.
Closer to home, Squadron is dealing with the explosive controversy surrounding Brooklyn Bridge Park, where the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation is seeking to build high-rise towers with the idea of having the towers fund the park’s maintenance.
The plan has come under fire from many Brooklyn Heights residents, who object to the towers.
The controversy has spawned numerous public hearings and protests.
“Brooklyn Bridge Park raises passions commensurate with its greatness,” Squadron said.
He said he has always opposed the plan to have housing pay for Brooklyn Bridge Park. He also opposes a plan to build a housing development on Pier 6 in the waterfront park. “I don’t believe it should move forward,” he said
Instead, Squadron is pushing for alternatives, including the idea of funding the park through a bond initiative.
But he said he does recognize that the park has to be funded. “The starting point has to be that we need a fully funded park,” he said.
He confessed that he is frustrated by the park’s housing proponents. “The other side is saying, ‘Do you want to fund the park or not?’ For me, that’s not the issue. The issue is how you fund the park,” he said.
Housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park should be looked at in context to other developments in an around Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO, according to Squadron.
The LICH site will most likely be developed as condos, he said. The site of the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is going to be developed as housing.
“Look at the impact of those buildings,” Squadron said.
P.S. 8, an elementary school at 37 Hicks St. in Brooklyn Heights, is already overcrowded, even without the new housing developments, Squadron said.
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