Bay Ridge

City’s biggest politicians attend Brannan inauguration

Former rock star packs Bay Ridge high school auditorium

February 6, 2018 By John Alexander Brooklyn Daily Eagle
City Councilmember Vincent Gentile swearing in Justin Brannan as Brannan’s mother Mary looks on. Photos by Denise Alexander
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Mayor Bill de Blasio came to Bay Ridge on Jan. 21 for Justin Brannan’s inauguration. “This is really a good news day for this community and for Brooklyn and for all the city. It is nice to be in what I call the one true borough,” de Blasio said. He was joined by a veritable who’s who of politicians, community leaders, family and friends as Brannan was sworn in as City Councilmember representing the 43rd City Council District, which includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst.

Attending the ceremony were party leaders from both sides of the aisle.

Speakers included de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Public Advocate Letitia James, Assemblymember Peter Abbate, Democratic District Leaders Joanne Seminara and Joseph Bova and Bay Ridge Activist Maureen Sanders

Also attending were State Senators Marty Golden and Diane Savino, Kings County Democratic Party Leader Frank Seddio, Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long, City Councilmembers Chaim Deutsch, Mark Levine, Brad Lander and Mark Treyger; Democratic Party District Leaders Ari Kagan and Tori Kelly, Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon, Rev. Khader El-Yateem, former Kings County Party Chairman Craig Eaton, former City Councilmember Dominic Recchia, Kings County Reform Party Chairman Bob Capano and President of the New York Building Congress Carlo Scissura.

Supporters packed the entire auditorium at Xaverian High School, the school Brannan graduated from, and where his love of music led him to form the heavy metal group Most Precious Blood. “Growing up, I wanted to be a member of The Ramones, not a member of Congress,” said Brannan. “I didn’t have JFK’s picture on my bedroom wall; I had Joe Strummer from The Clash. After I was done with school, I got lucky. A band I started in the hallways right here at Xaverian got a record deal and went on to tour the world.”

He learned valuable lessons during his travels. “Above all, I learned that we are all far more alike than we are different. And we all share the same desire to build a better life for ourselves and a brighter future for our families.

Locally, we all want clean and safe streets, excellent schools, and great parks. But we cannot accomplish these most basic goals if we aren’t listening to each other. Before we can all work together, we must first take the time to understand just a little bit better, what it’s like to walk in our neighbor’s shoes.”

Brannan grew up in Bay Ridge where his mother, Mary Immaculata Brannan is a schoolteacher and his wife Leigh Holliday Brannan runs the The Art Room on Third Avenue in Bay Ridge.

The lessons Brannan learned with his rock group helped shape his future endeavors. He traded in the rock and roll life for public service. “About 10 years ago, I walked into Vinnie Gentile’s office and said, ‘Put me to work!’, said Brannan. “I quickly discovered the importance and the power of local government. For me, this is where the rubber meets the road. Here, I’d found a place where I could affect real change in the lives of real people in real time — whether it was helping a senior living alone on a fixed income freeze her rent, getting stop signs and traffic lights installed at dangerous intersections, getting the swings replaced in a playground or helping the parents of a special needs child navigate the intricacies of the school system – helping people was where I felt most at home.”  

Political Director Alison Hirsh welcomed guests and introduced adorable young Scarlett Diviney to lead in the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the National Anthem, performed by Colleen Martin-O’Donnell of the Rhapsody Players vocal group. The Invocation was delivered by Deacon Kevin J. McCormack, principal at Xaverian High School and Dr. Ahmad Jaber, president, board of directors, Arab-American Association of New York.

McCormack called Justin one of Xaverian’s favorite sons. He labeled him a man of action for “doing the right things and never being satisfied with just saying the right things.”

Newly elected Speaker of the New York City Council Corey Johnson said he was happy to be in Bay Ridge for the “omnipresent Justin Brannan.” He said the community was lucky to have Brannan as its city councilmember because he’s up all night working and always full of energy. He noted how hard Brannan works in every corner of the district.

“He was director of communications for legislative affairs with Councilmember Gentile,” Johnson said. “He was chief-of-staff for Councilmember Gentile, he worked with the Department of Education overseeing the expansion of Universal pre K. He has been a fighter on these constant daily MTA mishaps that affect the whole city and especially affect his district here in South Brooklyn.”

De Blasio praised Brannan for his irreverent sense of humor and his spirit and passion for his work calling him “someone who doesn’t take no for an answer and he’s never afraid of a tough fight.”

De Blasio ended his remarks by saying, “I’ve met a lot of promising, up-and-coming young leaders over the years I’ve been in public service, I can say from the bottom of my heart when it comes to passion, and focus, and energy no one can beat Justin Brannan.”

Stringer, a distant cousin of Brannan, congratulated him on being named the City Council Chairman of the Contracts Committee. “Justin is one of those leaders who understands that politics is only as good as the way you govern,” Stringer said. “And that is what he has done with Councilmember Gentile, and that is what he has done in the Department of Education; Justin believes that government can actually help people.”

Leigh Brannan called her husband an open book who wears his heart proudly on his sleeve. “He’s proud of where he came from,” Leigh said. “Both literally and figuratively.” She elicited laughter from the audience when she explained that recently on the way home from a romantic dinner, “Justin said ‘Wait, we’re not done with our date yet. I have a surprise.’ So I thought what could this be? Justin takes my hand, turns to me and says ‘there’s a broken water main on Shore Road.’ It’s almost as good as when he took me to a Union rally before my 40th birthday.”

Brannan was sworn into office by his former boss Vincent Gentile. Gentile said that Brannan’s experience at City Hall, with the Department of Education and as his communications director and ultimately chief-of-staff will help him to hit the ground running. “He has an exuberance about the job that he is about to do. That exuberance is something that you can’t teach. You either have it or you don’t and Justin has the exuberance to do this job well.”

Gentile told the audience that when he was cleaning out his office he found the cover letter that Justin had sent him with his resume when he first applied for a job in his office, and then proceeded to read the letter. The last line of the letter read, “I was also taught about selflessness and charity. I learned that community service and helping people were the best demonstrations of one’s commitment to humanity. I was raised to believe that we are judged by the lives we touch while we are on this earth. And that in the end that’s all that all that really matters.”

An emotionally moved Brannan called Brooklyn a rich mosaic of traditions and cultures. “We are at a critical time for our city, state and nation,” Brannan said. “And while some inexplicably see diversity as a threat, I know our diversity is our true strength.  Our community has a long and beautiful tradition of welcoming new immigrants with open arms – I don’t care if you’re a new arrival or a native – my door will always be open to you, and I swear today to make sure that on these streets, from Colonial Road to Cropsey Avenue, from Shore Road to Shore Parkway, everyone will be treated with respect.”


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