It is just after six p.m. on Election Day, November 8, and though New York City Council Democratic candidate Dan Garodnick L’00 might not admit it, even to himself, he is just the slightest bit nervous.
He shifts from foot to foot in his dark suit, moving back and forth. He’s entitled to some discomforthe’s been standing at the corner of 75th Street and Third Avenue for more than 11 hours, keeping a respectful distance from the polling place where he expects the highest number of votes to be cast in what he hopes will be his City Council District: District Four, from 14th to 97th Street on the East Side. In the course of his campaign, he’s estimated, he’s stood by subway stops at rush hour all over the East Side, shaking approximately 2,500 hands a day. What’s a few more now? Three hours until the polls close. He’ll be here.
Winning this race would be the culmination of everyone’s expectations for him, since, possibly, birth. The son of a New York City public schoolteacher, Garodnick was president of his high-school class at the Trinity School in Manhattan, studied government as an undergraduate at Dartmouth (where he was also class president each year), and edited the Law Review at Penn Law. “It was clear from the first time anyone met Dan that he was going to go into politicsand make his alma mater proud,” says Michael Fitts, the Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law who serves as dean of the Law School. “He always had a warmth and an ability to connect with people, wherever they stood on the political spectrum.”
A litigator at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind & Garrison, where he’s done pro bono work for 9/11 survivors and the New York Civil Rights Coalition, Garodnick has been endorsed by The New York Times for his “experience and mastery of the issues,” and by Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton Hon’93 and Chuck Schumer, former mayor Ed Koch, and former governor Mario Cuomo. He has immersed himself in the issues of education, affordable housing, and better transportation on the East Side, championing the near-mythic Second Avenue subway line.
“Hi, I’m Dan Garodnick and I’m running for City Council for this district,” he says with a bright and energetic smile, as though he’s saying it for the first time. He extends his hand to an approaching elderly pedestrian. She looks at him, smiles, and takes his hand in hers.
Welcome to Big Apple politics, where if the candidate didn’t attend Penn, chances are the person trying to get him or her elected did. New York has always been a haven for Penn graduatessome 40,000 Penn alumni now reside in the greater New York City areaand a new generation of Penn alums are increasingly making their voices heard in the city’s politics, at various levels and in both parties.
Garodnick is running for the seat occupied since 1999 by Eva Moskowitz C’86, the one City Council member to forego sure re-election by running for the office of Manhattan Borough President. This time she didn’t get past the primary. Though it was a rough loss, she doesn’t regret having taken the chance to aim higher.
“I was told by many to hold onto a safe bet, but that’s just not my style,” she says in an interview. “Loss is a necessary, but unsavory, part of the democratic process.”
For Moskowitz, being part of that process in City Council began after her work with Prep for Prep, an organization that works to identify talented minority students and prepare them for independent schools.
“Prep for Prep was a major motivating factor for my entry into public life,” says Moskowitz, a former professor of American history at Vanderbilt University, the University of Virginia, and the City University of New York. “I was shocked by the tragic disparity in the delivery of educational services across the racial and socioeconomic divide. To this day, expanding access to excellent public education for every child in New York City is the primary reason I go to work every day.”
Moskowitz cites among the high points of her work on City Council the more than 100 hearings she held on the city’s public-school system. In the fall of 2003, as head of the Council’s education committee, Moskowitz held five days of hearings on principals’, teachers’, and custodians’ union contracts.
“These labor agreements affect virtually every aspect of school operation, and had never been discussed publicly before,” Moskowitz says. “Although I was praised by some and criticized by others for taking a close look at what had previously been a taboo subject, I do feel that engaging the public in that discussion had an ultimately positive impact on the school system. For decades schools have been run under the iron grip of factory-model contracts that didn’t serve the best interests of teachers and students.”
Moskowitz often found herself at odds with various city politicians, including Mayor Mike Bloomberg, in such disputes. But from her point of view, there are no hard feelings: “We’ve been known to have our spats, but I endorsed [Bloomberg] and think his dedication to public education in New York City is unique and very sincere,” Moskowitz says. “I also have a rule not to personalize disagreements.”
Her sole disappointments in her City Council tenure? “The low point, I’d say, is feeling at times that change comes far too slowly, and at others that true independence is somehow a liability in politics.”
Moskowitz will continue to be involved in public-educationnow in a much more hands-on way. In January, she begins work as the executive director of the Harlem Success Charter School, one of six charter schools that the New York State Board of Regents approved in December.
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©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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