New York City Councilman Corey Johnson is poised to become the next council speaker, which would make him one of the most influential elected officials in the city. Although the official vote will not be held until Jan. 3, it has been widely reported that he has enough votes to win. Most of his rivals have already conceded, with the exception of City Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Robert Cornegy Jr. Here are six things to know about the city’s expected new council speaker.
1. Johnson came out as gay as a teenager in 1999 while he was captain of the Masconomet High School football team in Massachusetts. His story – about overcoming his fears about coming out and breaking down stereotypes on the field – was picked up by several media outlets, including ABC’s "20/20" and The New York Times, which featured him on the front page. He then decided to pursue a career in activism, and eventually politics, with a focus on LGBTQ issues, forgoing college.
2. He emerged on the New York City political scene in 2005, when he was appointed to Manhattan Community Board 4. Five years later, when he was 28 years old, he was elected chairman of CB4, making him the youngest community board chair in the city. Johnson, who worked on Mark Green’s bid for mayor, H. Carl McCall’s bid for governor and Howard Dean’s bid for the presidency, also worked for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. He has continued his quick political ascension since then – living up to his designation as a City & State 40 Under 40 Rising Star in 2011.
3. Johnson represents Council District 3, a position he was elected to in 2013 at the age of 31. It is the same council district as former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The area includes historically gay neighborhoods and the Stonewall Inn, site of the riots that are credited as the birth of the modern gay rights movement. Quinn made history eight years ago when she became both the first woman and first openly gay speaker. Johnson is now poised to make history again as the first openly gay and HIV-positive man to hold the position. He is currently the only openly HIV-positive elected official in New York.
4. During his first term as a New York City councilman, Johnson focused on LGBTQ issues, affordable housing and parks. He passed 29 bills in those four years, including one bill that allowed transgender New Yorkers to change their gender on their birth certificate without needing a sex-reassignment surgery. Another aimed to help tenants of unregulated three-quarter houses get stable housing. Johnson also played a key role in securing funds to curb the spread of HIV and AIDS and to support people who are sick.
5. The policy positions Johnson has put forth throughout the race largely fall in line with the other candidates for speaker. He supports congestion pricing and closing Rikers Island, and opposes putting a cap on the number Uber and other ride-sharing company cars on the roads. He claims he would work to pass legislation even if New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio opposes it, which would be a shift from the last four years under City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally. Johnson has run an aggressive speakership campaign, which supporters hope will translate to assertiveness when it comes to standing up to the mayor. When asked what his first act as speaker would be, Johnson avoided specifics and broadly answered he would “empower every single member of the council, have a diverse leadership slate, and use our charter-mandated responsibilities to fight on behalf of eight-and-a-half million New Yorkers.”
6. He loves to dance. As Johnson told City & State earlier this year, “I love, love, love to dance. I love old disco. I love new pop. I love Top 40 – and I like to groove.”
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