State Senator Brian Kavanagh represents more than 320,000 residents in New York’s 26th Senate District, including the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, the Columbia Waterfront, DUMBO, Downtown Brooklyn, Fulton Ferry, Greenpoint, the Navy Yard, Vinegar Hill, and Williamsburg and the Manhattan neighborhoods of Battery Park City, Chinatown, the East and South Villages, the Financial District, Little Italy, the Lower East Side, SoHo, Tribeca, and Two Bridges.
Brian was first elected to the Senate in 2017 after representing the 74th District on Manhattan’s East Side in the State Assembly, where he was elected to six terms, beginning in 2006. His work focuses on promoting affordable housing, preventing gun violence, protecting the environment, creating a more open and equitable political process, and advancing economic and social justice.
As Chair of the Senate Committee on Housing, Construction, and Community Development, Brian has built on his decades of advocating for access to high quality, safe, affordable housing for all New Yorkers. In 2019, he led the Senate effort to enact the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act, which gave New York the toughest tenant protections in the nation. The HSTPA dramatically strengthened the rent regulation laws, made them permanent, enabled any locality with a very low vacancy rate to adopt rent regulation, created new protections for residents of mobile and manufactured home parks, and instituted other substantial new rights for all renters statewide.
Under Brian’s leadership, the Housing Committee held hearings on enforcement of housing, building, and fire codes and advanced a broad package of legislation that passed the Senate in 2020. Throughout his tenure, Brian has fought for major improvements in the management, maintenance, and security of public housing. While there have been some successes, including state capital funds allocated in recent years, he continues to advocate for a better response from city, state, and federal government.
In response to thorough reporting by Newsday on racial and ethnic discrimination by real estate brokers on Long Island, Brian joined colleagues to investigate the allegations and identify ways to protect all New Yorkers’ right to fair access to housing; this work continues in 2020. Brian also successfully advocated in 2019 and 2020 to restore funding for foreclosure prevention counseling and legal services in every county, and for legislation for a more just foreclosure process.
In his 14 years in the legislature, Brian has repeatedly taken on the gun industry lobby and won, helping to reduce gun violence in New York and across the country. He is the founder and chair of American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention and co-chair of New York Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention. He drafted and passed New York’s “red flag” law, enacted in 2019, which empowers families, law enforcement, and schools to obtain Extreme Risk Protection Orders to keep guns away from individuals when evidence shows they are likely to harm themselves or others. In 2013, he helped craft the NY SAFE Act, which requires background checks on all gun sales, and bans military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. He also advocated successfully for laws requiring safe storage of guns when not in their owner’s possession, more support for community-based gun violence intervention, and gun violence prevention research funding. Brian’s work earned him the Detective McDonald Law Enforcement Award from New Yorkers Against Gun Violence in 2019.
Brian has also been an environmental leader. He was a proud co-sponsor of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, enacted in 2019, which mandates huge cuts in climate pollution, investment in clean, renewable energy sources, and creation of green jobs to promote environmental justice—the most comprehensive and ambitious climate change law in the United States. He was an early champion of the successful campaign to ban high-volume fracking for fossil fuels, and sponsored legislation to prevent exposure to toxic chemicals and to make producers responsible for recycling or disposing of products at the end of their useful life. He has served on the Environmental Committee during each of his years in the legislature and is on the Board of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. His work has earned him the League of Conservation Voters Eco-Star Award, and top ratings each year from LCV and Environmental Advocates of New York.
Local initiatives on resiliency, open space, and green infrastructure have complemented Brian’s work on statewide issues. He helped lead relief efforts after Superstorm Sandy and has advocated for ongoing neighborhood resiliency initiatives. In 2019, he passed legislation to increase Battery Park City’s ability to raise capital for resiliency measures. As an Assemblymember, he passed legislation and negotiated a deal between the City and the State to create new parkland and a mile-long esplanade that will eventually close the gap in the East River Greenway from East 60th to East 38th Street in Manhattan. He also commissioned, with then-Borough President Scott Stringer, the East River Blueway Plan, a community project to improve resiliency and public access to Manhattan’s waterfront.
Promoting cleaner, fairer elections by modernizing voting and establishing effective campaign finance laws has been a central part of Brian’s work as well. He chaired the Assembly Subcommittee on Election Operations, and authored and passed many bills in that house that the Senate blocked for years, including early voting, voter registration improvements, and campaign finance reforms. With the change in Senate leadership in 2019, he joined colleagues in enacting comprehensive election reform as the first act of the new legislative session. His bill closed the notorious “LLC Loophole,” one of the most egregious failings of New York’s laws, which allowed virtually unlimited contributions to political candidates, often with contributors’ true identity hidden. The national organization FairVote presented Brian with its Champion of Democracy Award.
Brian has also been an advocate for transparency in the ways the legislature does the people’s work. He co-chaired the Assembly Workgroup on Legislative Process, Operations, and Public Participation, which reformed significant aspects of the Assembly’s rules and practices.
Brian began his government service as an aide to Mayor Ed Koch and served in three Mayoral administrations, working on oversight of housing agencies, helping design and manage a citywide interagency task force on fire safety and code enforcement, and improving services for homeless New Yorkers. He later served as Chief of Staff to then-Councilmember Gale Brewer and as a researcher and advocate at Dēmos where he focused on securing voting rights for low-income citizens nationwide.
Born and raised on Staten Island, Brian attended Regis High School, Princeton University, and NYU Law School. He is admitted to the New York State bar and practiced law at Kaye Scholer and Schulte Roth & Zabel. He holds an Irish passport and serves as Treasurer of the American-Irish Legislators Society.