Just after 9:30 this morning outside James Madison High School in Sheepshead Bay, Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon announced her run for the Borough President in the 2021 local elections. If elected, Simon would be the first woman to hold the position.
Simon stepped up to the podium on this crisp fall morning, a small doll figurine of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg clenched in one hand, her notes in the other.
Jo Anne Simon: “Today, I am joining a new fight to serve in a new way right here in front of James Madison High School in Sheepshead Bay. Where education is the foundation of civil liberties. Which nurtured and empowered one of Brooklyn’s most renowned sheroes, the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“Now, as you may know, Justice Ginsburg entered law school at a time when very few women were law students. The dean of her law school, in fact, asked each of the very few women law students at Harvard in 1956, why they thought that they should be in law school because they were taking a seat away from a man. We don’t get asked that question so directly anymore. But too often that message is still conveyed.”
Surrounded by mostly women, Simon stressed in her address, that all issues are women’s issues, and it is about time women asserted their power. Simon was elected to represent Assembly District 52 in 2014, and currently chairs the Assembly Committee on Ethics and GUidance and co-chairs the Legislative Ethics Commission.
“Let’s make it clear. Women’s issues are economic issues. They are health issues. They’re education issues. They are small business issues. They are social and economic and environmental justice issues. they are LGBTQ issues. All issues are women’s issues. But as long as we are sidelined by the rubric of women’s issues those we love and support will continue to suffer. And that doesn’t change unless you keep changing it.”
“In the civic arena, we see many of the same dynamics,” Simon continued. “The voices of men count, and ours either don’t or don’t count as much. Too often when the public tries to engage, it feels spurned, dismissed demeaned, and frustrated leading to disengagement and ceding of their power.”
Known for standing up against large developers (from Atlantic Yards to LICH, to most recently speaking up against Industry City rezoning), she stressed the importance of meaningful community engagement in conversations about their city.
“We need to find more meaningful and more respectful ways to bring our diverse communities together across the borough that we all love. We must include the public in the decisions that affect their lives so that our schools, parks, hospitals, and environment aren’t afterthoughts.”
She spoke of the power of the individuals.
“I know that I can make a difference. And I know that you can, too. In this post-COVID era, more people have come together to recognize that too many gaps in the fabric of our society exist. Mutual aid groups have shown us how people can and will take care of their neighbors. Government hasn’t been able to do this anywhere near as effectively as the people.”
Simon concluded by referring to the late Congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm.
“Politics has been a man’s world. The gender bias against Shirley Chisholm was profound, and she spoke of it often. Like all of us, she’d been dismissed, ignored, demeaned and mansplained to. And so in honor of Justice Ginsburg and Shirley Chisholm and the women who have gone before carving a path where none existed previously, I’m going to be pulling up my folding chair to the table and running for president because that’s what girls do. Thank you.”
Those who know Simon well, neighbors and colleagues, spoke about her deep knowledge of how the government works, her ability to get things done, her compassion and caring, and showing up.
Gib Veconi, member of CB8 and Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council praised her deep knowledge on subjects concerning the city and “commitment to fight for what’s right on an issue, no matter how complicated that issue might be or how difficult and long the fight.”
Kathy Park Price, a Brooklyn parent leader and education advocate, and Claire T McCue, an organizer and women’s rights advocate, who had brought her daughter to the event, both spoke to Simon’s compassion, effectiveness, integrity, courage and grace.
When asked what will be her priorities, Simon says:
“I think the job of the Borough President is to bring people together, throughout the borough. And every area experiences some of those issues [housing, jobs – ed. note] a little bit differently but they’re all meaningful and they all need a place at the table.
“You are being affected by different laws, different procedures, on different timelines with different requirements, which makes it confusing and upsetting to people. And it also tends to set people up to be to argue with each other. And what we learned from our community planning experience at Hoyt Schermerhorn is that if we work together, we can come up with a plan that everybody can agree works for the greater good. And we have consensus.
“The good thing about Hoyt Schermerhorn is that the community planned it. You have 37.5% low to moderate-income housing. And nobody is fighting about it. That also means, unfortunately, in Brooklyn, most people don’t know about it -because nobody is fighting about it. But the message is that it’s developed. We had the density where the density makes sense. We had lower-priced housing where that makes sense and we provided low to moderate-income housing, and people are happy.
“And that’s what matters. And we can do this in more places. You don’t have to argue constantly and it just perpetuates this divisiveness that we’ve seen for decades now. And right now, what a fever pitch. You really need to kind of take that down a notch and work together, and I am confident that I have the skills the capacity, and the leadership to do that.”