The next City Council of New York will see a massive overhaul as 35 of the current legislators will be term limited, which many see as an opportunity for a renewed approach to city politics and fresh ideas in a time of hardship in the wake of the pandemic. But there is also the possibility that with every current LGBTQ member of the Council unable to run for re-election, next year’s Council could be without an LGBTQ caucus for the first time since the 1990s.
But a new class of LGBTQ candidates across Manhattan are running to ensure queer representation continues in city government in the next Council and beyond. Among the first-time Democratic candidates are Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick (District 3), Jeffrey Omura (District 6), and Marti Allen-Cummings (District 7), all of whom would be making city history in one way or another if elected to their respective districts.
Here’s more on all three candidates, their campaigns and what Pride means to them:
Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick
Manhattan’s District 3, representing Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, has a long history of electing LGBT candidates, including current incumbent and Council Speaker Corey Johnson – but never has the district elected a person of color to the seat. Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick could be that first, if elected.
“I think if you have diversity in representation then everyone gets taken care of,” said Fitzpatrick, a small business owner who launched his campaign to help other mom and pop shops get the relief and attention he feels they’ve been deprived of under the current representative.
Fitzpatrick came to New York City in the wake of personal tragedy. The day before Fitzpatrick turned 19, his father, an openly gay Black man, was shot and killed outside a gay bar in Akron, Ohio. The police never solved the case.
“When my father was murdered in my first year of college, and I never got to finish, so I came to the city and I tried to have a better life,” said Fitzpatrick. “I wanted to do everything that I ever wanted to do without feeling that I couldn’t – and New York City was always that place for me ever since I remember being here for the first time.”
On top of securing resources for small businesses, Fitzpatrick is particularly motivated in making Manhattan a safe place for young LGBTQ people to grow up and build a life. One priority is ensuring there’s an inclusive curriculum in public schools that teaches accurate information about the queer community and its history in the city, Fitzpatrick said.
“We need to make sure our public schools have policies that really aren’t violating the rights of students and that are sensitive and supportive when it comes to dress codes, self-expression, identities, pronouns,” said Fitzpatrick. “Making sure that public schools that receive local and state funding are enacting policies that provide LGBTQ, transgender, non-binary students equal access to school facilities and activities, period.”
To commemorate Pride this year, Fitzpatrick is taking his four-year-old daughter and some of her friends on a bit of walking tour to teach them some of the history of the LGBTQ rights movement,
“We’re going to talk about the history of Stonewall – in the best way we can so four year olds can understand.”
Jeffrey Omura plans to bring the arts back in New York City and plans to be the first openly gay person to be elected to City Council in District 6 on the Upper West Side.
Omura first got his start in New York City as an actor in a production of Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare in the Park. He instantly fell in love with the Upper West Side and its sense of culture and continued to work as an actor for the next 15 years.
However, it wasn’t until Omura began acting at The Public Theater that he found his political footing in the city. He found out that he and his fellow actors in the theater community were going broke doing the thing that they loved. So, they created an organization called Fair Wage OnStage. They organized the entire Off-Broadway theater community to sign petitions, wear buttons, and record video testimonies for social media talking about the sacrifices that they had made.
“Our industry had never really seen anything like it before. The campaign gave our union, Actors Equity Association, leverage at the negotiation table to demand some wage increases,” said Omura. “That year, we got record-breaking wage increases up to 83%.”
Since the record-breaking year, 2016, Omura hasn’t let go of his passion for New York City’s arts and culture. In fact, he aims to build his entire campaign on bringing the arts back to New York City after the pandemic.
Omura plans to make art more accessible to both the artist and the patron in each of the five boroughs, focusing primarily on funding the workers who make the art possible.
“The arts are the reason why I am in this race,” said Omura. “We’re going to have a brand new city council. I am running to make sure that we have at least one arts advocate sitting at the table.”
If elected in District 7, encompassing West Harlem, Morningside Heights, and Washington Heights, Marti Allen-Cummings would help shatter the mold some hold of a typical politician. Allen-Cummings, who uses they/them pronouns, is a longtime drag artist who could become the first non-binary person elected to public office in the city. They hope their candidacy helps shift the public’s view of who gets to run for office and who doesn’t.
“Politics is for everyone. We need to get away from it being for ‘people who look like they should be in politics’ or ‘lobbyists training to be politicians their whole lives.’ We need people with the lived experience,” said Allen-Cummings. “There’s so many people from every age group and demographic, in humanity, signed up to volunteer [for us]. And so many of them, whether they’re queer or not, they say, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe there’s somebody like you running.’ I’m excited for that. That’s why this is the campaign with and for the people.”
Though an unconventional career, Allen-Cummings said it’s what got them involved in local politics to start with. Drag, they said, is rooted in political action and resistance against patriarchal norms. Drag led them organically to getting involved in grassroots organizing, community building, and eventually joining Community Board 9.
As a performer in the nightlife industry, Allen-Cummings said they can relate to New Yorkers who are hustling for their paychecks, and the hardship and lost wages caused by the pandemic.
“We need elected officials who know what it’s like to be a gig worker who know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck, to not have access to mental health care or health care,” said Allen-Cummings, who, even while running a campaign full time, is still gigging at night.
Allen-Cummings said gig workers need relief, as do small businesses, which, as they point out, were already hurting before the pandemic.
“Small businesses that have been struggling and that was exacerbated by the pandemic,” Allen-Cummings said. “We’ve seen the need to really support them with a vacancy tax, commercial rent stabilization, and a public bank so people are able to get access to services and so they can open their own small business.”
As New Yorkers convene for June festivities, Allen-Cummings wants them to remember that Pride is not a parade.
“Pride was a riot and it still is because even 51 years after the Stonewall riots, the police came into the Washington Square Park and they pepper sprayed and maced people [a couple weeks ago],” said Allen-Cummings. “We’ve come a long way in terms of equality but we have so much further to go, and so that’s what I’m excited for this time, of getting out there with our comrades and fighting, for queer liberation.”
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