In so many people’s lives over the last year, the pandemic has served as a catalyst for change in ways both small and large: learning a new skill, growing closer to family, pursuing a dream. Leslie Boghosian Murphy too made a big change in attempting something she never thought she would: running for public office.
At first, when COVID hit New York City, and the problems the pandemic both created and revealed became clear to Boghosian Murphy, she took her and her neighbor’s concerns to local elected officials, but to no avail. The problems, she was told, were too big and there would be too much bureaucracy involved to fix them. In the end, she just decided she’d do it herself.
“When things are going well, it’s really easy, I think, to be a politician. I think you dance with seniors, you kiss babies, you go to high school plays and you shake hands ... and I saw huge gaps in leadership when the real problems surfaced,” Boghosian Murphy told Chelsea News in a recent interview. “I decided that we just need a resident to represent residents. So that’s when I decided to run.”
Thus began her campaign to be the next City Council member for District 3, which encompasses Greenwich Village, Soho, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen. She is among six candidates vying to replace City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is term-limited and running for comptroller.
But she isn’t waiting to be elected to try to tackle some of these big issues. When students were missing out on live instruction in the fall, Boghosian Murphy worked with local universities to deploy student teachers, who needed credit hours with classrooms closed, to fill the gaps at Title 1 schools (which have high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income households) and provide live distance learning. She convinced a Brooklyn-based startup, ShopIN.NYC, an E-commerce site offering products from local businesses, to expand to the neighborhoods in District 3 to help Manhattan small businesses and offer an alternative to big online retailers. When she learned that cruise ships idling at the piers on the West side can emit as much diesel exhaust as 34,400 idling tractor-trailers in a single day, she reached out to Con Edison and state Sen. Brad Hoylman and kickstarted the first steps in bringing shore power – an electric source of energy for ships – to the West Side.
Without government experience on her resume, Boghosian Murphy is finding out that what she has been able to accomplish so far as a private citizen is a pretty effective pitch to voters.
“I’m not even elected yet, and I have brought student teachers to our schools. I’m not even elected yet, and we’re already starting shore power on the West Side,” said Boghosian Murphy.
From a Newsroom to Politics
Her drive to do this work, and to run for Council, comes from the same place that pushed her to tell important stories as an investigative reporter. Her draw toward journalism, she said, was to give a voice to communities that did not have one. As a reporter, Boghosian Murphy traveled around the world, often documenting disasters and the human suffering left in their wake. She reported on food insecurity in Malawi and did a deep dive into green energies in Denmark. She documented the aftermath of catastrophic mudslides in Venezuela, where amid the mud ground upon which she stood rooftops were poking out under her feet. She went to Sri Lanka to report on the 2004 tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people in Southeast Asia – the surreal scenes of wreckage she likened to a science fiction movie. To see such devastation first hand, and to shine a light on it, she said, has molded her perspective on the world and will inform how she will deal with human suffering in her own district.
The transition from a newsroom to politics has been slow and organic, she said. She left the industry after her daughter was born eight years ago and subsequently became more involved in her community. She joined the board at her apartment building, then a block association, and later started working at a women and children’s shelter. Eventually, she was appointed to Community Board 4 where she serves on the committees for arts & education and waterfronts, parks and the environment.
And while she never saw herself running for office, she’s found a lot of joy in campaigning and meeting residents across the district. She’s launched a “listening tour” to hear from small businesses on what they need to overcome the hardships brought on by the pandemic, and it’s where she got the idea to bring ShopIn.NYC to Manhattan.
“We have to think broader. We have to think bigger,” said Boghosian Murphy, adding that the focus shouldn’t always be on stopgap measures if small businesses are to keep their doors open in the long run. “We can always just say, ‘here’s a solution for now,’ but we have to think longer term.”
In her campaign, Boghosian Muphy said she is focused on the economic recovery from the pandemic, a comprehensive plan for reopening school in the fall, as well as quality of life on the street – three things she said are all tied together.
“Things will fall in place when we start getting our businesses open, when we start getting people back to the offices, when we start getting our schools open,” she said, noting how many caregivers – women in particular – who have left the workforce to either be with their children or an ailing loved one in the last 14 months, something that’s surely had a detrimental effect on the economy.
Ultimately, in this race, she sees her experience outside of the world of politics and government as a real advantage.
“I think sometimes when you’re in politics for a long time, or you’re in that world, you’re confined by that type of thinking; not that that’s a bad thing, because you know the system, and the system beats you down a little bit,” she said. “But when you have someone like me - who is not tied to any interest, does not have that connection with system restraints - you do think why can’t we do this? Why can’t I do that? And I think that’s what’s needed to go into an elected official position, especially now. We have to think outside the box, because everything is different, and we’re going to need different solutions.”
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