Political club went 5 for 5 in picking election winners
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Justin Brannan should buy himself a lottery ticket! He certainly has a knack for picking winners.
Brannan, president of the Bay Ridge Democrats, an upstart political club in Brooklyn, is riding high these days, looking forward to the inauguration of Bill de Blasio as New York City’s next mayor. Brannan and his club members showed themselves to be clairvoyant, endorsing de Blasio way back in April, long before the public advocate became the front runner in the contest for City Hall.
In fact, when the Bay Ridge Democrats bestowed their blessing on de Blasio, he was stuck at 10 percent in the polls and didn’t look like he was going anywhere. “We were the first club in Brooklyn to endorse him. And we were one of the first clubs in the city to back him,” Brannan told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
The mayor-elect showed his gratitude for the club's loyalty by appointing the club to his honorary inaugural committee. De Blasio will be inaugurated on jan. 1.
The incoming mayor isn’t the only winner the Bay Ridge Democrats endorsed during this election cycle. The club went an impressive five for five in endorsements. In addition to de Blasio, the club supported Scott Stringer for comptroller, Letitia “Tish” James for public advocate, Kenneth Thompson for Brooklyn district attorney, and Vincent Gentile for re-election as councilman representing the 43rd Council District (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst). All five won their races handily.
But it was the endorsement of de Blasio that put the Bay Ridge Democrats on the map. The club was founded only three years ago. All of the candidates were invited to speak at club meetings. The club meets once a month in a back room at the Bridgeview Diner in Bay Ridge. De Blasio came to several meetings and impressed members with his sincerity and his policy positions, according to Brannan. At their endorsement meeting in April, members voted overwhelmingly to support de Blasio.
“We endorsed him on principal, not because we thought he would win and we wanted to back a winner. At the time we endorsed him, it didn’t look like he was going to win,” Brannan, whose day job is communications director for Gentile.
“But we went with Bill because we believed in him. We believed he was the best guy for the job. He shares our values and we believed he would support the outer boroughs. We need a break from this Manhattan-centric administration. Small business was a huge thing for us. Bay Ridge is a neighborhood of small businesses and he is a guy who will support small businesses. I’m a small business owner myself,” he said. Brannan, his wife, Leigh Holliday Brannan, and his mother, Mary Brannan, are the owners of The Art Room, a school and exhibition space on Third Avenue in Bay Ridge.
Following the endorsement, club members worked hard for de Blasio, gathering petition signatures to get him on the ballot for the Democratic Primary and working the phones, calling voters to urge them to support him.
Still, it was lonely at first. And while members were proud of their endorsement, they wondered if they were destined for the political wilderness, given the fact that Council Speaker Christine Quinn was on top of the polls.
“I remember one day, it was either late June or early July, when it was 7,000 degrees out, and I was standing with Bill outside a subway station thinking about what an uphill battle it was. But Bill said you win these things one voter at a time,” Brannan said.
Brannan said the de Blasio endorsement experience taught him “that you have to go with your gut and not worry about the consequences.”
Another early endorsement made by the club, picking Thompson over incumbent DA Charles Hynes, raised eyebrows in Brooklyn politics, partly because Hynes lives in Bay Ridge. “We were not against Hynes. It’s just that we were so impressed with Ken. And people felt it was time for a change. We took some heat for it, but we stood by our choice,” Brannan said.
The Bay Ridge Democrats club was formed in 2010 out of the ashes of two rival clubs in the neighborhood. “We wanted to unite the party. We planted a flag here. We wanted to throw up a bat signal to see if anyone was interested. It’s our way of telling young people you can do something to improve things and not just sit home and watch MSNBC,” Brannan said.
“Over time, it has built into something pretty cool,” he said.
The photo accompanying this article was taken by Alex Rud.
Article updated to include information about de Blasio appointing Bay Ridge Democrats to his honorary inaugural committee.