By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Don’t ever tell Lori Knipel that something she strongly believes in isn’t going to happen. She’ll make it happen. Take the 2004 Democratic National Convention, for instance. Knipel, a lawyer from Flatbush, was a member of the platform committee, the group of loyal activists from across the country helping the party leaders craft the document detailing what the party stood for and would be running on in the presidential election that year.
Knipel, a firm believer in the importance of early childhood education, was seeking to have a universal pre-kindergarten plank placed in the platform. “I was told it was impossible. There was no money in the budget for it,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. She didn’t let the naysayers stop her. “I put up a big fuss. I actually got the motion put on the floor. Cory Booker seconded it for me,” Knipel said, referring to the man who is now Newark’s mayor and a rising star in national Democratic politics. The motion passed. “I was pretty pleased. It was important to get it done. I felt it was especially important for low-income parents to have access to pre-k for their children. Studies have shown it’s the basis for a child’s whole educational life,” she said.
Nine years later, universal pre-kindergarten is a standard part of the Democratic Party’s message. President Barack Obama supports it and has given speeches on numerous occasions talking about the importance of pre-kindergarten classes to a child’s intellectual and emotional development.
The fight over the plank epitomizes Knipel. When she feels something should be done, she rolls up her sleeves and figures out a way to get it accomplished.
Here’s another example of her tenacity. A few years ago, Knipel, the Democratic district leader of the 44th Assembly district (Flatbush-Midwood-Park Slope), was hearing from her fellow female district leaders that their male counterparts were co-opting the process involving vetting judicial candidates. “The women leaders felt a little disenfranchised by the process,” she recalled.
So, she created a women’s judicial review panel to interview candidates for judgeships and determine if they were worthy of endorsements. “I invited the women district leaders. We invited judicial candidates for interviews. We prepared a list of questions; the same questions for each candidate, so it was a level playing field. We got a good incite into the candidates,” she said. The panel, called the Women’s Caucus Judicial Screening Committee, is a must-visit for candidates seeking to run for judgeships.
Knipel, the wife of New York State Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Knipel, is active in community life, as well as politics. She has been a member of Community Board 14 for 30 years and has served on several of the board’s key committees, including youth, transportation, and law. She is a past president of Park Slope Hadassah and has served on the board of directors of Temple Beth Emeth.
Knipel, whose maiden name is Citron, has lived all of her life in Flatbush. “In the same Zip Code!” she said. She credits her parents, Bernard and Sylvia Citron, with instilling in her a love of public service. “My parents both came from difficult backgrounds. They lost their parents young and they struggled. But they always taught me that it’s important to do for others, to give of your time. You’re here to serve. They were always very active in community affairs,” she said.
Her brother Steve Citron is a retired chemistry teacher. He got her involved in politics when she was a little girl. “Back in 1968, Steve was the leader of the Young Democrats and he got me involved in campaigning for Hubert Humphrey,” she said.
Lori Citron is a graduate of Midwood High School and earned a degree in political science from Brooklyn College, where she graduated cum laude.
She met Lawrence Knipel at the Minskoff Cultural Center. The couple has two children, a daughter Rachel, director of languages for the New York City Board of Elections, and a son Ricky, who heads Wikimedia. Lori and Lawrence Knipel will celebrate their 34th anniversary this year.
Twenty years after she graduated from college, Lori Knipel decided to go back to school to become a lawyer. “My kids and quite a few of my friends were encouraging me,” she said. She earned her Juris Doctor degree from the City University of New York Law School. She is a member of the New York State and Washington DC Bars and has been admitted to a special group of lawyers that are allowed to argue cases in front of the US Supreme Court.
Knipel, who maintains a law practice in Flatbush, specializes in public interest law, elder law, and civil cases.
Knipel isn’t just a fighter. She’s also a peacemaker. In 1992, she founded the Flatbush Renaissance Committee to bring various neighborhood groups together for the betterment of the community.
“At that time, Flatbush was in a bit of trouble. There were also all of these different groups with different agendas. I formed a committee that brought them all together. It was a pivotal point,” she said. “I find that I’m able to get along with a broad spectrum of people. I try to make people get along by assuring each person that they will be heard,” she said, describing her management style.