By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Justin Brannan never thought of himself as particularly political when he was a young rocker touring the country with his hardcore rock bands Indecision and Most Precious Blood. On his voting registration card, “I was registered as a ‘blank’ for years,” he said. “Then one day I had a “Eureka!’ moment when it all clicked.” From that moment on, he was a Democrat. These days, he is president of the Bay Ridge Democrats, a 150-member political club which works to get Democrats elected to public office.
But it took a “eureka” moment to push Brannan in that direction.
“I got my start as an animal welfare activist in the underground music scene of New York City,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
“I was afforded the opportunity to travel extensively with my bands and meet people all over the world, from Vancouver to South Africa, from Brazil to Tokyo. And this wasn't vapid sex, drugs and rock n' roll. This was serious music with a positive message of effecting change within yourself and the world around you. So from a very early age, I was drawn to the idea of helping people, giving a voice to the voiceless, being an advocate and effecting change in my own life and other people’s lives,” he said.
Brannan, 34, grew up in a Bay Ridge household where he was surrounded by union members, a strong Democratic Party constituency. His grandfather was a shop steward with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. His grandmother spent her entire career as a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. “My mom, a schoolteacher, was a member of the UFT before she began teaching in Catholic school,” Brannan recalled. Brannan himself was a shop steward with American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and “fought to get all my fellow union employees retroactively paid for decades of overtime work on weekends and overnights,” he said.
“Not to mention, Bella Abzug was a cousin of mine as is Scott Stringer. So I guess it’s in my blood and getting involved in politics was inevitable,” Brannan said.
These days, Brannan who gave up touring several years ago, is busy with his day job, communications director to Democratic Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge), as well as his non-paying job as president of the http://www.bayridgedemocrats.org/ Bay Ridge Democrats. Brannan is also busy on the home front. He and his longtime love, artist Leigh Holliday, were recently married. In a nod to romance, the couple was married in the lobby of the lower Manhattan building that formerly housed the offices of Bear Stearns, where they met. They both worked for the firm. Brannan and Holiday are the owners of The Art Room, a school and gallery space for children interested in the arts.
Brannan and a group of local Democrats formed the club in the summer of 2010 by merging two clubs that had existed in the neighborhood; the American Heritage Democratic Organization and the United Americans Democratic Organization. Those clubs had been founded by Ralph Perfetto, a legend in Bay Ridge politics. Perfetto, former ombudsman to Mark Green, when Green was the city’s public advocate in the mid-1990s, served as the Democratic Party’s district leader in Bay Ridge for decades before being defeated by up and comer Kevin Peter Carroll in 2010.
The officers of the Bay Ridge Democrats are: Justin Brannan, president; Chris McCreight, vice president; Jeannie May, treasurer; Steve Harrison, general counsel; Scott Klein, corresponding secretary; and Andrew Gounardes, parliamentarian. Gentile is an ex-officio member, as are Perfetto, and Joanne Seminara, the female Democratic district leader in Bay Ridge. Brannan said McCreight will soon be stepping down as treasurer to work on Sal Albanese’s http://www.salalbanese2013.com/ mayoral campaign. Albanese, the former Bay Ridge councilman, is seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor.
The Bay Ridge Democrats has not yet made an endorsement in the mayor’s race. “It’s way too early for us to be endorsing for mayor, especially as it seems like every day there's someone new jumping in the pool,” Brannan said. “We'll probably look to endorse sometime in May or June so we'll be able to work for our candidates. Our club’s endorsements aren't symbolic. If we endorse you, it means we are going to roll up our sleeves and work to help get you elected,” he said.
Meanwhile, Brannan and the club’s officers are continuing their efforts to reach out to young people to get them to become involved in politics.
“Over the years we've worked closely with Organizing for America. OFA was originally Obama For America and is an arm of the Democratic National Committee. Each year we host an official State of the Union "TV Party" along with OFA. We also host bar nights to watch the conventions, debates, etc. We're focused on hearing from elected officials, meeting candidates, discussing and organizing behind the issues, working hard for our slate and having a good time while we do it. This stuff is important but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun,” Brannan said.
“We also get involved in non-political issues. For instance, last month a bunch of us volunteered for the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) where we joined with thousands of people across the city to canvass parks, subways, and other public spaces to count the number of people living unsheltered in the city,” he said.
“I want to help as many people as possible and if this is place I need to be doing that, then this is where I belong,” Brannan said. “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile, right?”