Corey Johnson is a prime example of Victory Institute’s mission that personnel is policy.
On January 8th of this year, the New York City Council elected its first openly gay council speaker, Corey Johnson. The race was a contentious one, with de Blasio’s choice not made clear early on and multiple people calling for a speaker who is a person of color. City council speaker races are determined by the 51-member council body, not by the voters, so they involve high levels of insider intrigue and savvy. To win in this set up, one needs to support of people and groups such as the council members from populous Queens and the Bronx, who often join forces, labor unions, and other city officials. Johnson secured this support and more.
Johnson did not make himself someone pretending to have struggles to gain relatability, he instead told his truth to the city. He stated that his experiences are not synonymous with an individual who is a person of color, but that his hardships and persevering attitude informs his run for office. He has been honest with voters about his growing up in housing projects in Massachusetts, his struggles with alcohol, and being HIV positive.
Johnson worked as the chair of the city’s health committee, partnering with groups such as GMHC, fighters of AIDS, who said he support was crucial. He and other NYC officials worked with the state government to create the Ending the Epidemic blueprint for 2020, which is pledged by Governor Andrew Cuomo to reduce the number of diagnosed cases of HIV in NYC from the current 3,000 a year figure to 750 by 2020. Johnson has stated that “I feel a real responsibility, and I would say a positive burden, that I have to be a fighter and voice for people living with HIV and AIDS.” He fought for the creation of SIFs, or Safe Injection Facilities, in 2016 to help reduce rates of HIV and prevent overdoses, and also supported a 2015 $6.6 million initiative to provide PrEP to folks in NYC via LGBT community centers and AIDS groups such as ACRIA.
Never before has there been an HIV-positive person serve as city council speaker in New York City. Johnson is well-informed in all aspects of his job, as his seat in the council was once held by one of the first HIV positive politicians period, Thomas K. Duane, who served as a mentor and friend to Johnson. Representing not only LGBT folks and HIV-positive folks, Johnson’s win is significant for people whose families are part of labor unions, as Johnson’s parents are, and for people needing assistance given in the form of housing, also something he is familiar with in his upbringing. His peers elected him 48 to 1, a very impressive feat in and of itself.
Charles King, President of Housing Works, discussing the “Blueprint on Eradicating the Epidemic” at the 2017 International Leaders Conference.