It’s raining out but the bustling Paneantico Bakery at 9124 3rd Avenue is packed with Bay Ridgers picking up breakfast treats or downing their second cup of java. Amongst them sits Justin Brannan flanked in the middle of three small wooden tables engrossed by what’s on his Samsung Galaxy S6.
Brannan, the 38-year-old Brooklyn native announced his candidacy for District 43 City Council in December 2016, but his popularity is that of a seated politician. “It’s like Mayberry,” said Brannan, waving hello to a local school crossing guard who’s trying to get his attention.
“I’m a vegetarian,” said Brannan, as he began the detailed and interesting story of what drew him into the political arena. As a youngster, the candidate never equated his work as an animal activist to that of a politician, but after unexpectedly touring the world for 10 years with his music bands, Indecision and Most Precious Blood and interacting with people from Cape Town to Brazil, Brannan understood advocacy and people was where he needed to focus his attention.
“When’s the election?” interrupted Kimberly Soranno, a long-time District 43 resident who has hurdled the area from Bensonhurst to Bay Ridge. “This man has helped so many people in this neighborhood, it’s unbelievable,” she said.
After a couple of jabs insinuating the employment of paid actresses, the candidate continues his story to the tune of Katy Perry’s “Roar” booming in the background of the bakery.
Brannan’s first attempt at true advocacy occurred at WNEW-FM in New York City in 1999, a local radio station where he worked doing voice overs. Disheartened by the exploitation of workers, he organized 20 – 30 employees under the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) Union to address and correct the company’s wage theft practices. The victory prompted Brannan to volunteer his services on a local level by volunteering for his City Councilmember, Vincent Gentile. The same seat he now wishes to claim.
“I’m sort of drawn to giving a voice to the voiceless,” said Brannan, as he picked from his lightly powdered sfogliatella. “That felt good, I was able to help a lot of people.”
By 2010 Brannan began working for Gentile and realized government is where he needed to be. “It’s where the rubber meets the road,” said Brannan. ”It had the instant gratification of activism, but you could also help people.”
Brannan was offered a job in the administration working in the intergovernmental affairs office on the Department of Education (DOE) roll out of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Pre-K for All initiative. Brannan says the position enabled him to work with elected officials across the city and help parents navigate the intimidating DOE system.
“So much of politics is relationships,” said Brannan when asked why he thinks the intergovernmental affairs position will benefit his aspirations of being a city councilmember. “That’s why I think staffers make the best elected officials. They know how to get things done.”
In light of the city wide transportation problems, Brannan recently proposed that New York State return Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Bus Company and New York City Transit (NYCT) services in the five boroughs back over to city control. “Most people don’t realize our subways and busses are controlled by Albany, by the State –– most people just blame de Blasio when the trains are late. You have guys who represent counties that are three inches from Canada that have more say in our local MTA system than the City Council and and the Mayor.”
District 43 has been particularly impacted by NYC’s transportation troubles because of a six-month remodel of the Bay Ridge R station. The MTA has not offered any shuttle service inconveniencing a large portion of the constituency –– the disabled and the large senior community.
Transportation woes hasn’t stopped Brannan’s campaign efforts –– the candidate and his wife, Leigh Jewel Holliday were at the 95th Street R train station yesterday morning handing out flyers.
He relished in the idea of people recognizing him as he campaigns door to door. The reaction of “Hey! I’m voting for you,” may be attributed to the fact that his mother, Mary Brannan, is a local pre-k teacher at Holy Angels Catholic Academy and has taught for 30 years.
Brannan is a product of public and private school and a stark advocate of the public school system. Brannan says that the original platform of Charter schools had gone way beyond its purview. “A great public education is a foundational part of being an American.”
His concerns stem from the position that if parents consider charter schools a better option, which should be a signal to fix the public school system. Brannan contends that money should not be taken away from overcrowded public schools to fund charter schools, which he says are cherry-picking students. “It’s a different thing if you’re sending your students for religious education,” said Brannan. Like his stance on the city’s transportation, Brannan supports mayoral control of the city’s education system.
As Rihanna’s remake of “Please Don’t Stop the Music” blares throughout the noisy eatery, the conversation turns towards the opioid problem in District 43. Brannan wants to build a community center for children to have someplace to go as the answer for preventing the area’s prevailing opioid crisis. He proposes giving neighborhood teens access to local Catholic Schools for extracurricular activities. “There’s no silver bullet [for the opioid problem] but kids need to have someplace to go,” said Brannan.
Brannan sees longer office hours, participatory budgeting and Town Hall meetings featuring heads of city agencies as the start to creating an inclusive environment for District 43’s diverse population. The decline of community board meeting attendance has been substituted with a growing constituent online presence. The candidate talked about his approach of intercepting social media messages that complain about local issues, like potholes, as a way of proactively reaching out to the community.
“Now people tag me if their cat is stuck in a tree,” said Brannan.