Assemblymember Tony Simone inaugurated in style in Chelsea

Marti Cummings, Assemblymember Tony Simone, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Jackie Cox.
Marti Cummings, Assemblymember Tony Simone, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Jackie Cox.
Andy Humm

Once every half century or so, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen sends a new assemblymember to Albany. And when out gay lawmaker Tony Simone was sworn in to that office on Saturday, March 4 at the Hudson Guild Fulton Community Center — by New York Attorney General Letitia James no less — he did it with style and purpose in a ceremony hosted by drag artist and political activist Marti Cummings at a time when drag artists and transgender people are under unprecedented and vicious attack from Republicans nationwide. 

“I was down at George Santos’ office demonstrating this morning,” Cummings said, “and this crowd is much nicer.” 

The Democratic power of New York turned out in force for Simone, led by US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who was joined by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, and the local representatives from the west side who supported him and are now his colleagues: Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, Councilmember Erik Bottcher, and Assemblymember Deborah Glick, the first out LGBTQ person elected to the state legislature in 1990. Also there to pass the baton was citizen Richard Gottfried, who had held the seat for a record 52 years.

Assemblymember Tony Simone greets attendees at his inauguration.
Assemblymember Tony Simone greets attendees at his inauguration.Donna Aceto

Schumer highlighted Simone’s extensive experience working in government working for the late State Senator Catherine Abate, State Comptroller Carl McCall, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn — as well as his being the son of an immigrant mom and working class dad. (Schumer also said that while George Santos infamously called himself “Jew-ish,” “I’m Jewish. I’m the real f***in’ deal.”)

Levine called Simone “the real deal” and expected big things from him in terms of tackling the current housing crisis.  Bottcher thanked Simone for connecting him to his first job as an LGBTQ liaison for Quinn.

Nadler, who had been a classmate of Gottfried’s at Stuyvesant HS, spent 16 years in the Assembly himself and said that having a gay advocate such as Simone in Albany was critical at this time of Republican attacks on our communities “bordering on paranoia.” 

Jackie Cox, a star of the 12th season of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” sang and reminded everyone that “what I’m doing is now illegal in the state of Tennessee.”

Gottfried noted that the New York Legislature “had been meeting for 193 years” before he first went to Albany in 1971. He said that when he got himself mentioned for a possible run for Congress in 1975, an advocate in the state capitol tried to dissuade him. “We need people like you here in Albany who are committed to public service,” the advocate said, “not just serving themselves.” So Gottfried stayed. He praised Simone’s already long record of public service and left him with the words of Nelson Mandela: “Free yourself, free others, and serve every day.” 

James said Simone “has already made a name for himself” by being outspoken about concerns over the use of facial recognition technology and praised his past as Quinn’s director of community outreach during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Simone’s husband, Jason, said, “I’ve witnessed his passion for helping people — always asking what more he could do,” including getting the City Clerk to go to the hospital room of an ailing elderly gay couple once marriage equality was won in New York so they could be wed. 

Assemblymember Tony Simone (right) and his partner, Jason (left) take a picture with New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Assemblymember Tony Simone (right) and his husband, Jason (left) take a picture with New York Attorney General Letitia James.

In his inaugural address, Simone recalled his mother’s admonition to do his work “in broad, diverse coalitions” in order to succeed — and succeed in the right way. 

Former Assemblymember Richard Gottfried with Congressmember Jerrold Nadler.
Former Assemblymember Richard Gottfried with Congressmember Jerrold Nadler.Andy Humm

He acknowledged the current public safety and mental health crisis, but said, “Blaming others is not the solution.” On the housing front, he said, “People should be able to live and work in the same district. We have to create real affordable housing for the middle class and supportive housing for the mentally ill” — accompanied by adequate services. 

Among other issues, Simone said the development of Penn Station “has to be done the right way and should not be used for just one developer to benefit.” 

On the LGBTQ front, Simone said, “Our rights are under attack from every quarter,” but that “New York is defending our kids,” noting the legislature’s passage of the Equality Amendment that will include sexual orientation and gender identity protections in our state constitution once the voters approve it in November. While transgender children are under assault in red states nationwide, he said that in New York, “If they come after our kids we have their backs.” 

And, as was evident from the enthusiastic reception Simone got, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen have his back.