Daniel O’Donnell announces he will not seek re-election

Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell during his campaign for public advocate in early 2019.
Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell during his campaign for public advocate in early 2019.
Matt Tracy

Out gay Manhattan Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell on Nov. 17 announced he will not run for re-election next year, concluding more than two decades of public service in Albany on issues ranging from marriage equality to gender-neutral bathrooms.

O’Donnell, who represents upper Manhattan, did not disclose a specific reason for his forthcoming departure, but he nodded to the next generation and suggested he would remain involved in helping others. The assemblymember made the announcement on his 63rd birthday.

“Today, as I joyfully mark another year of life, I am filled with gratitude for the journey we’ve traversed and the remarkable impact we’ve made in the 69th District,” O’Donnell said in a written statement. “The collective triumphs we’ve made fill me with immense pride and optimism for the future. As I look to the horizon, I see a generation filled with promise, potential, and passion. And so, with a heart full of hope and excitement, I share with you that I will not be seeking re-election.”

O’Donnell is known for his leading role in the fight for marriage equality in New York State — including in the years before it became official. His legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in the state first passed the lower house in 2007, though it took four more years for the bill to clear both houses and get signed into law. Out gay former State Senator Thomas Duane was the lead sponsor in the State Senate. 

Among other notable achievements, O’Donnell led the passage of legislation requiring single-use restrooms statewide to be open to people of all genders and spearheaded a successful campaign to ban the so-called panic defense, which barred defendants from using a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a mitigating factor in committing a violent crime. He also was the prime sponsor of the Dignity for All Students Act, an anti-bullying measure. In recent years, O’Donnell supported the Trans Equity Fund, a state-based effort to bolster organizations serving transgender New Yorkers.

A former public defender, O’Donnell ran unsuccessfully for public advocate in 2019 after Letitia James won an election to become New York’s attorney general. Then-Councilmember Jumaane Williams went on to win what was a crowded and contentious fight to succeed James as public advocate, but O’Donnell nonetheless won the endorsement of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City — a citywide LGBTQ political club — after delivering a speech to members describing himself as a “loud-mouthed, opinionated, independent” candidate.

During that speech, O’Donnell said he rejected offers to compromise on both marriage and anti-bullying measures.

“I was told, ‘If you settle for civil unions, if you take out the trans community, we’ll pass it tomorrow,’” he said. “I said, ‘Hell no, I don’t compromise on people’s rights.’”

O’Donnell’s forthcoming departure will leave the State Assembly with four out lawmakers — Deborah Glick and Tony Simone of Manhattan, Jessica González-Rojas of Queens, and Harry Bronson of Rochester — unless new out members are elected or any incumbents lose or bow out. The State Senate’s out lawmakers are Jabari Brisport of Brooklyn and Brad Hoylman-Sigal of Manhattan.

“As I pass the torch forward to the next generation of leaders, I am thrilled beyond words at the thought of the innovative leaps, breakthroughs, and transformative changes they are destined to achieve,” O’Donnell said. “Today marks not an end, but a continuation of progress and a stirring reminder that the future is bright and full of endless possibilities.”

In September, O’Donnell was ordered to undergo retraining after an Ethics Committee investigation concluded that he violated the Assembly’s policy against harassment, discrimination, and retaliation after he admitted to making “crude” remarks when he was under stress. 

“Though this chapter is closing, my dedication to public service and the pursuit of justice remains unwavering,” ODonnell said. “I am excited to explore new ways to contribute positively to our community and state.”