Hoylman Celebrates an Activist First Session

Senator Brad Hoylman, with husband David Sigal and daughter Silvia, at the June 26 rally celebrating the DOMA win at the Supreme Court. | DONNA ACETO

Senator Brad Hoylman, with husband David Sigal and daughter Silvia, at the June 26 rally celebrating the DOMA win at the Supreme Court. | DONNA ACETO

A jubilant Brad Hoylman entered his fundraiser with his face flushed and pep in his step. Though suits were everywhere, the freshman state senator arrived with his shirt open and casually dressed in khakis, his daughter and husband in tow, looking completely at home, confident he was among friends.

He had come from the June 26 rally at the Stonewall bar celebrating the US Supreme Court decision driving a stake into the Defense of Marriage Act, the law prohibiting the federal government from recognizing married gay couples or offering the associated benefits to them.

Clearly the rally was the high point of his day but he hugged his daughter, introduced his “partner, oops” he said shaking his head, “my husband.” Like his predecessor, Tom Duane, Hoylman brings a much needed confidently gay perspective to the State Senate. The Supreme Court decision was personal — it brought justice to both his community and his family. His husband, David Sigal, was equally elated, and they had brought their young daughter, Silvia Hoylman-Sigal, to both the rally and to the fundraiser. The personal and the political intertwine in their lives.

Manhattan’s freshman gay state senator makes his mark in Albany despite being in the minority

Having just completed his first session in the State Senate, the West Side Democrat appears to have the makings of an influential legislator. Clearly he has a broad vision of the public interest. He acted promptly to stop the spread of meningitis among gay men, shepherding legislation permitting pharmacists to offer meningitis vaccinations, a bill strongly supported by Dr. Thomas A. Farley, the city’s health commissioner, and Chelsea’s Dick Gottfried, the long-time chair of the Assembly Health Committee. This legislation improves health care access for sexually active gay and bisexual men who are at highest risk for contracting meningitis.

The legislation, however, was not without controversy. The Medical Society of the State of New York believes it is risky to give medicines without knowing a patient’s background. Dr. Joshua Cohen, a neurologist at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Headache Institute, said there are some people who should never be vaccinated. Guillain-Barré Syndrome is relatively rare, but it can paralyze the muscles that control breathing and so is life-threatening, and anyone who has manifested its symptoms should avoid vaccination. Cohen’s concern is that such individuals won’t be identified if a doctor doesn’t participate in vaccination screening.

On the other side of the debate were members of the Legislature who want to curb rising medical costs by expanding the service delivered by low-cost providers like pharmacists and physician’s assistants. Some thought other diseases for which vaccinations are available should have been added to Hoylman’s meningitis bill. After listening to the arguments, Hoylman decided that only the addition of a meningitis vaccine could be justified and offered his conclusion to Senator Kenneth LaValle, the bill’s Long Island Republican co-sponsor.

“We discussed it on the merits,” stressing that “the problem is one of access especially for a person who might not be out to their doctor or don’t have doctors,” Hoylman said. The two reached agreement and the bill passed without opposition.

This impressive achievement for a freshman legislator was not a one-hit wonder. Dealing in his first term with the aftermath of the St. Vincent’s Hospital closing several years before, Hoylman declared in a statement, “Shortages of hospitals, emergency rooms, and primary care physicians have led to a proliferation of new health care service delivery models across the state. But regulations on urgent care centers, mini clinics in pharmacies, and the like are lacking and vague.”

Instead of berating the New York State Department of Health for not doing its job, Hoylman crafted a resolution that enlisted the department’s support by asking it to study the emerging problem and correct the “vague” rules. That effort could have significant ramifications for better health care delivery statewide.

For a freshman legislator in the minority of the Senate to pass two measures of general interest is a noteworthy achievement. Westchester’s Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic leader in the Senate, attended, as did Jim Yates, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s chief counsel. Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, Hoylman’s West Side colleague, offered him a warm introduction.

In a telephone interview after the fundraiser, East Side Senator Liz Krueger freely offered Hoylman kudos, disputing the suspicion harbored by some that after serving as general counsel to the Partnership for New York, which represents the business community, “he would be in their pocket. It’s not true. He is voting his conscience. He gives a damn. He’s figuring out the process quickly.”

With a sly chuckle, Krueger added that in the current political climate, he understands the risk “of being challenged from the left.”

Hoylman is taking a lead in curbing the New York City Housing Authority’s plan to allow market-rate housing to be built in parking lots and other vacant property adjacent to NYCHA projects. He wants these programs reviewed by city agencies, the City Council, and local community boards like any other land development proposals in the city.

“As it currently stands, the public will have no say,” he said.

Stewart-Cousins praised Hoylman’s skills as a lawyer. He supports tough ethics law changes that would advance campaign finance reform and stiffen a provision taking away the pension of legislators convicted of corruption — something that currently applies only to those first elected recently. Under Hoylman’s formulation, any legislator who accepts per diem expense reimbursement, no matter when first elected, would put their pension at risk if convicted of a corruption abuse.

“These legislators hurt their families when they betray the public trust,” he said of what would result from his approach. “I hold public officials to a higher standard.”

Hoylman is on the Senate Codes Committees that vets criminal law changes, and he promised to work with Kathleen Rice, the Nassau district attorney, to persuade the State District Attorneys Association to support a proposal to end the use of condoms as evidence in prostitution cases, a measure approved by the Assembly in this year’s session. AIDS advocates warn that using condom possession to arrest individuals discourages safe sex practices among sex workers as well as young people, many of them LGBT.

After six months in the State Senate, it is already clear that Hoylman’s efforts are generating high expectations.