Structurally Intersectional: An Interview With Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick for NYC Council
“For a Black or Brown person running for office… having a lot to say about bad policies… that doesn’t always make people feel comfortable.”
With the candidate interviews I publish, I usually write introductions that are on the longer side. However, to fully encapsulate and give justice to all of what this candidate is about and has to offer, I’m going to have to simply refer readers to the candidate’s campaign website to learn more. I know this seems like a lazy move, but once you get into the below interview, you’ll see exactly what I mean.
For logistical purposes, I will include that Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick (he/him) is currently running for NYC Council District 3 which encompasses the areas of Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Greenwich Village, West SoHo, Hudson Square, Times Square, the Garment District, Flatiron, and the Upper West Side.
Currently held by outgoing Councilmember Corey Johnson, a corporate, establishment moderate, Phelan is a prime example of a bold individual aiming to solidify the progressive wave sweeping through New York State to the district he and many others call home. True democracy includes all of us, and as you’ll see, Phelan can’t emphasize this enough through his candidacy.
How is the idea of intersectionality incorporated into your specific candidacy?
There has never been a Councilperson of color for this district in New York City’s history.
I was raised by a White, single mother who worked three jobs to support me. I also had an openly gay father who was Black. They were both very wonderful parents. My father instilled in me at a young age the importance of family, community, and taking care. I have two younger siblings and my mother had me when she was 17 years old. I was responsible for the everyday responsibilities of my younger siblings. When I was 19 years old, my father was targeted outside of a gay bar in Akron, Ohio. When my father refused to give up his wallet, two men shot my father and he died in the parking lot. Because of my father’s race and sexual orientation, finding my father’s killers was never a high priority. This remains a cold case to this day.
I tell people about this event because I don’t have the same type of experience as some of the other candidates. I’m not a political insider, I’ve never run for public office before, and I’m certainly not a policy expert. Anyone who tells you they are a policy expert I would be very wary of. To be completely honest, I don’t even have a college degree. I have my personal experiences and history that make me a qualified candidate which is why running for City Council is so important to me.
I’m a Gay, single dad living in New York City. I’ve been a business operator here for the past 16 years. Being a dedicated business leader and employer is important to me. I’m a gun violence survivor and I’ve dealt with racist and homophobic discrimination my entire life. Intersectionality for me is important because I’m a Black, gay candidate running in a primarily White constituency. I know how important racial equality is. I know how important it is for our LGBTQ+ community to have all the rights that we need and deserve so people can live happy and successful lives. That’s really not too much to ask for.
Now more than ever, a lot of these racial rights, LGBTQ+ rights are under attack, and they will continue to be under attack unless we have strong leadership. A lot of people outside the City think of us as this really progressive place with progressive ideas. As a New Yorker who has lived here for the past 20 years, I can tell you we are progressive in ideology, but not necessarily in action. We get away with a lot more than people think. That’s why I’m running for office, and that’s why I think intersectionality is really important to acknowledge.
As you mentioned, you operate two small businesses that are both within the district you are running in. This within a city that has truly been shaken at its core by the pandemic. What are the overlapping components of your economic stances in terms of COVID-19 recovery and just how the city should be fiscally operating regardless of the pandemic?
New York City’s budget is a blueprint for equity in the City. Up until now, that blueprint hasn’t always been fair; especially not to Black and Brown communities, to the LGBTQ+ community. We are always in this constant fight between bloated police budgets and supportive services for poor Black people, and poor trans people, and poor gay people. That’s been a really big challenge here in the City. If you are wealthy and you are White, you don’t have the same type of relationship and view towards police as someone who is not. That’s just the fact of the matter.
We have a really hard time talking about these types of matters because we have a hard time seeing past our own skins. We have to recognize that we don’t have equality in our justice system and policing. We don’t have equal protection under the law. That’s really what the budget is there for; to make sure everyone is served no matter the color of your skin, who you love, or what your gender identity is.
I don’t think we are ever going to see an economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic if we don’t take really strong measures involving issues like decarceration on every level. We aren’t looking at any strong recovery on the local, state, or federal levels if we don’t partake in the mass decarceration of marginalized communities, especially here in New York.
As a progressive, what has your experience been like interacting with Democratic establishment forces, and how have you seen your work and activism overcome their influence?
It’s been interesting. I take great pride in my community and my neighbors. I know what it takes to run a successful budget to employ all New Yorkers. I believe in public service. All New Yorkers, and citizens in general no matter their background or professional experiences, can apply their sense of service and commitment to the community and run for office to represent the needs of the working people. That being said, my race has not been easy at all.
Like I said before, there has never been a candidate of color elected towards this district before. For a Black or Brown person running for office and having a lot to say about bad policies that lead to bad policing, and the bloated police budget that eats at the education of our children and our healthcare, that doesn’t always make people feel comfortable. I’m the type of person that does what they say they’re going to do. When I’ve talked about defunding the police and their $149 million marketing budget and the contractor fraud that causes, I’m talking about taking care of New Yorkers. A $77 million beach has been proposed to be built in the West Village yet we can’t talk about the health, including the mental health of New Yorkers?
It’s been hard. Our campaign has received hundreds upon hundreds of racist, hateful emails. But this is something I’ve always had to deal with my entire life just like so many other people who are Black, Brown, gay, and trans. We just move on. We do what we know is best in our hearts to do no matter what we face is in our paths.
How do you mentally and emotionally take care of yourself as a candidate running for public office, or simply engaging in any capacity politically?
I don’t. However, I have a really supportive, incredible team of people who really care about the issues and are much, much smarter than I am in any and every way. I have learned so much from the people who have helped me with this campaign from the very beginning, many being gay and nonbinary.
I really have to give credit to my team. They have given me an incredible education and they make sure that I’m mentally taking care of myself; especially with the things our campaign has had to deal with that I don’t think a lot of the other candidates have had to experience. My daughter also keeps me sane. It’s not easy working full-time as a single parent trying to keep my employees employed all while running for office. I really don’t have time to be tired or complain. You just have to push through.
Is there anything else you would like to mention or include?
I am here and available for you no matter what. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Again, please visit Phelan’s campaign website to learn more about his specific plans and policy stances, and how you can contribute to Phelan’s primary victory on June 22nd. If you can’t volunteer your time, please consider donating what you can towards the campaign as grassroots efforts like these appreciate every dollar given.
Progressive, and therefore comprehensive policy gets at the root of the structural issues we can no longer afford to neglect (and never should have neglected). I feel hopeful and optimistic about our governmental future because of people like Phelan, and I hope you can too.
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