In 2022, Greenpoint will vote for who will represent them in Congress, State Assembly, and the newly created State Senate district. Current Assemblymember Emily Gallagher unseated the long-serving Joe Lentol in 2020, and now faces a primary challenger of her own. Paddy O’Sullivan is a firefighter who says that working class issues, such as unions and small businesses, are at the forefront of his campaign. Greenpointers spoke with O’Sullivan to learn more about him and his campaign.
For readers who might not know who you are, can you give us an introduction to yourself, and what is your relationship to this district?
My name is Paddy O’Sullivan, and I’m an active career firefighter in Williamsburg, where I live. Lifelong renter. I’m a volunteer with food and security programs, most frequently with the North Brooklyn Angels. You’ll usually see me driving one of their trucks. I grew up in a working family upstate, one of five brothers, raised by a single mother — she worked as a school teacher. [She] had to take on other jobs, most of the time. We struggled at times, didn’t always have a lot of money. Got help when we needed it, to get by. I went to public school my whole life. I attended Baruch College for about ten years, taking mostly night classes [and] kind of chipping away at it, but I was finally able to finish my bachelor’s degree just a couple of years ago. I moved to North Brooklyn about thirteen years ago. I’ve had plenty of different jobs, working in manual labor, building, working in bars, until I finally was able to join the fire department, where I am currently working.
What are the top three issues for your campaign?
The top three issues are really based on community feedback. Rent is way too high for just about every resident of the neighborhood regardless of income level, so we need to do something quick because we’re really just squeezing people out of the neighborhood. We’re not making it able for anyone to start a family, should they choose, or to really just continue their life in Williamsburg and Greenpoint in the long-term, and I think that really affects our ability to build longterm community and to fight for some of the things that will benefit us in the future. So we definitely need to take measures in terms of common sense fair rent control that doesn’t hurt small home owners, or landlords, rather, but will provide some protection for people to have a life here, to have a regular job, and to have an existence in Williamsburg and Greenpoint long-term, to build the community into something that works for all of us.
Second issue – small business. COVID decimated completely so many of our great small businesses. These are the types of establishments that give Greenpoint and Williamsburg charm, character, and provide us with an identity, places that are beloved to us and everyone in the community, and at all costs we have to provide support to ensure that they’re able to thrive, that they’re able to exist in the long-term, and that has not been sufficiently accomplished by our current elected [officials] and we really just need to do all we can to support small businesses.
Another thing, climate change. In particular regard to the recent flooding that we’ve had in the neighborhood. I work as a first responder, I’ve been working on those nights with the record floods, and it’s absolutely devastating. Now with summer not too far away, it’s possible, unfortunately, that we might have similar rain events. We’re already late on acting. It is going to take large infrastructure changes to shore up our community for any future flooding, but it has to be talked about, and we have to start looking into immediate measures to ensure that we are going to be safe from any future flooding.
Do you think there are any lessons that you’ve learned from being a firefighter that you’ll be able to bring with you if you make the transition into politics?
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve learned more lessons than I could ever even list. Something you learn very early on working in emergency services is how to work with people. Fire departments, like any other profession, can be diverse in opinions, and you may not always agree with everyone, but you have to be able to work with everyone, because sometimes, it is a matter of life and death. And there is no politics on a fire floor. So early on, you really just learn how to work with everyone to accomplish what needs to be done, and to not let personal things or politics get in the way of what we need to do.
Also, I think it’s really taught me what it means to be a public servant, what it means to serve a community. I personally made sacrifices, and I’ve seen countless sacrifices made by other co-workers of mine, and it becomes very personal with the community. I live in this community, and I’m also fortunate to serve this community. Being a first responder in your own community really teaches you what it means to be a public servant on the most personal level with people, because it’s people you see every day, and it’s people you see at their best times, and their absolute worst times, so you really just share your personal life and become very intimate with the community, and it’s something that most people don’t get to see.
I think as a first responder, I have a unique perspective on how some public policy affects our community, particularly our most vulnerable. I mean, we respond to so many emergencies that are failures of public policy — a water leak that’s leaking through someone’s ceiling, a fire where someone is injured that is caused by neglect from government officials for safety inspections. Other emergencies that have been averted in legislative chambers that now unfortunately [means that] someone is dialing 911 and having possibly the worst day of their life for things that could have been avoided. I think that perspective has really, really opened my eyes to what could be done, common-sense wise, and what needs to be done, so we can avoid some of these preventable emergencies.
Your campaign website mentions that you’re running on a platform of working-class values. Our current assemblymember hasn’t yet finished her first term and is a first-time politician who also has run on a democratic socialist, working-class platform.
Why did you choose this particular seat, and what do you think you’ll bring to the seat that’s missing so far?
I chose to run for this particular seat because this is where I live, and until a few weeks ago, with redistricting, it wasn’t really determined which district I was going to be in. So, in terms of working class, I speak about myself. I can only describe myself. I don’t speak in response to any other candidates. I know who I am, and I’m unapologetically working class. I come from many, many generations of folks who have worked manual labor jobs, and I continue that proudly. I just wanna help others who have a place in this neighborhood by doing the jobs that are often overlooked, often underpaid, and they don’t have the protections or luxuries that many others have. So, as I see it, working class people don’t have one of their own in most levels of government. There’s very few people who work in manual labor positions who end up running for office. The statistic that I’ve seen is only 3% of our state representatives are from working class backgrounds at all. So I don’t think we’re going to see real change for working people until we get working people in these elected positions.
It’s your dream day off, but you have to spend it all in this district. Where are you going, what businesses are you hitting up, and what kinds of activities are you doing?
Well, I’ll probably wake up early, and go to the track. It’s a sunny day, I’d imagine, so be a good day to get a run in. I like running around the track. After that, I probably wanna go get some food. No shortage of great places in the neighborhood. I’m pretty fond of Northern Bell on Metropolitian — good people there. So I’d probably get some food, and then I’d probably go back to the park. I got a new bocce set, so I’d like to put that to use. After that, I’d probably walk to the waterfront. Our parks are some of the best things that we have in our neighborhood, so I think on any nice day off, there would be no shortage of time spent at the park.
Unfortunately, so many of my favorite places have closed in the past year, which is kind of heartbreaking. I’d keep it pretty simple. Maybe I’d go to Keg and Lantern for lunch or dinner. Since it’s St. Patrick’s month, I’d have to stop by the Craic, and say hi to Andy, and we’ll say it’s a Sunday, so they’ll probably have some live Irish music playing.
Is there anything else that you’d like our readers to know about you?
I’m not a politician. I never wanted to be a politician. I’m a public servant. And whether I’m a firefighter in Williamsburg, or an assemblymember in Albany, all I ever want to be is a public servant. Our job as first responders is to respond to emergencies and to respond to a problem and solve it quickly. I want people to be assured that when you call me, I’m gonna pick up the call, and do whatever I can to help you in that moment.
A lot of people ask me “Where did you come from?” or “Who put you up to this?” And I thought it was an odd question because I’m not a part of any of these political groups or anything, I’m just doing this because it’s something that I believe in. It’s the same reason I became a firefighter, because I wanted to help people and do good for my community. That’s who I want to listen to and that’s who I will build my coalition around. Everyone’s voice is heard, everyone gets a seat at the table, and with our compassion, with our efforts, we can build a community and have a future that we’re proud of.
I got involved with the North Brooklyn Angels sort of by accident. We responded to an alarm where they were packaging meals one morning, and I saw everyone working, and I asked how I could get involved because it looked like something I would love to be a part of, so I started volunteering for them, and they needed someone to drive the truck, so I thought that I was qualified, driving the fire truck. So I got involved with them, and it just really changed my perspective and opened my eyes to some possibilities that I hadn’t really seen, because it’s such a well-organized organization, and it’s just a great, large diverse coalition of people working toward a common goal, and I just thought that that would be amazing if we could learn some lessons from that and carry that into the political realm, if we could keep that ideal. I’ve learned a lot of lessons from them, and the great people who run the North Brooklyn Angels, and yeah, it’s sort of what I see modeled in my coalition, based off of how they’ve been able to organize their organization.