"I receive $400 a month from my pension, but have lost my public housing since I retired. I must now pay $1,300 each month for my apartment. I also need to pay for healthcare. What can I do? What can I do?!"
- Translated from Mandarin, a senior from NYC's Chinatown, bearing witness in Micah Kellner's Assembly office in Albany.
In his role as Member of the New York State Assembly, Micah Kellner hosts meetings in his Albany office -- some three per hour - starts the solution processes, and attends about three committee meetings per day,
He sees people all day long. With a staff of only three in Manhattan and one intern in Albany, Micah has a breadth and depth of knowledge that is staggering.
Young, energetic, very bright, Micah wakes up each morning at 5:30 am, checks his calendar to see if he is in Albany or New York, and is at one of those desks by 8:30 am. When he is in the City, he walks his dog. In either city, he begins to read and answer e-mail. He is 30.
Handsome, dedicated, and driven, Micah is the disabled with cerebral palsy, Jewish progressive, openly bisexual, who represents a swath of Manhattan's Upper East Side.
the Hon. Micah Kellner hosted me in the New York State Assembly in Albany.
He is not particularly well traveled, having made obligatory trips in his youth to Europe and Israel, but he certainly knows his world -- New York City -- which is a microcosm of Europe, Asia, Africa, and all the Americas. On this hour, it is Asia.
The fourteen seniors from the Lower East Side, Speaking in Chinese, sit politely before him, hoping for relief.
"We were all immigrants. We just came at different times," Micah warms up. "These are tough times for New York State, but we will not allow the poor to fall through our safety net!" They seem encouraged.
The next group represents the United Federation of Teachers, specifically members from his own Manhattan district. They, too, have come up by bus to share their stories.
They are very worried about the overcrowding of their schools. "The key is to force the Department of Education to do better planning. When mega-towers go up, everybody knows they need more seats are needed in schools. The D.O.E. must be accountable."
Micah studied TV and film at New York University. He then interned in Washington for Senator Chuck Schumer, beginning his life as a public servant. "This is not a job," he says, "it is a life."
Micah quickly moved from helping Chuck to working on State Assembly member Jonathan Bing's successful campaign, then into the offices of U.S. Congress member Carolyn Maloney and City Comptroller Bill Thompson.
With only a few years of political apprenticeship, ran for Peter Grannis' seat in the State Assembly when Pete was appointed State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner in 2007. He won handedly.
He loves to read. Micah keeps abreast by reading New York City's four papers - The Times, The Post, The Daily News, and The Wall Street Journal. He also reads the Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, and the Daily Beast.
Micah's favorite genre is biography and he is currently in the middle of reading Randy Shilt's The Mayor of Castro Street.
Noting that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is a newspaper gone electronic, Micah mentioned the public's concern for the financial viability of New York City's papers. "The Huffington Post may have some New York competition in the blogosphere."
Micah believes all politics is relationships, from the State Capital to the Nation's Capital. His database includes thousands. On Facebook he has 750 friends.
On the day that I accompanied him, he had three committee meetings: Banking, Consumer Affairs, and Environment. Boring? Tedious? Surprisingly interesting.
Toward the end of the day we end up in the vast Assembly Chamber. Micah casts an important vote in favor of extending needed COBRA benefits for thousands. At every desk stands a small American flag. At Micah's, the rainbow flag stands neatly next to the Stars and Stripes.
Micah says, "My job is politics, which is a good thing, because my hobby is politics." That is a good thing, I think to myself, because his position is technically considered part-time, his pay is only $79,500 per year, and when he is in Albany they put him up in a cheap chain motel.
Why would he want to do this? Why would our President? Why would anyone? "My job is to be a bully pulpit for affecting change. My letterhead is my most powerful tool. People take me seriously, so I can get things done."
"My goal is to represent every New Yorker, including every gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered person, and every person with a disability."
Micah is always involved in New York City issues, working hours away in Albany where the money and power are. Harvey Milk never thought a 'gay agenda' alone would win California elections. Micah's agenda covers all his constituents.
He has taken the lead on several City issues, including:
Sub-metering electricity on Roosevelt Island, where I live, as well as in Harlem and Spanish Harlem. This travesty represents, he says, an improper and probably illegal attempt from landlords to raise rents under the rubric of energy conservation.
Wheelchair-accessible taxis with rear-entry capacity. Micah advocates converting all 13,000 New York City taxis by 2014.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues concerning marriage rights and the plight of LGBT seniors. "Marriage is marriage. We cannot stand for a second-class marriage. And neither can we turn our backs on our LGBT elderly."
Close New York State budget gaps with the "Millionaires' Tax." "People live in the City of New York because they want to be in New York. All the rich will not pack their bags and move to Florida."
Improve New York City's school system by being accountable to the New York City Comptroller's Office. "At this point, Joel Klein's office is avoiding meaningful audits and oversight. This must stop!"
The upcoming mayoral election: How can Bill Thompson defeat Mike Bloomberg? "Easy. Bloomberg is out of touch, putting business interests above the people's interest. The idea that only he is smart enough to run New York City is simply wrong."
I asked Micah what my finance and law friends should do as lay-offs continue to sweep Manhattan. Micah emphasized the possibility of widening their education with loans.
"For all of our generation who went into law and finance, now is the time to re-evaluate your life and your goals. Now is the time to follow your heart. Now is the time to give back."
"You never know what opportunities may come about. As for me, God knows, I would like to be Mayor of New York someday!" Harvey Milk lives on -- in Albany.
To hear from Micah directly, check out his blog. www.micahkellner.net He posts about once a week. It also contains his major letters, press releases, and statements on issues - as well as information on all the bills he sponsors.
Edited by Ethel Grodzins Romm.