Robert Jackson takes oath of office as State Senator
By Sherry Mazzochi
The Marathon Man is back.
Amidst a crowd of elated voters and elected officials, Robert Jackson was sworn in as State Senator at a community ceremony held at City College’s Great Hall on Sun., Jan. 13th.
Prior to serving in the Senate, Jackson represented Northern Manhattan in the City Council for nine years. Before that, he co-founded the nonprofit organization Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE). CFE filed a constitutional challenge in 1993 declaring the state was underfunding New York City public schools.
Jackson, parents and education advocates walked from New York to Albany in 2003 to call attention to the cause. The 13-year lawsuit ultimately succeeded and the state was ordered to pay upwards of $7 billion annually to fund city schools. Yet state budget cuts have since reduced those numbers to the pre-lawsuit levels.
In 2016, Jackson made the 150-mile walk again. “Our message to the governor and the state legislature is this: give us our money. Our children need a good education, and it takes money to do that,” he said at the time.
On Sunday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson joked, “I ran three miles at the gym the other night as part of my New Year’s resolution. Three. I thought that was awesome. I was telling everyone, I was tweeting about it. I told my mom,” he said.
“I don’t even think he had headphones on,” he said of Jackson.
The newly minted State Senator laid out a broad agenda that included election and ethics reform, protecting tenants, preserving affordable housing and rent law reform.
“We have a lot to do,” Jackson said.
He called on the State to finally pass the DREAM Act and the Climate and Community Protection Act. “We must finally meet the commitment of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and fully fund our public schools,” he said.
He said, “I believe we can do all of this. I know we can meet these challenges because I have seen how much we as New Yorkers can accomplish when we work together.”
Jackson also spoke movingly of his family. His mother Zelma was the first person in his family who had the right to vote. The great granddaughter of slaves, she moved to New York from Georgia. His father was a Chinese immigrant. As a child he sold newspapers to help support his impoverished family. He said he wouldn’t be at the podium if it were not for Irwin Goldberg, the track coach at Benjamin Franklin High School, who made sure he went to college. Because state universities were free at the time, he was able to attend State University of New York at New Paltz.
Jackson said he stood on the shoulders of leaders like former Mayor David Dinkins and former Congressman Charlie Rangel (who were both present) and credited the late Denny Farrell and Stanley Michels for their help.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called Jackson “Marathon Man,” said he was honored to work with the Senator on many issues in the City Council, “including making sure that our youngest children got childcare,” he said. Calling Jackson a man of vision, the Mayor said, “He believed that we could have a Democratic party that was actually a Democratic party,” referencing the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) members who were voted out of power.
“We are looking for some great achievements, and are going to start with early voting tomorrow,” said Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the new Senate Majority Leader, who welcomed Jackson to the Senate. “And we are just going to keep rolling it out.”
Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie said he was “the happiest man here,” and called Jackson the “godfather” of the CFE.
“Amazing things are going to happen” in Albany, predicted the Assembly Speaker. “We are going to get started quickly,” he said. “I cannot wait for the debate on education funding. There will be no louder voice than our new senator.”
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “It’s a great day for Action Jackson.”
“What a great story he has. It’s an American story,” said Schumer, adding, “I don’t want to make this political, but I will say one thing; the symbol of America should continue to be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer echoed those sentiments and said the stakes during the past election were never higher. “Believe it or not, we came to terms with the fact that we are actually electing Democrats who would then caucus with Republicans and would keep progress from happening in Albany,” he said. “What Bob Jackson accomplished is something few people do. You not only protect and lift up your district but you changed the course of history.”
Johanna García said Jackson had long made education a priority. Garcia, President of Community Education Council for District 6, said, “The day that Robert got elected, parents and advocates breathed a sigh of relief. We said ‘Finally.’”
Jackson ended the day with a call for unity, saying, “Instead of looking out for ourselves, we look out for each other.” He quoted another Senator from New York, Robert Kennedy, who said, “All great questions must be raised by great voices, and the greatest voice is the voice of the people—speaking out.”
To reach the office of State Senator Robert Jackson, please call 212.544.0173 or visit nysenate.gov/senators/robert-jackson.