Don’t judge Senatorial hopeful John Chromczak by his Republican cover.
The first openly gay Republican to run for New York state Senate, Chromczak knows his odds are slim, especially considering he’s running for the 25th district, which includes lower Manhattan and part of Brooklyn.
Though he’s faced resistance from a variety of voters, he’s particularly perturbed by some gay voters, many of whom Chromczak says have become politically close-minded.
Discussing his participation the recent Wedding March here in New York City, Chromczak laments:
When I’ve gone to some of these things, I get shot down as soon as somebody hears that I’m a Republican. To me, it’s very discriminatory and goes against a lot of what people say.
I don’t understand why, if you’re a liberal progressive, you don’t want to have an open mind and sit down and have a legitimate conversation about a variety of issues without automatically balking because I’m a Republican. It made me very angry.
Those are the same feelings as being in gym class and somebody’s calling me a faggot – it’s the same thing when I’m walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and somebody’s berating me because I’m a Republican. How is that inclusive? How does that defeat bigotry and homophobia?
Before you yourselves balk, keep in mind that four New York state Republicans this year made serious headway with a queer inclusive anti-bullying bill.
Our editor recently sat down with Chromczak to discuss a variety of issues, like how the politico balances practicing Catholicism with his sexuality. Also, Chromczak tells voters how he intends on fixing the state’s economy, tells us why Senator Chuck Schumer’s a thorn in his side, informs us that we shouldn’t care about John McCain’s cancer, takes on the city’s left-wing gay paper and offers his thoughts on why he – a medical technician with little political experience aside from union membership – should be sent to Albany. All that and more, after the jump.
Andrew Belonsky: I’m sure you’re aware that Albany can be a difficult city to deal with, so what qualifies you to go up to Albany and make serious changes?
John Chromczak: A lot. I think not only my life experience, but also my strong desire to do something for the community I live in, Lower Manhattan. We need to stop sending back the same old career politicians who keep saying they’re going to do something and never do anything. This year everybody’s talking about change and being a little bit more open-minded, so I decided to put myself out there. I’m an average Joe, like everybody else – I wake up in the morning, I go to work, I go home at night, I worry about how I’m going to pay my bills and the increasing cost of just living in the city. Something needs to be done. Many of the people we have up there now are incapable of working together and doing something for New York.
AB: What steps, as a lawmaker, would you to rectify our state’s economic troubles? As you know, we have no money here.
JC: I think it’s just being honest about it. Listen, we’re probably going to have to cap the state budget – we’re going to have to say, “We’re only going to spend [x] amount of dollars.” We’re going to have to make some very severe cuts in New York State’s budget.
AB: What programs would you cut?
JC: First of all, we have to prioritize. What are going to be our top three priorities in the state? I think clearly education is going to be one of them. We need to not only increase funding for that, but we need to spend those dollars more wisely, especially in New York City. Number two – I don’t agree with a lot of people when it comes to health cost in New York State. We spend over $45 billion a year in New York – that’s more than California and Texas combined. I think we can make some cuts there. I think we can get more into waste and fraud, which is, by several measures, around $18 billion a year. That’s $18 billion that we could have been spending building schools in New York City, paying for more teachers to reduce class sizes. So, yes, there are things we could do in health care. And I say that as someone who has been working in the field for ten years.
AB: At NYU Medical.
JC: Yes. And I’m also a union member. I’m 1199 member. I’m one of those people who could potentially be affected by decreasing costs or fixing costs in health care. The third thing, specifically for New York City, is that we have to get the World Trade Center rebuilt and we have to get it done sooner, rather than later. It’s the single most important construction project in the United States. It’s going to keep us competitive with cities like Hong Kong, Dubai and London. All these cities are competing to be the financial capital of the world, meanwhile everybody’s sitting back in New York, saying, “Well, it’s going to be us forever.”
AB: But if our nation is in this current financial crisis, even if we do get the building erected in the next – let’s be optimistic: five years – who is going to go in there? How are we going to regain our financial center?
JC: We have to show the rest of the world, number one, that we can get that done; that it’s not going to take us 20 years to rebuild a 16-acre site, when you can go to Dubai, which is a beautiful, modern city that literally built itself out of desert in ten years.
AB: But does Dubai have the same workers’ rights as the United States?
JC: No, they don’t, but it’s part of being in a global market. I’m not saying that we want to turn into that, but we have to know how to compete with that, because there are a lot of countries around the world who are looking at their bottom line. Why spend $100 in New York City when we only have to spend $60 in London, or $70 in Hong Kong to have our company headquarters there?
AB: You grew up in Utica, New York, in what I gather was a religious family.
JC: I did.
AB: Was it very religious?
JC: Yes. We were Catholic.
AB: So, growing up, did you go to a church that talked trash about gay people? Was that a challenge for you?
JC: You know, I have to be honest with you – I’m a practicing Catholic, I went to a public grammar school and a Catholic high school and I never heard anything from the pulpit, but I did hear a lot about people making fun of me. I got beat up all the time, people said snide remarks – that had more of an impact on me. My own personal religious experience is that in a lot of ways – my Catholic faith gave me something to hold onto, something to grasp – and it still does today.
AB: Even knowing that the Vatican would not approve of you?
JC: There are a lot of things about Catholicism that I do agree with and I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bath water because of one or two isolated issues.