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State Senator Brian Kavanagh Is Trying to Keep People Safe from Guns, Make it Easier to Vote and Fix the BQE

Senator Brian Kavanagh and his 29 Post interviewers after finishing an hour-long conversation.

By 29 Post Staff

State Senator Brian Kavanagh grew up in Staten Island. He is one of six children of an Irish-immigrant police officer dad and a mother who worked at a local newspaper and doubled as a community leader. Bringing a passion for leadership and civic service to New York’s 26th Senate District, he is currently five months into his position representing 317,000 residents in Lower Manhattan and the western part of Brooklyn, including the zone in which P.S. 29 lies. Kavanagh recently visited with the 29 Post Newspaper Club staff for a wide-ranging conversation about gun violence, the MTA, public education, politics as a calling and New York sports teams.

Wearing a striped suit and light blue tie, and sporting a full head of silver hair, Kavanagh cracked some jokes, told one hilarious story involving a parakeet, and spoke to us like we were professional reporters. He also touched on the importance of working together as a community — and repeatedly emphasized how collaboration makes the world a better place.

Read on for more from our interview with Kavanagh.

 

GUN VIOLENCE

It’s no secret that gun violence in schools was a huge issue this year after February’s horrific slaughter of 17 students in Parkland, Florida. On March 14, P.S. 29 joined thousands of other schools coast to coast in marking the tragic Parkland killings with a rare school-wide event. To follow this up, numerous P.S. 29 students, teachers and alumni participated in the enormous march in DC and related actions nationwide demanding action on gun violence.

Kavanagh has been similarly engaged in the issue. He told us that “keeping people safe from guns” is one of the reasons he became a politician. When we asked him about his biggest priorities, he told us that although he concedes that Americans do have certain rights to guns, it’s important that anyone who wants to buy a gun must pass a background check. He also told us that “a major priority is to prevent gun violence.” Kavanagh aims to get a law passed to prevent a person from buying a gun unless they can prove in front of a judge that they are not dangerous to themselves or anyone else.

Though these are some of the bigger things that can be done, he also mentioned that we, as a community, can make sure that we understand that it is never a good idea to have anything to do with a gun. 

When asked about what kids can do, Kavanagh praised the Parkland students leading the charge against gun violence and noted that “it’s good that kids and teenagers are coming together to bring attention to the problem. Because of kids, new gun control laws are being passed in Florida and other places.” And though he’s been working on these issues a long time, it’s great that we let our voices be heard.

We also told Kavanagh about how popular the violent video game Fortnite is at P.S. 29 and asked him his thoughts on the relationship of violent video games to violence in kids. “That’s very complicated,“ he asserted. “I don’t think video games lead directly to violent acts, but I do think the constant exposure to violence in movies, and TV and video games does have an adverse effect, especially at such a young age. It’s part of the problem but there’s no simple answer.”  He made clear though that he does not support legislation aimed at restricting video game use, but that families should be responsible for their own decisions. 

Another major priority is making it easier for people to vote. “I have about six more weeks left to pass laws. One of my biggest priorities is to make it easier to vote in New York. The people in New York have just one day to vote which makes things harder, whereas many other cities allow voting for a full week, which makes it easier for people to get to the polls. I also want people to be able to pre-register when they turn sixteen so that when they turn eighteen they can vote automatically.”

 

Photo by Penelope Logan.

 

POLITICS AND HELPING PEOPLE

When asked what he would be doing if he wasn’t a State Senator, Kavanagh told us he would still be involved in public service—most probably working for a government agency or a nonprofit organization. But, he stressed repeatedly, politics are a challenge. In fact, he told us that working within the now even more divisive world of politics—where people argue all the time–is probably the greatest challenge he has ever faced. 

“We live in a time when a lot of people think politics is about fighting,” he added. “But, one of the things I’ve learned is that when we have real differences of opinion, it’s valuable to try to respect all the people who are trying to solve a problem and their ideas—even if you think they’re wrong.” He believes understanding why people think the way they do can be the most important of all, and that it’s rarely a good idea to attack somebody as a person.

As for the least part of his job? He conceded that would probably be how people “can be so mean and nasty.” 


THE BROOKLYN QUEENS EXPRESSWAY 

As might be expected, transportation is a huge issue for Kavanagh. He explained how a big, diverse city like ours won’t work if people can’t easily get from one place to another. 

“It’s important for jobs and for society,” he said. “Without transportation, there’s less justice, less fairness. People should be able to get quickly to a job, to a school. That’s one of the things that makes our city so great.”

He also expressed concern about the shutdown of the L train in 2019 to repair the Canarsie Tunnel which was damaged during Hurricane Sandy, but said there would be plenty of alternative routes—including buses and ferries.

Another major concern of Kavanagh’s is the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the BQE, which needs immediate maintenance. It was built in 1940, and, can you believe that it hasn’t been majorly repaired since thenHe explained that he helped stop a bill that would have completely closed the BQE and sent lots of trucks into small residential neighborhoods like Cobble Hill, where P.S. 29 is located.  He recently helped pass a bill authorizing a method called design-build, which requires the city to fix the BQE two years earlier, without closing it entirely. “The goal is to fix it without shutting the whole thing down,” he said. 

This, he hopes, will keep some of the larger trucks from crashing through neighborhoods with small, residential streets—though he acknowledges it won’t be 100 percent successful. “That’s unavoidable, but we will need safety provisions. It will be challenging, but it’s impossible to do a project like this without some downside.” 

 

EDUCATION

We also asked about his feelings on education, specifically the state tests which have been so polarizing at P.S. 29 over the years. “We’ve taken some steps to decrease the importance of these tests for the future of your education. We just debated a bill that would reduce the connection between your teachers’ evaluations and your test scores. I think the tests have a role, but there’s much too much stress and worry associated with them currently.” 

And opting-out? “I support the right to do, but really have no opinion about whether they should or should not. I think the question is strictly for the family to answer.” 

Budgets are also a hot issue in education and we were glad to hear that Kavanagh is working on increasing school budgets every year. “This year $28 billion is the current total, which is $900 million more than last year. And we know we need more and will keep making that case. Investments in education are really important.”

Lastly, he addressed diversity. “In district 1 in Manhattan, which I also represent, we have zone-less schools so parents can apply to any school in the district they want. The DOE are currently thinking about how they can use that mechanism in other areas to promote more diverse schools elsewhere. It’s an effort that seems to be working somewhat, but we obviously need to do much, much more.”

In conclusion, he made a shocking confession: “I’m not that big a sports fan.” When grilled on his team preferences—Knicks vs Nets? Mets vs. Yankees? Jets vs. Giants?—he demurred. “I have some small preferences, but I mostly just try to follow the New York teams.” Though he grew up with Yankees, Knicks and Giants, he said he’d be lying if he told us he followed them religiously. At P.S. 29, we believe that’s a right to which he’s entitled!

The following team of fourth and fifth grade 29 Post reporters contributed to this interview: Bea Benson, Julia McKenna, Anya Mathur, Filippa Lombana, Nate Filer, Laila Sonowski, Ryan Geisler, Jackson Maida, Emma Amigon, Lysander Mealy, Daniel Davidson, Freddie Wason, Aruna Vaithilingam, Alec Segal, Roman Martinez, Penelope Logan, Marley DeFilippis, Talya Landsberg, Della Stern, Claudia Rothberg, Charlie Young and Charlie Smith. 

 

 
 

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