City Limits offers a platform to New York residents exchanging views about the candidates and issues in play during the 2020 election year. We previously published an op-ed by a different candidate in the race for District 3.
One of my former students is running for Congress. His name is Michael Weinstock, and if he is elected, he will become the first 9/11 firefighter elected to Congress and the first openly-gay person to represent New York City in Congress. That alone, would make any teacher proud. Michael’s journey is even more extraordinary, however, because he was homeless when he was a teenager.
Michael became a volunteer firefighter and EMT during his senior year of high school. Thank G-d, the men and women of the fire department went into action when they learned that Michael’s parents were both alcoholics and he was bouncing around on his own. The firefighters not only found him a safe place to live, but they became Michael’s surrogate family and they pushed him to go to college and encouraged him to go to law school. After law school, Michael became an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, where he worked in the Special Victim’s Bureau, protecting women who were the victims of sex crimes and domestic violence.
On the morning of 9/11, Michael ran outside the District Attorney’s office and waived down a passing ambulance. He arrived at Ground Zero while both Towers were still standing and he was nearly killed, when the first Tower collapsed. Nonetheless, he returned to Ground Zero in the days that followed, working with fellow firefighters to clear rubble and search for survivors.
Not surprisingly, Michael is passionate about protecting young people and New Yorkers who are struggling to climb into the middle-class. That’s why he intends to sponsor a bill in Congress requiring the federal government to provide more money to Yeshivas and Catholic schools for their school lunch programs. Michael vividly remembers what it was like when his only meal of the day was the school lunch. And he understands that public schools don’t have a monopoly on hungry kids from troubled families. He will fight doggedly to ensure that universal free lunch programs are available to all students – even those kids attending Yeshivas and Catholic schools.
Unlike Congressman Suozzi, Michael also supports bringing our troops from Afghanistan. And Michael was appalled when Suozzi broke from nearly every other Democrat in the country and supported ICE officers in New York City. When Michael was a prosecutor, he often sought assistance from undocumented immigrants. He frequently asked these men and women to come to court and testify about sex crimes and domestic violence. Today, these same immigrants won’t go anywhere near the local courthouses, because ICE agents might be waiting to pounce.
Like many of us, Michael was outraged when the newspapers reported that Congressman Tom Suozzi pulled strings and got his friend released from prison early. Instead of kvetching on Facebook, Michael decided to do something about it. He declared his candidacy for Congress.
Running against a powerful incumbent and fighting corruption requires a different kind of bravery than the kind that Michael demonstrated on 9/11. He is not only running against Tom Suozzi, he is also running against Newsday, the only daily newspaper on Long Island. Seventeen different newspapers have written about Michael’s Weinstock’s campaign for Congress. The only newspaper that refuses to publish anything about Michael’s campaign, is Newsday. Nonetheless, I am certain that Michael has the perfect background to win this election.
I was thrilled to learn that Michael’s courage on 9/11 was recognized by then-Senator Hillary Clinton. And I was overjoyed to find out that Pope Francis recently invited Michael to the Vatican to honor him for his volunteer work on behalf of Holocaust survivors.
I will always remember the young man I taught back in high school. He was engaging, highly intelligent, funny and filled with optimism. His jokes were always wry and oftentimes offensive to people who weren’t fortunate enough to have a New York sense of humor. I would say that Michael has exceeded all my expectations, but that wouldn’t be true. Michael is doing exactly what I hoped and prayed he would do – and I look forward to voting for him in the Democratic Primary on June 23rd.
Rob Johnson is a retired teacher, semi-retired Accountant and resident of Little Neck, Queens.