By Megan Bungeroth and Alissa Fleck
Last week, State Sen. Tom Duane surprised both the political world and his constituents by announcing his intention to retire at the end of his current Senate term. The seven-term Democratic legislator, who represents parts of the Upper West Side as well as Clinton, Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, the West Village, NoHo and Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town, has been an accomplished advocate for gay rights as well as health care, and plans to focus on continuing his advocacy outside of Albany.
“I wanted to do something else and realized it’s time to start the next chapter,” Duane said in a recent interview. “I would say ‘retire’ is not a completely accurate term; I’m just not ready for re-election. I plan to continue working in my own small way to make the world a better place.”
Duane, who was elected in 1998 and was New York’s first openly gay senator, was the first senator to introduce the Marriage Equality Act in 2001 and continued to push for its support until it was passed last year. He also made waves in 1991 when he won election to the City Council after disclosing his HIV-positive status, and in the Senate he passed legislation expanding routine HIV testing.
Duane said he is proud to have passed laws that directly impact his constituents as well as serve as models for other cities.
“I supported the Midwifery Modernization Act to allow nurse midwives to practice in New York State. I’ve supported routine HIV testing and helped lessen the stigma, particularly within correctional facilities. I also supported the prohibition of insurance companies to create tier four drugs with incredibly expensive co-payments,” Duane said of his accomplishments.
He also introduced the anti-bullying Dignity for All Students Act in the Senate and fought for its successful passage, helped secure passage of a law that eliminates the criminal statute of limitations on many serious sex crimes and worked on measures that toughened laws against hate crimes and discrimination.
Duane’s announcement to leave public office after the current Senate term, which ends Dec. 31, has many already lamenting his departure and others scrambling to replace him.
“I am sad to hear of Tom Duane’s departure from public life,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district overlaps Duane’s, in a statement. “Locally, he has been a powerful and unyielding advocate for affordable housing and tenants’ rights, serving his constituents as only a truly committed and compassionate public servant can. In Albany, Tom has been a legendary champion for civil rights, sponsoring and supporting legislation over the years to benefit all New Yorkers.”
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio also praised the senator, singling out his contributions to gay rights in the state.
“Today’s generation of LGBTQ youth will grow up in a world made more free and more fair because of Tom’s service,” de Blasio said in a statement. “He will always be remembered for his pivotal role in securing marriage equality for all New Yorkers.”
Hoping to follow in Duane’s footsteps, current chair of Community Board 2 and longtime Democratic activist Brad Hoylman has already officially declared his candidacy for the seat. Hoylman is promising to bring reform to Albany and continue Duane’s legacy of fighting for equality at the state level, and political players expect him to receive the coveted endorsement from Duane himself.
City & State also reports that a woman named Tanika Inlaw has been going to local Democratic clubs to seek support for a 29th District candidacy that she announced on Facebook last week.
Duane said that for the time being, he’s focused on finishing out his final term strongly. But he said that he’ll definitely miss parts of the job.
“I’ll miss the challenges of garnering the widest possible support for issues I believe in, especially from people who have not shared my points of view,” Duane said. “I’ll miss finding that common ground and working with people in a collegial manner to pass bills that help people in a way they should be helped.”
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