The Candidates 2022: Jo Anne Simon for the 10th Congressional District

For the primary on August 23, I will be talking to candidates for the newly drawn NY10. The top of the post is the result of a brief interview; scroll down for the answers to a short questionnaire. As these roll out, I will link to the posts on other candidates at the bottom.

Jo Anne Simon was always engaged in policy issues as a civil rights attorney working for people with disabilities. But when a man was shot in the head while standing in a phone booth across the street from her home in Boerum Hill in 1991, she started organizing on a community level as well.

Gun violence was her first priority then, but soon she learned that there were so many issues that connected her with neighbors — environmental justice, transportation, healthcare, land use — even in a place as diverse as Brooklyn, that she took on more and more. She became president of her neighborhood association, helped lead an effort to rezone her neighborhood, and worked with city non-profits to develop traffic calming measures.

Still, “I never thought I would run for office,” she said. But she was conscripted to run as district leader by her assemblywoman, and when that seat was open in 2014, she ran and won it. “I have found in life that no matter what you are doing, you may be working towards something else and not even realize it.”

Jo Anne had no intention to run against Jerry Nadler, who has held our congressional seat since 1992, but when he decided to run for NY12 instead after the state’s redistricting maps came out, she saw an opportunity to take those same issues to a bigger stage. But if she wins, she plans to run her congressional office much the way she runs her assembly office — with a close connection to her constituents. When she was first elected, she started Java with Jo Anne, an informal monthly coffee klatch where she invites neighbors to cafés around the district to discuss local topics.

“As an elected official I am extremely accessible,” she said. (I also thought, when we had our Zoom call and she wore smart-looking red glasses and a matching shirt, that she might have a sartorial bent, but she told me that was just a happy accident. “If you would like to believe I am fashion-forward then go ahead.”) “I take the subway all the time. I shop, I walk, I get around the district. People will tell you that I’m honest and that I show up. People expect to see me and do see me, and I think that’s an important aspect of representing people.”

She’s also practical. She moved to Brooklyn initially as a graduate student in clinical psychology at LIU (she will be 70 in October) because she wanted to be able to walk to school and avoid the 75-cent token. But she didn’t like the program, so she went back to work instead and put herself through law school at night.

Clearly she spends most of her time in Brooklyn, but since 1983, when she helped move a friend into Tribeca, she’s been coming around here, so, she said, she is familiar with the changes in the neighborhood. And she likes to collaborate. After 9/11, she created an old fashioned sewing circle where she taught people how to sew flowers (a friend’s mother taught her how to knit and crochet in high school and she has done it ever since as a way to relax) that each became part of a larger tribute; she sees that as a small example of how the individual efforts of many, when organized, make for a greater whole.

“I’ve been more focused on my district — that’s my job, after all — but I feel confident I can represent people in Lower Manhattan and I will continue to listen to people,” she said. “People want their representative to be there fighting for them. I am an advocate and a fighter but I am also a collaborator.”

1. How long have you lived in the district? Where did you move from? Where are you originally from? And what is your education?
I’ve lived in the district since 1981. I grew up in Yonkers. I graduated from Iona College then went to Gallaudet University to pursue my Masters in Education of the Deaf. Working full-time, I earned my law degree from Fordham.

2. Married? Partnered? 
My husband’s name is Bill Harris. He’s retired now. I met Bill at an event for an organization that supported the LGBTQ+ community and provided meals to people living with AIDS.

3. Kids? Pets?
My stepson, Trevor Harris, and his wife, Paola Vita, live in Astoria with their children, Matteo and Amalia; my stepson, Bevan Harris, lives in Cold Spring, NY.

4. Where do you live? 
Boerum Hill.

5. What do you do for a living?
Right now I represent Brooklyn in Albany as the Assemblymember for the 52nd District. I came to public service from a career fighting for people’s civil rights. I’m a disability civil rights lawyer focused both on making the difference for an individual facing discrimination and also advocating for policy changes that works to pull discrimination up from its roots. I argued a case before the Supreme Court that changed the landscape of disability discrimination in this country for the better. My current work as a representative feels like a continuation of the work I’ve always done, fighting alongside my community for changes that meet the urgency of people’s experience and with the sustainability of long-term systems change.

6. What do you hope to change, or do better, once in office?
Our legislation needs teeth! What good does it do for people to have books full of laws if those laws don’t change their day-to-day lives. As a legislator, I know that your job is not done once a law is passed (and passing laws is already a challenge). We need to make sure that our work as elected leaders actually effectuates a change in the communities we are from. It is not public service unless it is actually serving the public. That’s how I’ll measure success. Not in headlines, but in the actual differences made in my constituents’ lives. I was at an event recently and a couple came up after to talk. They told me that they’d worked with my office to secure their unemployment benefits at the peak of the pandemic, and that my staff made all the difference for them. I can’t tell you how many people elected to office forget that so much of our work is focused on constituent services to ensure the legislation that we pass actually makes people’s lives better.

7. What are the first three issues you will tackle if you win the election? In other words, what are your highest priorities for New York and the nation?

The Economy– I grew up in a working class neighborhood in Yonkers. I grew up seeing how your family and your future is defined by the country’s, the state’s, and the city’s economic stability. I’ve lived in New York my whole life, and I know, emotionally, we will never be the same after the devastating losses of the pandemic, but I am committed to making sure that economically we come back stronger and better than ever. Let’s be honest though, it’s not just the pandemic. We face new economic challenges every day and ones that have persisted for decades. I’m ready to have the hard conversations the minute I step foot in D.C. because New Yorkers need some certainty in their economic future. I will fight for strong labor laws that allow workers to negotiate salaries, pass a higher federal minimum wage, guarantee paid family leave, and ensure that small businesses have the support they need to stay the backbone of our community. I did that this year in our 2022 legislative session. I fought hard to win economic relief for renters and homeowners, support for small businesses, training and support for new green jobs, accelerate tax cuts for the middle class, and help New Yorkers pay their utility bills.

Reproductive Freedom- We need to codify abortion protections. There’s no “if, ands, or but” about it. We need to codify abortion protections now. The Supreme Court’s decision to rob people of their bodily autonomy is disgusting, shameful, unsurprising, and dangerous. Taking away the right to an abortion denies people access to fundamental healthcare, degrades their bodily autonomy and human dignity, and puts anyone with a body capable of childbearing in the position of second class citizens. New Yorkers are lucky. We have codified abortion protections. Congress needs to do the same. There can’t be any hand wringing or complaints about gridlock. The stakes are too high to excuse any delay. Your fundamental rights can not be determined by which state you live in. We need people in Congress who know how to pass these laws. I’ve protected abortion rights in Albany, and I’ll do it in D.C.

Support Education for All– Opportunity, progress, equality, it all comes back to education. As a lifelong educator and advocate for children, I will fight to improve our educational system and remove barriers for young learners. I understand the pressure our schools, families, and teachers have been under during COVID and will go to Washington ready to be a constant reminder that we owe our teachers so much, we owe them immediate action. I support free college for all adults and believe we need to fund universal pre-k and kindergarten and provide full funding for all public school systems in this country. We also need to better train our teachers in the mechanics of reading so that they have the tools they need to identify dyslexia and learning-related disabilities and improve literacy rates.

8. What is most important in helping the nation recover from the pandemic?
I think the idea of “recovery” is a complicated one. The most important thing is that we learn from the pandemic, and build a better economy than the one we had in the winter of 2020. Because it wasn’t working for a lot of people. We need an inclusive economy, cognizant of systemic racism. We need a sustainable economy that is built on the energy sources of the future rather than the past. We need job training programs that allow people to walk through the doors that American innovation continues to open. It might sound like a laundry list of tasks, but I’m up to the task. I know how to get things done, and we need to get the ball rolling immediately.

9. Name three ways that local issues important to you as a district resident can be solved (or helped) from a federal perch.

1. Eradicating the Gun Violence Epidemic- I have passed major gun violence prevention laws in the state legislature, so I know that there are so many initiatives we could implement in Congress to reduce gun violence right now. First, we have to treat gun violence like the public health crisis that it is. It is shameful and beyond comprehension that we are the only country that so devalues human life, repeatedly allowing gun violence to happen. We need to ban assault weapons, strengthen background checks, raise the age for purchasing weapons, reduce the amount of ammunition someone can hoard, conduct microstamping, expand concealed carry laws to other states, and make significant federal investment in local community violence interruption programs. We also must implement a national “red flag law” or Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) like the kind I passed here in New York – which is the strongest of its kind in the nation. The vast majority of Americans are still collectively mourning, horrified by yet another massacre of young schoolchildren and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. We are still reeling from the 10 Black people killed in Buffalo by a white supremacist. We need bold action.

2. Coastal Resilience & Climate Change: Climate change is not this ephemeral far off notion. It’s not an “existential threat”. It’s a right now threat! Our natural disasters will only get more disastrous, and our communities aren’t ready yet. We need to strengthen our community infrastructure to withstand the change we know is coming, and we need to invest in a clean energy economy that prevents things from getting much, much worse. This means climate focused urban planning, and federal funding to make sure local communities can build and revitalize while still being authentic to the community culture they’re proud of.

3. Inclusive Communities: Discrimination threatens our district’s diversity. Housing prices leading to gentrification are pushing people out. Inaccessible public transit means that people with disabilities can not navigate the subway to live a fully mobile life here. We need federal investment into this district in order to fight the discrimination stemming from our broken infrastructure. Anti-discrimination work isn’t just about values and words, it’s about dollars and actions.

10. What committees would you like to sit on if elected?
I’d want to be in the best position to advocate on the issues I’m best equipped to be a leader on: women’s rights, reproductive health, small business support, ethics and governmental oversight. To me it’s about making sure I’m a strong voice for my district no matter the committees I sit on.

11. What do you love about the district?
Simply put, this is an incredibly fun place to live! We live somewhere that has a personality of its own. From our bars to our bookstores, we have culture, zest, and passion. The fabric of our community is diverse, resilient, and supportive. I knew that before the pandemic, but in the last few years, I’ve seen just how much we all have each other’s backs. I ran some blood drives (we are still in a shortage so donate if you can!), and I was always struck by how ready and willing people were to show up for others when they had the opportunity to.

12. What do you think is a challenge for this district?
As I said above, I love this community. I’ve lived in and loved it since the 1980s, but more and more long-time residents are being pushed out because the cost of housing is too high. It is the people that make this district vibrant and strong, and we will all suffer from the gentrification that homogenizes this district. We need more affordable housing, and that needs to come from united leadership at every level: local to deal with zoning, and then state and national to ensure there’s funding!

13. What is challenging about representing it?
There’s a history here of the government deciding what is best for people without ever engaging the community on it. You see this a lot with land use decisions. That’s actually what got me started with community activism, a land use boondoggle in the early 90s, and ever since I’ve worked to make sure community voices are centered in governmental policy. It’s hard though! Our laws aren’t built to be inclusive. They look good on paper, but they can prioritize efficiency over feedback. You often have to fight to get yourself heard. This is status quo governing style, and that can make it hard to represent a district if you think your job is to pass as much legislation as possible to show your district you are doing something. But I’ve always thought it’s better to get community feedback even if that can be a long, challenging process within itself. Representing a district doesn’t just mean passing laws that you campaigned on, it means an ongoing conversation between you and your constituents to make sure they have a voice represented in government.

The candidates
Brian Robinson
Mondaire Jones
Elizabeth Holtzman
Maud Maron
Carlina Rivera
Dan Goldman
Yan Xiong
Bill de Blasio
Yuh-Line Niou
Elizabeth Kim


1 Comment

  1. Excellent candidate. This week she was endorsed by DID (Downtown Independent Democrats) the largest Democratic Club in lower Manhattan.