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Dem leader brings community into politics

As a youth, he served in the Army and worked for the U.S. Postal Service. As an adult, he worked for 24 years as a New York City police officer and 11 as a city marshal.

And now, at age 74, he is serving his...

By Betsy Scheinbart

Henry McCoy is a volunteer for his country.

As a youth, he served in the Army and worked for the U.S. Postal Service. As an adult, he worked for 24 years as a New York City police officer and 11 as a city marshal.

And now, at age 74, he is serving his ninth year as the male district leader for Assembly District 33, Part B, a position he has held since the creation of the district in 1992.

Recent tennis trophies and old family photographs line the walls of his living room in the St. Albans home where he has lived since 1953.

“I think it’s good that someone with his experience is staying involved with the community,” said City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), “and he is not getting paid to do this!”

As district leader, McCoy helps select candidates for city and borough offices as well as judgeships as a representative for the Democratic Party in the neighborhoods of Queens Village, Rosedale, St. Albans, Cambria Heights, Hollis, Bellerose, and parts of Jamaica.

But according to Corey Bearak, the president of the Queens County Line Democratic Association, McCoy’s role in the southeast Queens community goes much further than his official duties as district leader.

“He takes the role much more seriously than most, and he does more than just select candidates,” Bearak said. “He has done an exemplary job of bringing a diverse group of people from the community into the political process.”

Even before he was district leader, McCoy was an activist for the promotion of minorities in the New York Police Department, where he served as a lieutenant.

McCoy joined the Guardians Hispanic Society in a court case that transformed the NYPD by ensured that one fourth of the officers hired were minorities. And at that time, women were considered minorities.

“That opened up the floodgates to bring in more women,” McCoy said of the case, which also brought many more blacks into the NYPD.

McCoy also served as the commanding officer of the NYPD’s Manhattan Youth Division, Youth Aid Unit and he currently serves as the president of Youth and Tennis, a Jamaica-based organization that combines his dedication to young people with his love of tennis.

McCoy formed the United for Progress Democratic Club in 1993, one year after he became the district leader. He said the club places an emphasis on getting new, younger, brighter faces involved with the political process.

“The Democratic Party’s role is to support candidates by getting the petitions signed, get out the vote and select judges,” McCoy said.

The imposition of eight-year term limits on city council members could pose a challenge to district leaders and candidates alike this election year as up to a dozen candidates vie for each of Queens’ 14 seats that are being vacated.

McCoy described the current political situation in Queens as being in “tremendous turmoil: eight, 10, 12, candidates are running for every city council seat, and there are no real front-runners.”

He said he was initially against term limits, but now that New Yorkers have voted for them in two referendums, “it would be bad to go against what the people want.”

Even with the loss of 14 council members, including Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) and Deputy Majority Leader Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans), McCoy believes that with the right group of new council members, the Queens delegation in the City Council will remain strong.

“If we send bright, young people, they can step right in,” he said, “It all depends on the quality of the people we send.”

Although most city council seats remain up for grabs, McCoy said that having the support of a political club is extremely important for a candidate.

“The club is the one that can get the good petitions,” he explained. “If a person does not have a base, it is difficult to survive the petitioning process.”

Each candidate for City Council must file a list of at least 1,000 signatures from area residents by July 12 in order to officially file with the Board of Elections.

“Not too many of them can survive the challenge,” McCoy said of the candidates, “and you need sufficient money.”

McCoy became involved with politics in the early 1980s, when he sought community support for his city marshal appointment and joined the Democratic club run by Spigner, who remains friendly with McCoy to this day.

“Henry is a good friend, a hard worker. He has a lot of energy, and he is an asset to the community,” Spigner said.

McCoy’s political memories trace all the way back to his childhood in New Orleans, La. when the daughter of his family pastor fought the school system for equal pay for blacks.

“She took Louisiana to court and she won,” he said, smiling as he recalled how his mother would go to court with their neighbor.

It was the early 1930s, and the judge was Thurgood Marshall, who would eventually would be named to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case set a precedent that discrimination against blacks would not be tolerated in the Louisiana schools.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

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