“Grassroots” is one of Brent O’Leary’s favorite words.
The 39-year-old attorney and Jackson Heights native prides himself on his support of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party’s new ground-up approach to mobilizing voters in the 2008 presidential election. He was also a part of the Democratic National Committee from 2004-08 and a super delegate for Obama in last year’s election.
O’Leary is trying to bring the same spirit to his bid to replace City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), conducting a campaign largely based on knocking on residents’ doors and attending civic association forums.
“I noticed the government isn’t working well, but it can work well if you include people in the process,” he said in a recent interview with TimesLedger Newspapers.
He cited the experience of the 2004 election, when the DNC was allowed to elect its own chairman due to the lack of a Democratic president or majority leader, as an example.
“It was a real struggle for the heart of the party: Whether we were going to go grassroots or keep with the big media,” he said, noting he supported ground-up strategy architect Howard Dean, who was able to channel the Internet as a tremendous fund-raising resource.
With that in mind, O’Leary has centered his platform around funneling information back to his constituents. He pledged to hold a Town Hall-style meeting in the district every month “so they can keep me accountable for things I’ve promised,” he said.
The son of an airline pilot and a flight attendant, Brent was raised on Long Island. He got his bachelor’s degree from Trinity College in Hartford and a law degree from Boston University Law School.
But his political life did not begin until he moved to Japan to teach English for a year and became involved in Democrats Abroad Japan, contacting other Americans in the country and helping them register to vote in U.S. elections.
“I wanted to make an impact in people’s lives,” he said, “and the best way to do that is through the political process.”
After working for the prestigious Manhattan law firm White and Case in its Tokyo offices, O’Leary switched to Bloomberg LP, where he used his specialty in business law to handle compliance issues for much of Bloomberg’s Asian division.
He transferred to Bloomberg’s Manhattan offices in 2006, moving to Long Island City to be closer to his family.
Now he is embroiled in a four-way race for the Democratic nomination along with Council attorney Deirdre Feerick, Queens Library External Affairs Director Jimmy Van Bramer and Woodside translator David Rosasco. O’Leary was third in fund-raising with $35,522 by the May 15 filing deadline for the city Campaign Finance Board.
Feerick led with $57,150, while Van Bramer had brought in $45,239. Rosasco trailed in fourth with $5,589.
O’Leary remains proud of his status as an outsider to city politics.
“Municipal government is a little bit of a closed society,” he said. “They tend to perpetuate people in that society in office instead of letting people with new ideas from the private sector come in. I think people understand that government is not working, so it’s best not to elect someone who’s a part of that.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cn
This article has been corrected since publication to reflect the fact that O'Leary was raised on Long Island.
©2009 Community News Group
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