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Van Bramer: Community organizer, boro born and bred

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Queens Library External Affairs Director Jimmy Van Bramer has had a role in politics for many years, but even as he runs for City Councilman Eric Gioia’s (D-Sunnyside) seat, he prefers to think of himself as an activist first.

“My career has been less about politics and more about community organizing,” he said in a recent interview with the TimesLedger Newspapers. “I think that distinguishes me from the other candidates.”

Van Bramer, 39, has lived in Sunnyside and Woodside for 10 years. He became the borough’s first openly gay state committeeman in 2004 and has served on Community Board 2 for three years. In 2001, while living in Woodside, he ran against Councilwoman Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights) in the race for her 25th Council District seat, losing in the primary by fewer than 800 votes. He moved to Sunnyside Gardens six years ago.

Van Bramer was born in Woodside and grew up in Astoria, attending William Cullen Bryant High School. He got his bachelor’s in criminal justice from St. John’s University, thinking he would become a lawyer, but got sidetracked by activism.

“That really caught my attention and decided the future direction of my life,” he said, noting he helped organize awareness of a newspaper strike and women’s issues on campus.

Van Bramer is most proud of his work with Citizens Action New York’s “Clean Money, Clean Elections” campaign in 1998, which reformed campaign finance laws for municipal elections.

He joined the Queens Library in 1999.

Van Bramer’s political ambitions were sparked during his childhood when he watched his father, a newspaper pressman, run for executive vice president of the Local 2 union.

“I thought then it was something that I might try,” he said.

He got his start in politics volunteering for Tom Duane’s successful City Council campaign in 1991.

“I remember that night that he won, the jumping, the celebrating,” Van Bramer said. “I thought this would be great to do in Queens.”

Now that he is in the running to do just that, Van Bramer is taking his library-centric approach to a campaign platform.

“Education and libraries are absolutely essential,” he said. “I would never support a reduction in library services.”

To bolster education, Van Bramer suggested expanding popular programs like a dual-language program at PS 150.

“It’s really important the council member work closely with Assemblywoman [Cathy] Nolan [D-Ridgewood], who sits on the Education Committee,” he said. “I think I have a very good working relationship with her.”

Like several other candidates, Van Bramer advocates “smart growth” for the district, which includes Long Island City, Maspeth, Sunnyside and Woodside.

“We need to make sure development is done in such a way that it doesn’t obliterate the essential character of our Queens neighborho­ods,” he said. “We can’t push out people who want to remain.”

When asked whether he regarded the massive Hunters Point South project, which features hundreds of units of middle-income housing, as smart growth, Van Bramer said he had mixed feelings. Community Board 2 voted in favor of the city-owned development last year.

“There was meaningful community input,” he said. “There was a genuine effort for affordability, green space and waterfront areas. [But] there could always be more.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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