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Photo by Anthony Giudice/QNS
Photo by Anthony Giudice/QNS
Robert Holden is now the Councilman-elect for the 30th City Council District.

Up until Election Day, not much had changed in the life of Councilman-elect Robert Holden over the past several decades.

He lived in the same Middle Village house for 40 years, held the same job as a college professor for more than 40 years, was a member of Community Board 5 for 30 years, and was president of the Juniper Park Civic Association for 25 years. He’ll be the first to admit that he doesn’t like change.

It’s one of the many reasons why Holden’s victory over Democratic incumbent Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley back in November came as a surprise to many people, including himself.

“I was like a fish out of water as a candidate,” Holden, 66, said in an interview with QNS at his transition office. “I didn’t like going up to people and saying, ‘Vote for me.’ I couldn’t go up to somebody and say, ‘Give me money for the campaign.’ It was very foreign to me.”

When it became official on Nov. 15 after the absentee ballots were counted, Holden — who wound up with just 137 votes more than Crowley — became the only Republican candidate to unseat a Democratic incumbent in the City Council this election cycle.

Holden also ran on the Reform, Conservative and “Dump de Blasio” lines, but getting the Republican line proved to be the difference maker. Some Democrats criticized Holden for the move after running, and losing, as a Democrat in the primary against Crowley, but Holden has never cared about party designations.

“I’m a Democrat, but I don’t identify with Democrats, nor do I identify with Republicans,” Holden said. “I identify with community, and nobody can understand that.”

Along with engaging in traditional electoral tactics — Holden and Crowley traded barbs with one another in mailed flyers and in the press — Holden embraced community, independence and civic action as central themes of his campaign.

Instead of the traditional knocking on doors, Holden would go out and observe neighborhoods as a civic leader, searching for problems he could fix right away. Holden and volunteers Millie and Sally Wong would call in 311 complaints about things like derelict cars, broken curbs and loose manhole covers. Millie and Sally would compile a spreadsheet every night with all of the complaints they filed, Holden said.

Holden attended precinct meetings, wrote to the Department of Transportation and was able to resolve several complaints during the campaign. His strategy paid off, and Holden said he felt like it helped him better connect with people and show them who he was.

On Jan. 1, Holden will take office, and he plans to continue being a persistent civic advocate while serving at City Hall. He will initially caucus as a Republicanmaking him just the fourth GOP member in the chamber of 51 lawmakersbut plans to listen to both sides.

Holden said he will remain focused on constituent services, he said, with transportation issues being the number one problem affecting every neighborhood. There’s no clear solution, but something has to be done to “clear up the bottlenecks,” Holden said. He also wants to address Building Department complaints and the need for more police officers. But he admits that making any changes in the political system will be a challenge.

“Now I have more clout to actually help people, the thing I don’t know is the politics end of it,” Holden said. “The going to City Hall and dealing with those people, dealing with agencies, dealing with other electeds, dealing with legislation, so I have to learn that part of it.”

More than anything, Holden said that he is grateful that a grueling campaign is over, and he’s anxious to get started. He described it as a roller coaster ride, and sometimes those ups and downs came multiple times in the same day.

Ultimately, he got through it with his team of volunteers that dedicated several hours every day just because they believed in him, and his wife, Amy, who massaged his knees at night and never let him get ahead of himself, Holden said. Now, Millie and Sally will be joining his staff full time.

“This is what I learned during this election,” Holden said. “That I can’t let these people down. I could not give up.”


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