By Jeremy Walsh
Freshman City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) spent his first week in office adjusting, learning — and dusting.
After an emotional swearing-in with his mother and close friends at City Hall Jan. 1, Dromm, 54, moved into the office of his predecessor, Helen Sears, Jan. 4 only to find workmen were not finished repainting and renovating.
“We used the upstairs conference room of the law office that owns the building,” he said, noting he and his staffers had to do some cleaning after the workers left. “When they did the renovations in the office, dust went all over everything, and I am a neat freak.”
The move into the office was a major shift for Dromm, who taught at PS 199 in Jackson Heights for 25 years. He said he cried when it was time to leave the school. But he said the change would allow him to devote his days to the kind of activism that has occupied his off-hours since 1990.
“This to me is like a second career, an opportunity to do something I always wanted to do, to help my community,” he told the TimesLedger Newspapers in an interview with reporters and the editor. “I feel like right now I have a lot of political capital. We won by a wide margin in both the primary and in the general election. And my contributors were all community people. … So that’s who I owe things to.”
Not surprisingly, Dromm is making education a priority. He criticized city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein for not including parents and teachers in his decision-making process and for not reducing class sizes.
“We were teaching in the dressing rooms behind the stage, we were teaching in locker rooms,” he said of his experiences in PS 199. “They were holding guidance sessions in stairwells, teaching in the hallways. Why has that never been addressed in the public school system?”
As chairman of the Immigration Committee, Dromm said he will also push for the creation of an immigrant labor center in his district, where day laborers can congregate indoors, sign up on a dry-erase board for available jobs and be offered various city services.
“They can be tracked, the people who give them the jobs can be tracked and when they get ripped off … it would be just a better way to handle it,” he said, noting he did not want to limit the services to legal immigrants. “I don’t know if it’s our job to check each and every single one of them. When kids come into the public school system, for example, we don’t say you have to be documented.”
Dromm had nothing but praise for Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), the Council’s first openly lesbian leader and a fellow gay rights activist. She and Dromm got to know each other in 1990 as they canvassed Jackson Heights to help find information on the murder of Julio Rivera, a gay man who was beaten to death.
“You’d have to go late at night, because that’s when these things heat up. And since I knew the bar owners, I was able to turn the music off and we were able to make the announcement,” he said. “We’d meet at 1 o’clock in the morning on the corner of Roosevelt [Avenue] and 74th Street.”
Dromm’s Council district includes Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.