By Gabriel Rom
In a packed auditorium Sunday morning at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village, Barry Grodenchik was officially sworn in as a City Council member.
At the ceremony, which was characterized by a warm and friendly atmosphere, scores of politicians, past and present, from the borough and beyond, feted Grodenchik and wished him well.
“Why is this a great day?” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) asked, “because Barry is a son of Queens, because he knows his area inside and out.”
Schumer spoke of Grodenchik, who grew up in the Pomonok Houses in Flushing, as a no-nonsense politician with grassroots support who got elected “the old-fashioned way.”
“No one put a silver spoon in Barry’s mouth,” Schumer said. “He earned it. People who live in districts like this do not complain. They work hard, they live their lives through the ups and downs.”
Schumer applauded Grodenchik’s focus on improving transit options for eastern Queens and his advocacy for public school improvement.
After speaking, but before hurrying off to another engagement, Schumer waved across the stage to Borough President Melinda Katz, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and a host of Queens lawmakers, including City CouncilwomaN Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).
“The number of electeds here today serves as a credit to Barry,” Katz said.
Grodenchik, a former state assemblyman who represented Flushing, had previously worked in senior positions for both Katz and former Borough President Claire Shulman.
Stringer attributed the new Councilman’s success to his experience working under “strong Queens women,” while Thomas DiNapoli said that at a time when many Americans are disillusioned with public service and the political process, Grodenchik represents something refreshing and honest.
While the political class was in full force, Grodenchik was also praised by close friends.
“My family read the Daily News,” said Sam Sochet, principal of Martin Van Buren and a lifelong friend of Grodenchik. “When Barry was 9, he was reading The New York Times, so I started to read the New York Times,” Sochet said, turning to Grodenchik, “and indirectly you’re the reason why I’m here today.”
Grodenchik, backed by the Queens Democratic Party as well as the Transport Workers Union and the United Federation of Teachers, won about 55 percentof the vote to beat Republican candidate Joe Concannon and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s former staffer Rebecca Lynch. The seat had belonged to Mark Weprin, who stepped down several months ago to take a job in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
To loud applause, Grodenchik pledged to continue to work to improve local schools, especially Van Buren, which was classified by Cuomo as a failing school in February, and to champion the rights of immigrants in his community.
He concluded his speech, and the ceremony, with a bit of family wisdom:
“Be sincere, be succinct and be seated.”
Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@