Our Time Press Interview’s Senator Montgomery
OTP: Do you see hope with this new administration?
Montgomery: I see some hope, we basically have a new city government. That is why I’m finally feeling a lift of the oppressive, mean-spirited kind of governing.
OTP: What would you like to see as your legacy?
Montgomery: When I started out, came into this, I said to myself, there’s a couple of things I’d like to accomplish for children and then I’ll be happy. Well, it sort of never really happened. That doesn’t excuse me from staying longer than I had promised. I had started out with young children, but then I started to wonder what happens in that by the time they get started in high school, they have become failing subjects.
It’s not enough to invest all that we can in the very young and then abandon them when they are ten and twelve. So I’ve broadened my interests. I wanted to try and figure out what is happening with our kids and I found out why.
OTP: Democrats in the Senate. When the Democrats were in control of the Senate there was a lot of talk of turmoil, etc. But I remember it as the “golden age” of the Senate in terms of what you got done. Is there any chance of that coming back?
Montgomery: What has happened is that we now have five people, our leader calls them the “Breakaways” and they actually vote and work with the Republicans. So we have the majority but because we have these factions, we don’t have control.
OTP: That’s huge. What were you able to do when the Democrats had control?
Montgomery: We were able to do the budget where I was actually able to bring capital money to the district. We could put money into Boys and Girls High School. We could put money into the Bedford-Stuyvesant Family Health Center. And the housing groups. We were able to help them help people in our district. We passed legislation that made a difference in the lives of young people and of families. There were so many things we were able to do. It was as if the floodgate had opened and people who had been waiting for years for legislation, finally we were able to get it passed. Some of the controversial things. The Democrats have not been in the majority for 40 years. So when we did finally get to that point, it was just fascinating. We imploded. And from the outside, there was all this pressure. People had not ever been accustomed to dealing with us in the Senate. So people who we thought were our friends were not excited about it. It was very difficult having to relate to us. In the majority. It was a very strange time, very strange experience. But on the other hand, it was the first time, and the one time, that we were actually able to make a determination. That you would like to see something happen and you were in a position to negotiate it to happen. That was a very different feeling.
OTP: Not just influence but have the power to do it.
OTP: What about your role as mentor to the young Turks?
Montgomery: The new generation? We had a meeting of about 25 people, some members of the City Council and organizations, how do we secure a more prominent role as it relates to revitalization and building and supporting manufacturing and light industry, especially around the waterfront. And promoting waterfront industries. And looking at our waterfront as a continuum, and not with piece here and there.
It was very exciting for me. They came up with a structural move that could be made by the mayor which would allow us to capture revenue that would be dedicated to the purpose of economic development. We talked about how it would happen, what should go in it. Don’t use it as a gentrifying mechanism, there were all of these issues that came to the table. The community organizations that had been working on this for decades, they were able to guide what should be the language. Then comes the strategy session, which was the fun part. That’s what I like.
The new council members are wonderful. They are very substantive people and they’re feeling their way. But we’ve been so whipped by this whole Bloomberg thing, he’s cowed people into being voiceless.
OTP: Do you take this home with you?
Montgomery. I do cut it off to some extent. But I grew up with my son and he is such a blessing. The blessing with that was that it forced me to be the regular mom. Do the mom stuff. PTA meetings, go to schools, he had friends. I would go with him to the library, read books with him. I learned so much. We would have arguments in the bookstore. I would get him books, black books. He wasn’t getting them. They were not on his reading list. And he would have the Holocaust on his book list. But I said, “You’re going to read this, Harriet Tubman, before you read that”. You have to read about your people. And so this is the kind of thing I had to do. I learned a lot by being with him, and understanding some of the things that were missing. I became educated about the education system.