Transgender Man Seeks to Succeed Brewer on NYC Council
Seeking not to make history but simply to serve the neighborhood he calls home, Mel Wymore has thrown his hat in the ring to succeed New York City Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer (D-Upper West Side.) If elected, he would be the City Council's first transgender member.
"I got involved in my community when I moved to New York in the late '80s, but hadn't been tremendously involved in politics; it was more community activism until last year," said Wymore. "After I served as chair of Community Board 7, I felt like City Council was a natural progression. I really enjoyed being chair of the board, which falls in most of Gale [Brewer's] district, and being able to engage in so many different issues and constituents."
The race for the seat being vacated by the term-limited Brewer in the Sixth Council District has drawn a number of candidates. These include district leader Marc Landis, former Community Board 7 Chair Helen Rosenthal and Ken Biberaj, a vice-president at the Russian Tea Room.
Although still early in his candidacy; Wymore is currently leading in fundraising, with more than $64,000 in his election fund. He still has nothing but respect for his fellow candidates.
"I have worked with Helen and Marc in the past, and have respect for them," said Wymore. "We are all committed members of this community, and I look forward to a respectful race."
Still, Wymore admits that his past work on issues important to the community puts him a great position going into the race. These include protecting seniors' housing rights, illegal hotels, support for local jobs and bringing new business to the district. As the parent of two children, Wymore also focuses on education, community affairs and transportation.
"Gale and I have worked on all of those issues together," said Wymore. "I am heading up a working group on hotels and maximizing housing in single occupancy hotels, making sure we have a diverse mix of housing in our district. We are also concerned about land use, very interested in intelligent design and urban planning, in having transportation move us toward a more sustainable way of living and in seeing small businesses and the local economy grow and thrive. And to serve local residents' school and education needs is always important to Upper West Siders. I want to make sure we have the capacity we need so every kid in the district has access to a good education."
Wymore said he is currently focused on sustainability, transportation, parks and in engaging the entire community in reducing their carbon footprint in a program called the Carbon Squeeze.
Wymore remained coy on whether he would receive the endorsement of Brewer, who remains a much-loved councilmember among her constituents. "I think it's early in the game for endorsements, but we work closely together and have a great relationship," he said.
Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC President Melissa Sklarz, who is also a former member of Community Board 2, told EDGE that it is attention to the issues and not his gender identity and expression that make Wymore stand out as a good candidate.
"The way you're going to be involved in politics is not to ignore your trans background, but not really exploit it either," said Sklarz. "The vast majority of the population is single gendered, and while a dual-gendered background might be of interest, it is not why someone is going to go out and vote for you. People want someone who is going to have solutions to issues. And Mel Wymore is a person like that, with a strong background in issues and education."
Sklarz said that trans people often come up against stereotypes, especially with their first impression.
For Wymore, who is open about his transition, any wayward first impressions have given way to an overwhelmingly positive reception.
"I don't know how else to be except open and honest about who I am," he said. "My commitment has been to be able to talk to people and answer questions, and through that I am getting to know and connect to all different aspects of the community. I am looking forward to broader conversations as we move forward."
Sklarz said she believes Wymore would do well in New York, the birthplace of new ideas.
"Mel Wymore is a parent, and that implies strong roots, the shared outlook of all parents, community, affordable housing, and education," she said, noting trans visibility and representation only benefits the community. "Mel would be a great representative to put a face on the idea of transgender."
When asked about the potential of serving as a role model for the LGBT community, Wymore just demurred.
"I would hope to be a role model for all people, not just LGBT," he said. "I hope I can stand as an example for anyone who wants to be empowered to participate in a bigger way."