From: NYTimes.com

Sober and H.I.V. Positive, New Council Speaker Has Weathered Adversity

By J. DAVID GOODMAN January 3, 2018

On the morning of July 12, 2009, Corey David Johnson woke up, as he often did, with a terrible hangover, a familiar remnant from his nights of excess at parties on Cape Cod and around New York City.

By the evening of that day, he acknowledged to a friend at dinner what he had resisted admitting to himself after years of bingeing on alcohol and cocaine: He had a problem, and he had to stop.

The story of becoming sober more than eight years ago is one Mr. Johnson tells with candor, a key element in the biography of a 35-year-old who gained national attention for coming out as gay to his Massachusetts high school football team, and who achieved the legislative pinnacle of New York City government on Wednesday, becoming the speaker of the New York City Council.

“I feel lucky to be alive,” Mr. Johnson said in an interview, before the Council, including all four of its Republican members, voted to elevate him as their leader in a 48-to-1 vote.

Mr. Johnson, the city’s first openly gay male speaker, succeeded in the rough-and-tumble world of New York City politics despite completing less than a month of college, at George Washington University, and arriving in the city at the age of 19 without pedigree or money. He was, however, possessed with a preternatural talent for getting to know everyone, and an energy to call and call again, making him something of a ubiquitous presence for nearly everyone in the upper echelons of New York’s public life in recent years.

“The phone is largely an extension of his ear,” said Keith L.T. Wright, head of the Manhattan Democratic Party. “He’s an absolute political animal.”

“He’s a late-night person; our phone calls are usually at like 1 in the morning,” said Allen Roskoff, the president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, an influential group in gay politics, who helped Mr. Johnson get his start in government service on Community Board 4 in Manhattan. He rose to become its chairman by age 29.

Born on April 28, 1982, in Beverly, Mass., Mr. Johnson grew up in nearby Middleton in a working-class family. His mother, Ann Richardson, who attended Wednesday’s vote for Mr. Johnson, worked a variety of jobs while raising him and his sister. His father, David Johnson, born in South Korea to an American father and Korean mother, was an alcoholic who left the family before his son was old enough to remember him, Mr. Johnson said.

“My mom dropped him off at work one day when I was 11 months old and he never came home,” Mr. Johnson said. They reconnected only by phone, years later; Mr. Johnson said his father died in 2014. His stepfather, Rod Richardson, played a more central role in raising him, but also struggled with alcohol and with gambling and died relatively young. “We always had problems with money,” Mr. Johnson said.

When an article of his coming out appeared on the front page of The New York Times and recirculated on national television, it opened up a new world to a young man who had never left the Northeast: paid speeches, trips to Europe and South America, and the world of New York City.

Mr. Johnson eventually made his way up the Democratic ladder, working for Mark J. Green, then the public advocate, before moving to Mr. Green’s failed mayoral campaign and then to a bid for governor by H. Carl McCall, who also lost. In 2004, Mr. Johnson was diagnosed as H.I.V. positive.

“He’s always been very clear that he wanted to run for office,” said Steve Elmendorf, a Washington lobbyist and former Democratic aide on Capitol Hill who befriended Mr. Johnson early in his career.

In 2013, Mr. Johnson successfully ran for a City Council seat representing Manhattan neighborhoods including Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Midtown West that had been occupied by Christine C. Quinn, then the speaker of the City Council.

“When he first got in it, it was perceived as an uphill fight,” said Mr. Elmendorf. “As with the speaker’s race, my sense is, he just outworked everybody.”

Mr. Johnson began lobbying to become the Council speaker early in his first term, in September 2015, traveling the city by transit and taxis (he does not own a car). He had no white board of names, or a personal system of vote-counting, he said. “It was all in my head. Seriously,” he said. “My whole strategy was to become either the first or second choice of as many people as possible.”

For some, he was neither. A small number of Council members tried to rally opposition during the contest, believing that Mr. Johnson’s ambition could lead him to promise one thing to one group of people, and the opposite to another. But none who felt that way would speak on the record, and on Wednesday all voted for him.

“The caricature that was spun about me — no one has been able to point to a single concrete instance or decision,” Mr. Johnson said. “It was a rough race. But I’m going to treat everyone with respect. Even the people who didn’t support me.”

During the vote, Representative Joseph Crowley, who played a key role in the speaker contest as the head of the influential Queens Democratic Party, looked on from the balcony.

In a 22-minute address, Mr. Johnson described the Council as “the voice for the voiceless, the champions of the most vulnerable,” vowed to back his colleagues — going through all 50 by first name — and ended with a story of coming out to his Irish Catholic grandfather.

“I said, ‘Grandpa, I have something to tell you,’ ” Mr. Johnson recalled to the room of about 200. “ ‘I told Mom and Dad that I’m gay.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I thought you were going to tell me you were a Republican!’ ”

Officers

BOARD OF GOVERNORS

  1. Hon. Eric Adams
  2. George Arzt
  3. Lance Bass
  4. John Blair
  5. Mark Benoit
  6. Hon. Rodneyse Bichotte
  7. Hon. Jonathan Bing
  8. Robin Byrd
  9. Hon. Gale Brewer
  10. Christian Campbell
  11. Gus Christensen
  12. Hon. Martin Connor
  13. Hon. Jon Cooper
  14. Wilson Cruz
  15. Hon. Laurie Cumbo
  16. Alan Cumming
  17. Valorie Curry
  18. Michael Czaczkes
  19. Hon. Bill de Blasio
  20. Jon Del Giorno
  21. Aries Dela Cruz
  22. Kyan Douglas
  23. Hon. Daniel Dromm
  24. James Duff
  25. Hon. Ronnie Eldridge
  26. Hon. Rafael Espinal
  27. Hon. Herman Farrell
  28. Hon. Alan Fleishman
  29. Hon. Dan Garodnick
  30. Dan Gettleman
  31. Emily Jane Goodman
  32. Hon. Mark Green
  33. Tony Hoffmann
  34. Hon. Brad Hoylman
  35. Binn Jakupi
  36. Hon. Letitia James
  37. Hon. Corey Johnson
  38. Camille Joseph
  39. Phillip Keane
  40. Greg Lambert
  41. Dodge Landesman
  42. Marc Landis
  43. Phillip McCarthy
  44. Matt McMorrow
  45. Michael Mallon
  46. Mike C. Manning
  47. Cathy Marino-Thomas
  48. Hon. Carlos Menchaca
  49. Hon. Rosie Mendez
  50. John Cameron Mitchell
  51. Donny Moss
  52. Barry Mullineaux
  53. Hon. Paul Newell
  54. Denis O'Hare
  55. Noah Pfefferbilt
  56. Josue Pierre
  57. Bob Pontarelli
  58. Billy Porter
  59. Randy Rainbow
  60. Hon. Jenifer Rajkumar
  61. Hon. Gustavo Rivera
  62. Hon. Helen Rosenthal
  63. Maer Roshan
  64. Toby Russo
  65. Bill Samuels
  66. James Sansum
  67. Scott Sartiano
  68. Hon. Arthur Schwartz
  69. Lynn Schulman
  70. Frank Selvaggi
  71. Rev. Al Sharpton
  72. Hon. Jo Anne Simon
  73. Tom Smith
  74. Anne Strahle
  75. Hon. Scott Stringer
  76. Wayne Sunday
  77. Hon. Bill Thompson
  78. Hon. Matt Titone
  79. Hon. Ritchie Torres
  80. Sam Underwood
  81. Derek Walker
  82. Jessica Walter
  83. Patricia Nell Warren
  84. Wil Weder
  85. Seth Weissman
  86. Mel Wymore
  87. Emma Wolfe
  88. Hon. Keith Wright
  89. Zephyr Teachout