Brooklyn, the Big Apple’s best and brightest borough, has taken center stage in city politics as a new generation of leaders, many of whom hail from Kings County, have moved into prominent roles. Comptroller Brad Lander and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams are both from the Borough of Churches, and, of course, the Chief Executive, Mayor Eric Adams, is a proud born-and-bred Brooklynite.
Even within Adams’ brand-new administration, Brooklyn has taken a prominent position. A number of the mayor’s high-level advisors are Brooklynites by birth or by choice — including his chief advisor, Chaplain Ingrid Lewis-Martin.
A longtime politico and public servant, Lewis-Martin has been working with the mayor since long before he stepped into City Hall on Jan. 1. Their partnership started in 2007, when she was hired as chief of staff for then-state Sen. Adams. A few years later, she took on the responsibility of senior advisor as Adams represented parts of eastern and central Brooklyn.
In the senate, Lewis-Martin said, she “ran the show,” handling hiring decisions, executing Adams’ ideas, and generally keeping things running. When Adams was elected Brooklyn Borough President in 2013, she went with him to Borough Hall as deputy borough president.
Adams wanted to run the show in Brooklyn, she said, and in seven years of working together, she had never been directly beneath him, but he felt confident that they would work well together — and they did.
Within the hallowed halls of the former Brooklyn City Hall, Lewis-Martin and a small team oversaw the borough’s community boards, buildings, and hiring and personnel within the beep’s office.
Now, as chief advisor, she is taking regular meetings with Adams to discuss the important topics of the day, lending her expertise as the team talk through problems and solutions, previews and pre-approves budgets and spending, and helps out in finding candidates for jobs at City Hall. If the mayor isn’t present to make a quick decision, Lewis-Martin can step in, and liaises between the mayor’s office and other local government officials.
“I didn’t want to be a deputy mayor and have commissioners reporting to me, I wanted to have the flexibility to go in and out, to have eyes on things, and to have input, to have say, to make changes as needed,” Lewis-Martin said.
After all this time working with Adams, she said, she knows he values her input — though, to be fair, he listens to everyone, she added.
While large parts of her political career have been at the mayor’s side, Lewis-Martin got her start as a volunteer and later, deputy campaign manager, to Rep. Major Owens — 11 years before her now-boss would challenge him for his seat in Congress.
Working on Owens’ campaign forced her to learn how to make herself heard, she said. She was the only Black woman at a table full of men working on the campaign.
“I had to really be, not aggressive, but very firm, and really make my voice heard, so then you become labeled as aggressive,” she said. “And it’s not that you’re aggressive, you’re just trying to get your voice heard.”
Being hired to work with Adams was a breath of fresh air.
“He understands and values the voice of women, just as my daddy did, my father, he listened to his girls, all of us,” she said. “His wife, all of us.”
Growing up, her father instilled in she and her two sisters that they had to make themselves heard — but that they had to stay polite and well-informed.
“My father always used to tell all of his children, you can tell me anything, but be mindful how you say it.”
“I would say, ‘Daddy, I don’t agree,’ and I would explain to him why, but I had to be able to articulate to him why,” Lewis-Martin said. “Sometimes he would say, ‘You’re right, you’re right.’ And that makes you feel good, like, ‘Oh, I could do this again.’”
That lesson prepared her for a life in politics, she said.
Acting as a public servant
Between getting Owens re-elected and taking over Adams’ office in Albany, Lewis-Martin spent years as a public school teacher and an instructor at Medgar Evers College, but her upbringing is what has most shaped what’s important to her and how she approaches her role in government.
“I think that being a black woman, a woman of West Indian, Panamanian, and American descent, helped me to look at things from the perspective of which I look at things,” she said.
Her parents worked hard and struggled to buy the house where she and her sisters grew up, ensured they went to decent schools, and raised upstanding citizens, she said, and managed it all on a “very small” income.
Nowadays, Lewis-Martin knows that’s impossible for many New Yorkers working on a low income, and she knows they need help.
“I just think when one works in government, it’s one’s responsibility to go above and beyond for those who are truly in need,” she said. “And it’s also our responsibility to bring along partners who are in a position to do more, and encourage them to do more.”
She’s certain that Adams feels the same, and knows that he was looking to build a team of like-minded people.
“I know that Mayor Adams really worked to go through his administration and to bring on people who really cared about the plight of others, and to bring on people that he believes in would make a change.”
Helping outside the office
Government isn’t Lewis-Martin’s only outlet for her civic-mindedness. She’s a longtime member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a public-service focused sorority, and the Order of the Eastern Star, a public service organization associated with the Freemasons.
Three years ago, she decided to formalize the work she was already doing in supporting her community and become a chaplain with Healing Hearts Ministries.
Lewis-Martin is a Christian, she said, but chaplaincy isn’t dependent on a religion or denomination. She’s there to pray for and support people going through hard times no matter what their faith.
“If the person is in need, you find out what’s needed, you get the need addressed,” she said. “Maybe they had a fire, they need housing, or clothing.”
Fun and food in Brooklyn
Despite her accomplishments in government and in public service, Lewis-Martin isn’t defined by those things. She used to run the state’s largest martial arts tournament and is a karaoke enthusiast, though the latter has been subdued by the pandemic – karaoke isn’t the most coronavirus-friendly activity.
She prefers to prepare her favorite dishes from the West Indies herself, but names Michael’s and Marco Polo as her most-loved Brooklyn eateries — especially favoring the seafood salad at Marco Polo, perhaps to the dismay of her famously plant-obsessed boss.
The 24/7 demands of her political career have impeded the depth of Lewis-Martin’s work in public service, she said, but helping out is important to her, and she’s working to work more closely with her sorority now, rather than wait until she retires.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever fully retire,” she said. “I may fully retire from, like, formalized government, but knowing me, I’ll probably transition with my boots on, because I like working. I’ll probably always have my hands in something.”