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Saying goodbye to that Blue Dog Democrat

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This week, for virtually the first time since I returned home to Bay Ridge after attending college upstate in the late 1990s, Vincent Gentile will not be representing residents of Bay Ridge in either the Council or state Senate. Mr. Gentile represented Brooklyn’s 23rd state Senate District from Jan. 1, 1997, through Dec. 31, 2002. On March 18, 2003, he became a member of the Council when he narrowly won a special election for the position after he lost his recently re-jiggered Senate seat to Marty Golden. But now, he leaves thanks to term limits.

I did not always agree with the views of the Fort Hamilton High School graduate and son of Bay Ridge. In fact, in 2009 I was the Republican, Conservative, and Independence Party candidate for Council against Mr. Gentile and received about 40 percent of the vote. And during his time in public office, I had a front-row seat to Mr. Gentile’s doing while I worked with former Borough Presidents Howard Golden and Marty Markowitz, and former Congressman Vito Fossella.

Like most politicians, Mr. Gentile was not immune to negative headlines, but he capably represented his constituents. Mr. Gentile is a proud Democrat, but understood his district voted for both Republican and Democrats, and certainly was not dominated by the far-left, progressive wing of his party that is present in many other parts of our city today. He is a common-sense Democrat. I would peg him as a “Blue Dog Democrat” — a term coined in 1995 by Texas Rep. Pete Geren to describe more conservative members from the Democratic Party in Congress.

Mr. Gentile’s accomplishments include leading the charge to end Sunday metered parking in our city, a home run issue for his large church-going district. Also, he quarterbacked the effort in the Council to down-zone many parts of the district to prevent over-development that would change the character of our neighborhoods. Mr. Gentile made sure this became a reality, and it will be one of his enduring legacies.

Southern Brooklyn strongly supports the NYPD, and Mr. Gentile did not disappoint in this area either. He never participated in the hatred many members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party seem to have for our men and women in blue. He supported our police, and even funded an upgrade to bulletproof vests for our cops and auxiliary police officers.

Finally, although some would argue it took too long, Mr. Gentile ushered the Aggravated Illegal Home Conversion law through the Council, which aims to end the subdivision of residential homes that crams as many people as possible into dwellings. Time will tell if this effort will be successful.

It is unfortunate that in our current political times, many support or denigrate elected officials solely based on their political party status. Many of these officials are to blame because they march in lock step with the extremes of their parties. Mr. Gentile was an exception. He took the term “people’s representa­tive” literally by reflecting the majority of his district’s views in his policies, priorities, and votes.

I hope his successor, Justin Brannan, follows the example of his mentor.

Farewell, Mr. Gentile.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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