City & State New York
Celebrities are the perfect political tools.
By AMANDA LUZ HENNING SANTIAGO
JUNE 16, 2019
Celebrities are the perfect political tools. Most have a wide reach on social media, cultural clout and most importantly: loads of loyal fans willing to follow their lead. It’s not surprising that many celebrities use their status and reach to advocate for causes they care deeply about, or that lobbyists and politicians seek them out to raise the profile of their bills and special projects.
Whatever the reason, celebrities appear to have a penchant for getting themselves involved in politics – and particularly in New York politics. From rallying with their favorite organizations to running for office, here are the celebrities who have recently gotten themselves involved in the New York political sphere
Julianne Moore at the unveiling of Cuomo’s 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda. ( The Office of Andrew M. Cuomo )
The Oscar-winning actress helped unveil Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s women’s justice agenda in February, according to The Associated Press, featuring a series of proposals aimed at improving the quality of life for women in New York. The agenda includes proposals to eradicate the statute of limitations on rape claims and increase protections against workplace sexual harrassment. Moore is also a leader of the national Time’s Up movement, which fights against workplace sexual harassment and discrimination.
Ben Stiller was present as Cuomo signed voter reform legislation in January. ( The Office of Andrew M. Cuomo )
On Jan. 24, actor and director Ben Stiller joined Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference where the governor signed voting reform bills into law, NY1 reported, to allow for early voting, consolidating the federal and state primary elections and closing the so-called LLC loophole.
“This issue of voting rights is very important for all New Yorkers. It’s fundamental to our democracy,” Stiller said during the bill signing, according to NY1.
While his presence at the bill signing may have come as a surprise to some, Stiller is known for being involved in New York politics, having campaigned for state Sen. Andrew Gounardes last fall. Stiller also directed the award-winning miniseries “Escape at Dannemora” about two inmates who escaped from a maximum security prison in Dannemora, New York, which aired in December.
Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Willims attending a rally to get names on the Democratic Party primary ballot in 2018. ( Lev Radin/Shutterstock )
Who could forget the “Sex and the City” star’s valiant attempt to unseat Cuomo in 2018? Though Nixon was pummeled during her primary against Cuomo, many believe her run pushed the governor in a more progressive direction, according to the Times. In November, Nixon admitted during an interview at the Vulture Festival in Los Angeles that she didn’t believe she’d actually win, but she felt positively about her campaign: “Just being able to get out there and say, ‘We could do so much better in New York state, and here’s how,’ and actually having that message really fly because of how much coverage we got, I think that was a victory.”
Michael Douglas and Jennifer Lawrence
The Academy Award-winning actors endorsed a plan to overhaul New York City’s primary elections, the Daily News reported. In mid-June, Douglas and Lawrence, in addition to several others, submitted a letter to the Charter Revision Commission backing “ranked choice voting,” which would allow voters to rank their top five candidates to put a stop to runoff elections.
“Ranked Choice Voting is a simple, proven and worthy model that encourages candidates to build broad support from across the community, and empowers voters to cast their ballot based on their hopes, not their fears,” wrote the stars, according to the Daily News.
New York City voters may have the chance to vote on changes to the City Charter in November.
RZA and Tim Gunn
Both Wu-Tang Clan rapper RZA and “Project Runway” alum Tim Gunn have showed their support for New York City’s proposed fur ban.
RZA, a vocal animal rights activist, collaborated with animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on a letter to the New York City Council in support of the fur ban, the New York Post reported. “Though it may be argued by some that fur used to show elite status in our community because of the inequality we face in society, those days are done,” wrote RZA in his letter to the City Council, according to the Post. “That’s reflected in a poll that shows 77% of black NYC voters support the bill.”
Gunn wrote an op-ed for City & State in early May, showing his support for the fur ban, arguing that the creation of fur products is cruel and inhumane.
The singer teamed up with state Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris to write an op-ed published by Time magazine in March calling for a complete overhaul to New York’s bail system. In the op-ed, they call for eliminating cash bail and “discriminatory” risk assessments, along with several other issues addressed in an open letter written to Cuomo in December, signed by 138 different organizations, that the pair cited. An active proponent of bail reform, Gianaris has sponsored a bill to completely eliminate cash bail – though it has yet to pass.
Andy Cohen and Cuomo rallied to legalize gestational surrogacy and ban the gay and trans panic defense before the end of the legislative session. ( The Office of Andrew M. Cuomo )
Talk show personality Andy Cohen co-wrote an op-ed with Gov. Andrew Cuomo for BuzzFeed News in mid-June in support of legalizing gestational surrogacy and banning the “gay and trans panic” defense.
“The legislature has seven days left in this year’s session,” write Cuomo and Cohen. “They must not leave Albany without righting these two wrongs. Legalizing gestational surrogacy and banning the ‘gay and trans panic’ defense would send a clear message to the LGBTQ community and to all New Yorkers that we won’t settle for anything less than full equality under the law.”
In April, actress, and singer Bette Midler took to Twitter to voice her dismay with the New York City Planning Commission’s plan to “destroy” the Elizabeth Street Garden, a beloved green space in Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood that is the site of a planned affordable housing development.
“#NYCCityPlanningCommission voted to destroy the only bit of green in Little Italy, THE ELIZABETH STREET GARDEN, the only place for miles around where people can rest themselves outdoors…unbelievably unfair and shortsighted!!” tweeted Midler.
Midler also shared a link to the garden’s website, which invites visitors to sign a petition to prevent it from being demolished and donate to its cause.
The Elizabeth Street Garden has been at the center of a contentious dispute, as the city plans to turn the plot into Haven Green, an affordable and LGBTQ-friendly rental building intended for seniors. Park advocates and those championing low-income senior housing have been butting heads since news of Haven Green’s construction plans broke, Curbed New York reports. But considering the land is city-owned, it looks like park advocates and Midler will just have to accept the park’s fate.
In early June, “Mamma Mia!” actress Amanda Seyfriend and her husband, actor Thomas Sadoski, joined anti-hunger organizations and New York City Council members to call out New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to cut $6 million in funding from the Breakfast in the Classroom program, the Daily News reported.
The program, which began in 2015, provides enrolled elementary school children access to a free and balanced meal at the start of their day. Schools that already participate in the program would continue to be enrolled, but the program would no longer be expanded, as was initially expected.
“This will make it harder for schools to ensure students are getting the vital fuel their growing brains and bodies need to succeed,” Seyfried and Sadoski wrote in testimony submitted to the City Council, the Daily News reported. “We as a city cannot stand by and allow that progress to be rolled back.”
Sarah Jessica Parker, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler and Jane Fonda
Multiple actresses associated with the Time’s Up movement – including Sarah Jessica Parker, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler and Jane Fonda – have been strongly encouraging Cuomo to raise the hourly minimum wage for tipped workers, mainly fixing their attention on waiters and bartenders, the Times reported in March. In December, the group of actresses sent Cuomo a letter, the Daily News reported, making the case for raising the minimum wage to $15 in order to make waitresses less vulnerable to sexual harassment.
However, the restaurant industry has taken issue with their cause. The Restaurant Workers of America issued a letterin March asking “anti-tipping celebrities” to kindly mind their own business. “We’re servers and bartenders by choice, just like you chose to be actresses,” states the letter, signed by dozens of restaurant workers. “The industry gives us flexibility, and the current tipping system gives us opportunity to earn great money with less-than full time hours.”
Comedic actress Ilana Glazer, known for co-starring in and creating the television series “Broad City,” headed to Albany in March to show her support for Planned Parenthood Empire State Act’s legislative agenda, per a Times Union report. While a few of the bills advocated by the organization were signed into law this year – the Reproductive Health Act, Child Victims Act and Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act – a number of bills remain stuck in the state Legislature.
Dr. Sarah Haynes, Chairwoman and Co-founder of Bolt Mobility and Usain Bolt unveiling Bolt Personal Electric Scooters on the steps of New York City Hall in March. ( Erik Pendzich/Shutterstock )
Olympian Usain Bolt turned up at New York’s City Hall in March to promote Bolt Mobility’s electric scooters – despite the use of e-scooters being illegal in the city.
Bolt Mobility, the company that shares the athlete’s name, has been working hard to get lawmakers on board with e-scooters, amNewYork reported, spending upward of $52,500 lobbying the New York City Council. But they’re not the only scooter company trying to cozy up to New York politicians – Lime and Bird have also made their support for e-scooter legalization widely known.
However, since Bolt Mobility’s splashy press conference in March, the company has been relatively quiet in New York – perhaps, because they’ve made waves elsewhere by becoming the first city-sanctioned e-scooter company in Richmond, Virginia, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
J.R. Smith and Al Harrington
Former New York Knicks players Al Harrington and J.R. Smith appeared in Albany in early June to advocate for the legalization of recreational marijuana. The two athletes were invited to Albany by Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes to speak with lawmakers, according to the New York Post.
Al Harrington told the newspaper that he and Smith are pushing for black communities to benefit from legalization. “We feel that it’s very important that we need to have the seat at the table so we can use some of these funds to rebuild our communities,” Harrington, who runs Viola, a company that sells marijuana products and vape pens, told the Post.