Paralyzed Alum Invigorates N.Y. Race

Grad hits the campaign trail with inspiring story, seeking N.Y. State Senate Seat

Democratic candidate for New York State Senate Brooke M. Ellison ’00, one of the many Harvard alums seeking political office this year, is no stranger to facing difficult battles.

Though her most recent challenge is for a Long Island Senate seat against incumbent Rep. John Flanagan, she faced adversity when she became paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a 1990 car accident.

The accident changed her life forever, but it did not stop her from earning degrees from Harvard College and the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Her inspirational story—portrayed in a 2004 TV movie directed by the late Superman actor Christopher Reeve—has helped make her into a formidable opponent, according to Arthur “Jerry” Kremer, a Long Island attorney and political consultant.

“She’s probably the most interesting candidate on the map, but the odds against her are daunting,” he said.

Currently, all nine of State Senate seats from Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties are held by Republicans. However, the Democratic Party only needs to win four seats this year to gain a majority in the State Senate.

So far, Ellison said her campaign has been aided by notable time and monetary contributions from former students of the Class of 2000 and the Kennedy School.

“Ellison has a huge fundraising advantage over other challengers,” said Jeffrey Segal, the chair of the political science department at SUNY at Stony Brook. “She’s probably a stronger contender than anyone could imagine.”

Flanagan “recognizes what a strong challenger he has this year,” Segal added.

Flanagan has been fiscally responding to Ellison’s challenge, spending five times what he did in his 2004 election campaign, according to an Oct. 20 article in Newsday.

Yet the other obstacles still in Ellison’s way are, according to Segal and Kremer, potentially insurmountable.

Flanagan has been in the state legislature for almost two decades. And there are more registered Republicans in the district than Democrats, according to Segal.

According to Segal, districts in New York also tend to be “gerrymandered,” giving Democrats an advantage in the Assembly but Republicans a lead in the Senate.

While Democrats nationwide have been counting on disenchantment with President Bush and the GOP, in New York such trends “do not trickle down,” said Kremer.

Ellison said she is trying to “instill hope and bring a renewed sense of optimism to politics.”

She is running on a platform which supports education, stem cell research, meeting housing needs, and creating jobs and economic opportunity, according to her website.

Despite the difficulties of the campaign, Ellison says the hardest thing has been “making sure I take time to be with friends and family.”

“You should be the change you want to see in the world,” Ellison said, quoting Mohandas Gandhi. “It was [at KSG] that I learned about responsibility. There are a lot of areas in the world that I saw needed to be changed.”