Corey Johnson is the sober City Council Speaker of the New York City Council. It's a job that might easily drive anyone to drug or to drink. Yet he relies upon neither. So just how does he do it?
Open and Authentic
There's no shame in Corey Johnson's game. None whatsoever. In fact, there hasn't been any shame in his game since the year 2000. That was the year the then high school football team captain publicly came out of the proverbial closet. The admission made national headlines. It also made Johnson something of a celebrity.
The parties followed. So did the drinking and the drugs. Drunk in New York. High in Cape Cod. Or vice versa. Or, more likely, drunk and high in New York and Cape Cod. After all, that's what weekends are there for, right?
Things changed on the morning of July 12th, 2009. Johnson awoke hungover, as he often did. Only this time it felt different. Very different. That night he confided in a friend. He also confided in himself. He had a problem. And he had to stop.
"I've always said one of the biggest lessons I've learned in my own recovery from alcohol and drugs is that you're only as sick as your secret," Johnson told Gothamist. "It's better not to have secrets. And it's better to be open. And to really take the shame and stigma out of things. For me, that's been around my own recovery. That's been around my sexual orientation. And that's been around my HIV status."
Nearly ten years later Johnson has taken what he's learned from recovery and amplified it to an unfathomable degree. In fact, there doesn't seem to be a thing he won't openly cop to -- or share about. Whether that's the business of doing politics in the City of New York or simply quitting smoking. That's on purpose, claims Johnson, citing his cigarette battle reveal.
"I'm someone that tries to live openly and authentically," he says. "That's number one. Number two is I think it creates a level of accountability for me, which is good. Hopefully, it inspires other people who are struggling and or having a hard time sharing. It creates a little bit of a community for people to know that they're not alone. So, I think those are the three [reasons] why I've been sharing so openly about [quitting smoking]."
Spoken like a truly recovered addict. And for a man of Johnson's stunning accomplishments, it's a stunning display of candor. Then again, what would you expect from someone who still says his "biggest accomplishment was getting sober"?
Sober City Council Speaker
On the day he achieved the legislative pinnacle of New York City government, Johnson was as humble as he was grateful.
“I feel lucky to be alive,” he said.
The remark came just before the City Council voted to elevate him as their leader (by a 48-to-1 vote no less!), and they were uncharacteristic for any politician. Then again, Johnson is an uncharacteristic politician.
Johnson is New York’s first openly gay male speaker. He's got less than a month of college to his credit. he arrived in the city at the age of 19 without either pedigree or money.
He was, however, possessed with a preternatural talent for getting to know everyone, writes the New York Times, as well as an energy to call and call again. That made him something of a ubiquitous presence for nearly everyone in the upper echelons of New York’s public life. It also helped him succeed in the rough-and-tumble world of New York City politics.
"The phone is largely an extension of his ear," said Manhattan Democratic Party head Keith L.T. Wright. "He’s an absolute political animal."
Johnson was also diligent about putting in the hours on the ground. He worked for then NYC Public Advocate Mark J. Green. He worked for former State Senator H. Carl McCall. And he worked his way up the Democratic ladder. Until he eventually decided to run for a seat on the City Council.
"When he first got in [the race], it was perceived as an uphill fight," said lobbyist Steve Elmendorf. "As with the speaker’s race, my sense is, he just outworked everybody."
After earning the leader's chair, the sober City Council Speaker addressed the crowd of 200 in his characteristically uncharacteristic manner.
First, he described the City Council as "the voice for the voiceless, the champions of the most vulnerable." Next he vowed to back his colleagues, whether or not they'd backed him. Then he ended with a story of coming out to his Irish Catholic grandfather.
"I said, 'Grandpa, I have something to tell you,'" Mr. Johnson recalled. "'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!'"
Here's to Sober City Council Speaker Corey Johnson
Recovery Boot Camp would like to applaud sober City Council Speaker Corey Johnson for the bold manner in which he's reaching such great heights. We'd also like to congratulate him on 10 years of sobriety. We're especially struck by the seamless merging of Johnson's boldness and sobriety. It's a stunning testament to his recovery. It's also a ringing endorsement of recovery itself.