Gay Candidate Danny O’Donnell, Brother of Rosie O’Donnell, Vowed To Fight for Equality as Public Advocate

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Danny O'Donnell

We talked to openly gay candidate for NYC Public Advocate Danny O’Donnell, brother of media mogul Rosie O’Donnell, about his run for the office of NYC Public Advocate.

Danny O’Donnell: Fighting for Equality Since Childhood

Danny O’Donnell characterizes himself as loud and belligerent. He’s someone who doesn’t hesitate to share when he has a strong opinion. In this way, he sounds much like his younger celebrity sibling, Rosie O’Donnell. Neither shies away from controversy.

Rosie recently reminded Danny that he has a long history of standing up for what’s right. They were at the launch of his campaign for New York City Public Advocate. “We had a bully neighbor who would tell us we were not allowed to walk on his sidewalk,” he tells Metrosource. “I went up to him, as an eight-year-old, and told him the sidewalk is government property and he has no right to tell me I can’t be here.”

O’Donnell would go on to fight for equal rights throughout his life. This included the right to walk down the aisle to marry the man he has loved and been with for four decades.

A Brief History of Danny O’Donnell

Born in Queens and raised on Long Island, O’Donnell became a public defender shortly after graduating college, where he’d challenged institutionalized racism in the criminal justice system. Sixteen years ago, he became the first openly gay man elected to the New York State Assembly, and since has fought to reform the justice system, protect renters, and advance measures that protect the LGBTQ communities.

“I’ve been an advocate my whole life,” he said. He was a primary sponsor Dignity for All Students Act (an anti-bullying law, the first to reference the rights of transgender and non-binary New Yorkers). He co-sponsored Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and the conversion therapy ban. He recently sponsored legislation to turn all single occupancy restrooms into gender-neutral restrooms. O’Donnell also sponsored a bill to ban the “gay panic” / “trans panic” legal defenses, and a bill that would require insurance coverage for PrEP and PEP for preventing HIV

How Danny O’Donnell Led the Charge for Marriage Equality

But of all the moments that cement his legacy in the legislature, there is one that supersedes the rest: leading the charge for marriage equality in New York State long before opinions and acceptance evolved, and the State legislature ushered it into law in 2011.

“My husband [John Banta] and I were plaintiffs in the original suit,” he said. “I wrote and passed the Marriage Equality bill five times.” Initially, he had few backers (about 40), and ongoing resistance in the State Senate. But by 2011, support had grown substantially and paved its way to the desk of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for signature into law. “It is my proudest accomplishment,” he said. “I promised all of my colleagues that it they passed this I would invite them all to my wedding. We had 450 people at my wedding. It was a great, big party!”

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The Political Hopes of Danny O’Donnell

Though a fixture in Albany, he was once considered for the U.S. Senate Seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. In late 2018, O’Donnell announced plans to seek the Office of Public Advocate, which serves as New York City’s ombudsman and provides a bully pulpit. (It’s also recently proved a springboard to higher office). He was initially one of two dozen candidates. That number shrunk to 17 by the February 26 ballot.

O’Donnell positioned himself as a champion for the underdog. He wanted to give a voice to the voiceless. The Public Advocate often serves as a check on New York City’s mayor. However, O’Donnell also envisions the office as shielding the public from State and Federal initiatives that curb rights and cut funds.

If elected, he said in an earlier interview, “the first thing I’m going to do is set up an AIDS 2020 Task Force.” He told us he had planned to “bring people together to see if we are on track. Can we do this? And if we can, how can we do this? And are we getting the city, state and federal funding necessary to make this happen?” He was referring to NY efforts to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by the year 2020. “We are at Ground Zero with HIV and AIDS and can do a better job on behalf of all people.”

Additionally, given the rise in bias- and hate-related incidents across the country and in NYC he vowed to establish a Hate Crimes Task Force. “Trans women of color are dying almost every day,” he said.

How O’Donnell Planned to Win

On the campaign trail, O’Donnell maintained his path to victory would have been one blazed “by standing up to bigotry and fighting injustice.” He repeatedly stressed in his campaign literature and in his Metrosource interview, “When I get angry, I fight back.”

“I come from a loudmouth family,” he said. When asked about his relationship with his similarly voluble sister, he professes seniority. “I’m oldest, so I have the face first. I don’t look like her. She looks like me.”

Visit O’Donnell’s campaign website for more information.

Interested in gay candidates for public office? Meet one who’s planning to run for the highest office in the land.

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Last modified: April 15, 2019