Paganism is starting to gain acceptance in mainstream society. As a measure of acceptance we are seeing milestones hit such as Patrick McCollum speaking at the World Forum of Spiritual Culture in Astana, Kazakhstan last week. Another such milestone is the election of openly Pagan candidates to political office. In the past few years the Pagan community has seen the election of two openly Pagan candidates. One of them is Dan Halloran.
One year ago, Halloran, running as an Independent Republican with Tea Party backing, was in a bare knuckle fight for a seat on the New York City Council against Democrat Kevin Kim. The race turned even uglier when Kim’s spokesman sent a press release to journalists all across the city in an attempt to use Halloran’s faith against him. The Queen’s Tribune, heavily linked to the Democratic candidate, was particularly sensationalist in their approach. Despite raising less money and devoting critical time to address this attack on his religion, Halloran won the election. In part two of our series, Pagans in Politics, Halloran agreed to talk with Pagan+politics about his freshman year in office.
It’s almost one year ago that you were elected into office. Is it what you expected? Yes and No. Of course, there is always going to be certain level of expectation that once in office you will be able to immediately set about fixing things… the reality is that the system is slow to respond, difficult to master, and often times set up to discourage change.
On the flip side of the coin, there have been tremendous things that have opened up doors and opportunities that I had hoped would materialize once I entered office, and I have been able to use the power of my office to make a real difference in a lot of ways.
So on the whole, it is what I expected but I am actively at work changing things.
I understand most days are not typical, but could you give us an example of what you do during the day?
7AM up- walk dogs, shower, dress
8AM start at District office in Queens, get itinerary for meeting and hearings, review mail, sign constituent service letters, review notes, call logs and office budget items
9AM meet with Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief to set up instructions for staff for day and long term policy and legislative work
945 leave district office to drive into Manhattan.
10AM begin committee hearings at City Hall -I serve on the most committees of any freshman councilman, and second in the entire council: 1) Public Safety, 2) Fire &Criminal Justice, 3) Land Use, Public Siting, 4) Landmarks, and Maritime Uses, 5) Mental Health and Retardation Drug & Alcohol Abuse and Disability Services, and 6) Public Housing
1 PM lunch and noontime appointments with City Agencies, Lobbyists, and Constituents in City Hall offices, review legislative issues and City Council Agendas
3PM head back to district office
330 afternoon appointments with Constituents, local other elected -assembly (my district spans 4 assembly districts), state senate (2 senate districts), congressmen (2 congressional districts) and police & community boards (2 Community Boards and 3 police precincts)
5PM review calendar for next day and appointments with scheduler
6PM attend local civic and community events (my council district is composed of 7 towns, over 161,000 constituents, 24 square miles of land and 4 marinas and 14 miles of coastline).
10PM home, walk and feed the hounds, eat, start emails, review committee notes and research for next days appointments and hearings
11PM evening bedes at my home Stalli, followed by watching news and sleep
The Committees meet between two and three times a month each, the Council has stated meetings twice a month.
You appear to be having a successful and productive first year in office. What are you most proud of accomplishing in office? Two things:
a) Raising the funding provided in my district to the highest levels in 10 years for both discretionary spending (community programs) and capital allotments (infrastructure, schools and parks).
b) Making the City more responsive to the realities of my district- we were able to stop the Paid Sick Leave and Living Wage bills which would have crippled small business, attacked property tax increases and pushed legislation to reform government transparency and funding policy…
Our council office has had such an impact that I was named one of the top 40 under 40 year old in New York State politics named by City Hall News – the political insider news service of the State of New York. We have received more network coverage than any other elected official in new York except the Mayor and the Speaker… not bad for a freshman republican in the political minority.
You still have three years left in your term. What do you still hope to accomplish while in office? Governmental reform and transparency is my largest goal. I have introduced 5 pieces of legislation aimed at reform this legislative session and have another 14 bills pending.
Does being a part of a minority religion impact how you serve minorities in your area? Not really; I was always aware of the need to maintain balance between the public at large and the protection of minority positions… as a criminal defense attorney I had a unique insight to the problems facing our economically challenged communities and had a history of fighting for them.
Furthermore, as Flushing is the birthplace of religious freedom in America (the remonstrance of Dutch Flushing), it has always been a great source of diversity. In my council office, I have funded Orthodox Jewish, Catholic, mainstream Jewish, Lutheran, Protestant, Buddhist, and Hindu organizations and been invited and attended a broad variety of religious events. I was also able to help out many cultural groups, ranging from the Korean American Group of Greater New York, Chinese Flushing Business Association, Sacco Society (Italian American), Russian & Greek Orthodox Societies and Irish and German American groups.
During the election, your opponent attempted to use your religion as a wedge issue and it got pretty down and dirty, what has been the response towards your religion by your constituents since then? Its not an issue….Almost everyone sees what was done as a terrible campaign hit-piece. My service in the Council and advocacy for our neighborhoods has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that my religious faith is not only irrelevant to my public policy… but also a source of great personal strength for me which only inures to the benefit of my Community. I do occasionally hear that being a “Druid” explains why I am such an eco-conscious Republican.
What do your co-religionists (Theodish) think about your new position? Are you able to fulfill your religious obligations to them? Do they feel your new status brings them increased good fortune? The problem with change, is that it always disturbs the status quo. Many in the Theodish community (and in the Asatru community) still harbor issues about how my campaign handled issues related to my faith and the idea that one could serve openly in public without compromising elements of our traditions and beliefs. But they weren’t the ones running for office, and certainly, without great risk, there is no great reward.
So some do, some don’t approve of my position… the simple reality is, that we now have an elected official who represents our faith, a milestone to be sure. And that is no small feat- more so because New York City is the largest City in the country, the position I hold is nearly comparable to some state senate and congressional seats in size and scope.
In fact, one of the fundamental theological truths that our faith is centered on is that we make our own Luck and that outward manifestations of success in life and accomplishment are the only true measure of it.
You are a favorite of the local Tea Party groups, so much so they wanted to draft you into running for Congress. That they would support a Pagan/Heathen candidate runs counter to how some see Tea Party groups, as Socially Conservative Christians. How do you account for their support of you and Erin Lale [a Heathen Candidate in Nevada]? Because the media has intentionally misrepresented and distorted what the Tea Party is about and who is in it and unfortunately people believe the nonsense that the mainstream media has spouted about on the issue. There has never been any animus towards me or my faith by the Tea Party. In fact, when the attacks began it was my Tea Party supporters who were the first to jump in and fight back citing the First Amendment and freedom of religion. The reality is, that LIBERAL DEMOCRATS were the ones who shamelessly exploiting religion. Their fake claims of tolerance and diversity are belied by their actions. The DEMOCRATS faked mailers from the Catholic Church attacking my faith, they instituted media sensationalism claiming I was anti-Semitic and in a racist religion… all the while the mainstream media was their more than willing accomplices. The reality is that the Tea Party stood up for freedom while the Democratic Liberals proved that they only have room for their agenda, not for ideals.
Some Tea Party supported candidates are Socially Conservative, not just Fiscally Conservative, and wear their Christian religion on their sleeves. If Tea Party Pagans assist more Social Conservatives to get elected, and they turn out to be very anti-Pagan, how do you feel about the possibility of inadvertently supporting and electing folks who might work against our own social interests? This is a straw-man argument.
N.B. hyperbole coming…..Some Liberal Democrats are actually elitist racists who wear their contempt for God (in any form) on their sleeve and look down at the great unwashed masses as not able to think for themselves because they don’t know whats best for them and have delusions that there is a higher power that motivates them… so instead the elites will dictate how the masses live their lives and ensure that mankind is beyond its superstitious need for God(s), tax all the producers to raise up the poor…. Blah blah blah…..
You support candidates who understand that the Bill of Rights is to be respected as the supreme law of the land, that the Founders called for LIMITED government, and that each person has an obligation to work for themselves and their families and that they should not be dependent on the government (through welfare programs) nor overly indebted to the government (through taxes) either … those, are mostly, traditional Republicans (not neo-cons), Libertarians, Constitutional Conservatives, and yes, Tea Party types….
Erin Lale and yourself are Heathens. Jessica Orsini, who was re-elected as an Alderman in Missouri, is a Hellenion. Why do you think that Pagans in reconstructionist religions have been more successful in breaking into politics and seen a serious candidates than Wiccans and other Contemporary Pagans? Because the intellectual rigors of reconstruction faiths provide the discipline and education needed to be taken seriously in academic circles… which usually means mainstream higher education, in turn upper income, and more mainstream appearances and social involvement.
What advice do you have for Pagans who are considering running for political office? Be well educated, involved in your community, and desire to have your faith as ONE component of your life and not your entire identity.
Do you think the USA is ready for Pagans in higher office, say Congress? Yes- as with ANY faith, the RIGHT candidates…..ones who know what their community’s needs are, who can advocate and build coalitions…. A person’s religion isn’t the litmus test for public office it’s a component in understanding who they are and their point of view.
Hopefully in four years New York will be ready for a Heathen Congressman….