PARTICIPATE '13 Program Makes All Politics Local at St. John's

Semester Long Initiative Brings Policy-Makers and Political Programs to Life
Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The St. John’s University PARTICIPATE’13 Program recently concluded its fall 2013 line-up with a post-Election Day recap featuring Crain’s New York business journalist and author, Greg David.  Mr. David discussed his 2012 book Modern New York: The Life and Economics of a City and provided a preview of local New York City politics and policies to look out for in 2014.  During a lively Q&A session that followed the lecture, Mr. David fielded an array of questions on gentrification, the economy and the agenda of the next mayor of New York City.

“This may have been what is called an off-year election but our efforts to engage and encourage the University community were very much on throughout the fall semester” observed Brian Browne, Assistant Vice President for Government Relations and the founder and principal organizer of the PARTICIPATE initiative.

The PARTICIPATE program is a University-wide annual initiative to promote and increase greater civic awareness, engagement and participation in the political process.  The PARTICIPATE program annually sponsors voter registration drives, candidate forums and other academic lectures and events to create better informed and more active voters within the University community.

The PARTICPATE’13 program began with the annual observance of Constitution Day (September 17) and a student debate that featured undergraduates debating several Constitutional issues including the timely and local policy of: “Stop, Question and Frisk” at both the Queens and Staten Island Campuses.

In an effort to focus on the 2013 New York City Mayoral race, the PARTICPATE’13 Program hosted a public screening of Neil Barsky’s 2012 award-winning documentary Koch that was followed by a panel discussion on the life and legacy of the 105th Mayor of New York City.  Over 150 attendees watched the film at the Queens Campus and joined in the wide-ranging public discussion that followed.

The panelists at the academic lecture included: Sam Roberts - New York Times Urban Affairs Correspondent; Dr. Jonathan Soffer - Historian and author of Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City; Bob McGuire -Attorney and former NYC Police Commissioner 1978-1983; and Martha Hirst - St. John’s University Executive Vice President, COO & Treasurer and Mayor Koch’s Legislative Representative to the NYC Council, 1982-1989.

“It is important for college students today to know just how far New York City has come since the 1970’s.”  said Browne, who organized and moderated the academic lecture. “The documentary and the conversation that followed really gave a behind the scenes perspective of the Koch Administration from insiders who were there and had an up close and personal view of Mayor Ed Koch and the many challenges of his mayoralty.”

“It was an enjoyable and enlightening evening” commented New York Times correspondent Sam Roberts.

Policy issues including governing New York City, race relations, crime, political reform and legislative accomplishments were all examined during the 90 minute discussion that followed the screening.

Now a Senior Administrator at St. John’s, Martha K. Hirst, who started her career working in the Koch Administration observed, “The opportunity to talk with and listen to my fellow panelists regarding a New York City treasure—Ed Koch—was  delightful, and an honor.  I cannot help but miss his  voice in the public commentary surrounding the current Mayoral campaign, and hope that our next mayor brings some of his best leadership attributes—smarts, decisiveness, and a passion for the City of New York—to the job.”

In late October, in what has become another annual event on campus, the PARTICIPATE program sponsored a Meet the Candidate Night that this year featured the media partnership of Queens Public Access Television (QPTV).  This year both major party candidates for the Office of Queens Borough President as well as several local candidates for New York City Council came to the Queens Campus and fielded questions from student panelists and a local Queens journalist.

Katie Dineen, a third-year undergraduate served as a student panelist at the forum and remarked: “Coming from upstate New York, I have not been following New York City politics very closely as a student at St. John's.  However, having the opportunity to meet these borough president and city council candidates really sparked my interest in the election.”

"I am glad to have been part of such a great opportunity that allows St. John's students to watch candidates for local office right here on campus," added third-year student Luis Quinones, President of the College Democrats at St. John’s University, who also served as a panelist.

Those who missed out on participating in any of the PARTICIPATE ’13 programs do not have to wait much longer as Browne promised, “2014 is going to be another busy election year at the state and federal levels and we will be right in the thick of it with more programs that explore the people, politics and policies that shape our political affairs.”

For more information on PARTICPATE Program visit or contact Brian Browne at

For media inquiries, please contact the Office of Media Relations at St. John’s at