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Semester-Long Initiative Brings Politics and Policy-Makers to Life

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

St. John’s University’s PARTICIPATE ’13 program concluded on November 7, following two months of lively debate and political discussion.

“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 PARTICIPATE ’13.

This annual University-wide initiative was created to promote and increase greater civic awareness, engagement, and participation in the political process.

PARTICIPATE’13 began in mid-September with the annual observance of Constitution Day and student debates at both the Queens and Staten Island campuses on a wide range of topics, including the New York Police Department’s “Stop, Question, and Frisk” policy.

More than 150 people attended a public screening and panel discussion of Neil Barsky’s award-winning documentary Koch on October 15. Panelists included Sam Roberts, New York Times urban affairs correspondent; Jonathan Soffer, Ph.D., author of Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City; Bob McGuire, former New York City police commissioner; and Martha Hirst, executive vice president, chief operating officer, and treasurer of St. John’s University—and Mayor Koch’s legislative representative to New York City from 1982 to 1989.

“The opportunity to talk with and listen to my fellow panelists regarding a New York City treasure—Ed Koch—was delightful, and an honor,” said Hirst. “I cannot help but miss his voice in the public commentary surrounding the 2013 mayoral campaign.”

In late October, in what has become another annual event on campus, the PARTICIPATE program sponsored a “Meet the Candidate” night at the Queens campus. Both major party candidates for the Office of Queens Borough President were in attendance, as were several local candidates for New York City Council.

“Coming from upstate New York, I hadn’t been following New York City politics very closely,” said Katie Dineen ’15Ed, who served as a student panelist. “Having the opportunity to meet the candidates really sparked my interest in the election.”

The final event of PARTICIPATE ’13 was a post-Election Day recap featuring Crain’s New York Business journalist and author, Greg David, who fielded an array of questions on gentrification, the economy, and the agenda of the next mayor of New York City. He also provided a preview of local New York City politics and policies to look out for in 2014.

Plans are already in the works for PARTICIPATE ’14. “2014 will be a very busy election year at the state and federal levels,” said Browne. “St. John’s will be right in the thick of it with more programs that explore the people, politics, and policies that shape our political affairs.”