Research and Policy Coordinator, Common Cause New York
Even after Brian Paul had finished drawing Common Cause New York’s “reform maps” last year, he had no idea how much of an impact they would make on the state’s congressional landscape for the next 10 years.
When the special master appointed to resolve the impasse in the state legislature, Judge Roanne Mann, ultimately decided the Congressionial lines, she cited the maps Paul had spent months laboring over as a model for her own. Paul, who credits his supervisor, Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner, as the guiding force behind his work, admits, “We were very surprised that the political deal was not worked out between the parties that would have allowed them to advantage and disadvantage incumbents as they have in the past.”
Paul’s fondness for maps dates back as early as he can remember. As a kid he was enthralled by an atlas entitled “Our 50 States”, which he used to memorize all of the U.S. capitals at the age of 5. “I’ve always loved demographics, history, and geography as a way of understanding the world around us,” enthuses Paul.
His academic interests led him to get a degree in anthropology and classics from Vassar and a Master of Urban Planning from Hunter, where he studied under Tom Angotti at the Center for Community Planning & Development. At Hunter, Paul was first introduced to the interrelationship between politics and policy when he helped develop an alternative zoning plan for Manhattan’s Chinatown that was more strongly protective and included more affordable housing than the city’s plans.
Paul’s fascination with zoning also inspired him to write and co-produce a 50-minute documentary called “The Domino Effect”, which focuses on the community battle surrounding the redevelopment of the landmark Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
While Paul is proud of what he has achieved at Common Cause, his first job out of graduate school, there has been one distinct disappointment: the new lines for the state legislature, which he bemoans as just as gerrymandered as ever. Laments Paul, “It shows how deep the cynicism runs in this state that there wasn’t more of an uproar against what happened there.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now?
“This is my first full-time position in politics, but my work at Hunter got me hooked on trying to empower the public to engage in complex policy issues.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing?
“I might go back to school for a PhD in urban planning or political science at some point, but my work will always be deeply involved in politics and policy.”
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card?
“I really think I’ll still be here at Common Cause in five years. This is a great organization and the good government model has room to grow and become more inclusive and engaged with local communities.”
If you could have a super power what would it be, and why?
“I’d want a ‘truth ray’ – a beam of light that can suddenly render someone unable to tell a lie or try to deceive. Can you imagine how that would revolutionize press conferences in this state?”
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