Dear President-Elect Trump,
You may not remember me, but we have crossed paths before. Most recently, last year I introduced legislation in the New York State Senate to strip your name from Donald J. Trump State Park. I argued that you had not earned the honor of having a state park named for you. Since you are now the first New Yorker elected president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I have decided not to reintroduce the legislation this year. As President-elect, you have an opportunity to earn the honor.
For the sake of our country, I hope you do.
However, you should know that the things you said during the campaign, your previous treatment of women, and your temperament make me worry that you will not. I worry for my Brooklyn and Manhattan Senate district. I worry for the city we both call home. And I worry for our country.
More than anything, I worry for my two boys. Theo is five. Humphrey is two. You should know that they did not support you either, although you can blame my wife and me for that.
In truth, you should also blame their grandmother, my mother-in-law. She was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany in 1948. Both of her parents survived the Holocaust and came here to begin again, create a life that mocked the fate tattooed on their arms. My mother-in-law was the first in her family to go to college, and the first to go to graduate school. She raised two extraordinary women to believe that anyone, even a woman, could become president of this exceptional country. Your campaign rejected everything this country has offered her: a welcoming shore, an open door of opportunity for those willing to work hard, increasing respect for women in the workplace and in society.
You should know that my young sons’ rejection of your candidacy can also be blamed on their Granny, my mother. She was raised on military bases across the country by two Southern parents, an Air Force officer and a former Randolph-Macon Women’s College May Queen. My mother joined the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 to fight against segregation and Jim Crow, then worked at the American Civil Liberties Union and Bronx Legal Services. Your campaign undermined everything she has held dear: the dignity and honor of military service, an inexorable march toward inclusion and fairness, our constitution’s assurance of blind justice.
You should know that it is not just on my sons’ behalf that I write, or on their grandmothers’. Many of my constituents are worried about your presidency. Some are frankly despondent. In truth, my wife and I have not been sleeping either.
On all of their behalves, in response to our most profound fears, I urgently and respectfully make the following requests, Mr. President-elect:
1. Appoint an appropriately credentialed Secretary of Defense to whom you defer before committing any military resources anywhere on earth or renegotiating any military treaties, privately, publicly, or on Twitter. And do not use, threaten to use, or even mention using, nuclear weapons.
2. Allow the Department of Justice to operate independently, without political interference, under the guidance of a non-partisan Attorney General who will defend civil rights and the rule of law.
3. Confirm that you will not at any point, for any reason, seize extraordinary constitutional powers in response to any crisis without the written support of the leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress, and that you will immediately seek, and respect, judicial guidance.
4. Disavow anyone who suggests that “taking our country back” refers to taking from people based on who they are or how they identify. When you talk about those who are being left behind, explicitly include everyone who is being left behind by a system that many of us, regardless of our backgrounds, agree benefits a select few.
As lifelong New Yorkers, you and I have crossed paths more than once. Years before I introduced my bill to strip your name from a state park, we had a more positive connection. A young woman named Darlene Bertil was terribly injured in the Haitian earthquake, losing both of her arms. Referred by a Navy doctor who had been assigned to the relief effort, I helped Darlene come to this country. While touring the Hospital for Special Surgery, which donated her prosthetics, you met her. Moved by her story of enrolling in college as an undocumented immigrant, you offered unsolicited support—and even declined to publicly take credit for your generous act. I hope you are able to apply the respect and empathy you showed for Darlene to everyone in this country who needs a fair shake and a helping hand, regardless of their race, gender, religion or nationality.
Actually, our first meeting was decades earlier. When I was six, my father, a son of immigrants who rose from poverty to prominence in our city, brought me to Mayor Koch’s Statue of Liberty Centennial celebration. I have a recollection of being introduced to you, already as familiar a celebrity as the mayor himself. I was allowed to stay out late to watch the fireworks, as I assume you did too. I hope that you never forget that night, never forget the values that the statue represents.
Today, I represent the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, part of my melting pot district in which people feel adrift, floating away from the rest of the country. As president, it is your job to guide us back in, provide reassurance that all of us are in fact part of America.
Even more important, it is your sacred duty to make sure that the promise of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty—the welcoming shores, the unmatched opportunity, the belief in fairness and reliance on laws—are firmly secure in our government and our national identity.
For more than a century, they have been a beacon around the globe, and a source of strength across the nation.
To be clear, I will be shocked if my sons support you, or their grandmothers do. Or, to be honest, if I do. The chasm between your worldview and ours is too great. That is the way of democracy; sometimes we will not support the person in the White House or the party that controls Congress. But there is something in our country much more important than the outcome of any election. There is our nation itself. Whoever the president is, I desperately want my sons to grow up with the same faith in our United States—our path toward a more perfect union—that their grandmothers have, their mother has, and I have.
I am writing to urge you to preserve that faith; but please understand, with or without your cooperation, it will be preserved.