BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Gareth Rhodes, deputy superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services

POLITICO Staff
·4 min read

How/where are you celebrating your birthday and with whom? “I’m celebrating my 32nd birthday in Albany with my wife, Alexa Kissinger. We’ve been here together since early March when I was asked to be part of Gov. Cuomo’s Covid-19 task force. Alexa is clerking on the D.C Circuit, which has been mostly remote during Covid-19, so we are lucky to be together. Days (or evenings) off have been hard to come by, but hoping to find time for some socially distanced outdoor dining.”

How did you get your start in politics? “As a student at CUNY City College, I interned for Rep. Charles B. Rangel’s district office on 125th Street in Harlem. It was as hands-on an experience as it gets in politics -- processing Section 8 voucher applications, addressing immigration backlogs, resolving Social Security claims and more. An unforgettable experience for a college freshman, including weekly lunches where the congressman regaled us with stories from the Korean War and from coming up in Harlem politics.”

What’s an interesting book/article you’re reading during coronavirus social distancing? And why? “Not to knock everyone who dusted off their copy of ‘The Power Broker’ for the background bookshelf ahead of a Zoom TV hit … but I just finished rereading Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett’s ‘City for Sale.’ It is in my opinion the real must-read for New York politicos and reaffirms that nothing out there beats New York politics.”

What’s a trend going on in the U.S. or abroad that doesn’t get enough attention? “As Covid-19 has helped magnify across America, where someone lives -- their housing situation -- impacts every aspect of their life: education, health, opportunity, safety. In New York state we closely tracked coronavirus ‘hot spots,’ a handful of ZIP codes that had positivity rates over 50% and not surprisingly were home to working-class, predominantly Black and brown essential workers, many living in close quarters. Wealthier ZIP codes with lower positivity rates, by contrast, had residents who were able to safely work from home or relocate to second homes or locations with much lower rates of spread. Housing affordability and access can determine the caliber of health care facilities near you, the quality of the air you breathe, your school’s ability to adapt to remote learning, your access to somewhere safe to quarantine, the ability to keep your home if you lose your job and so much more. These are some of the reasons Gov. Cuomo has included housing as one of the central priorities of New York state’s post-Covid reimagining.”

How’s the Trump presidency going? “As the Covid-19 crisis has shown, when government puts politics aside, lives are saved. I’ve worked closely with federal administration officials throughout this crisis. I was with Gov. Cuomo for a meeting in the Oval Office with President Trump in April, asking the federal government to assist New York with much-needed testing capacity. Together we built the Javits Center temporary hospital in days and treated more than 1,000 patients in just a few weeks. But, when politics has come first, it’s a different story. Contrast what we’ve done in New York over the past months -- requiring everyone wear masks, a phased reopening based solely on science and data metrics -- versus the messaging coming out of the federal government -- ‘liberate, the virus will just go away on its own, Dr. Fauci and the public health experts are wrong,’ etc. If the federal administration can put politics aside, focus on doing whatever it takes to defeat Covid-19 and urge states to follow the same model of what has so far successfully worked in New York, it would save lives and get our nation’s economy back up and running in a safe way.”

What’s a fun fact that people in Washington might not know about you? “Journalism was my first passion. As kids, my older sister Dorie and I hand-wrote a weekly newsletter called The Rhodeside Reader with an extensive circulation to our family of four. It featured everything from recapping the latest on the Elián González saga to hard-hitting investigative journalism about who or what was culpable for an unfortunate Sunday dinner food poisoning incident. In middle school I joined a few friends to publish a 20-page handwritten magazine called The Weekly Herald published every Sunday with circulation of about 40 -- mostly known for an exceptionally active letter to the editor page and complaints about the difficulty of the crossword puzzle.”