Gennaro served in the City Council for that same district between 2002 and 2013, including 10 years as chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection. Before being elected, Gennaro worked for 13 years as a central staffer for the legislative body, giving him 25 years of experience with the institution.
“There will be a lot of turnover in the City Council,” he said in a recent interview. “It will be important to have people there who have institutional knowledge and know what the powers of the office are.”
If elected, Gennaro said he wants to build on and finish the work he did on the environment and sustainability for decades. The former councilman said he passed more than 50 laws related to the environment, including the New York City Climate Protection Act in 2007.
That law codified the city’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the government by 30 percent by 2030. More than a decade later, Gennaro’s former deputy chief of staff, Councilman Costa Constantinides, passed legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
“I want to make sure that stays on pace,” Gennaro said. “I’m the guy to help make that happen.”
Lowering greenhouse gas emissions also means simultaneously reducing all other air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxide, which Gennaro noted the city government cannot regulate because the job falls on the federal government.
He said tackling greenhouse gas emissions is not only important in addressing the climate crisis, but also important for growing the green economy and bolstering the state’s economy.
Gennaro said he “started a nationwide conversation” on fracking, one that he continued after his days in the City Council. In 2014, he was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to serve as deputy commissioner for New York City sustainability and resiliency at the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
He stepped down from that position in May 2020 to run for his former City Council seat.
The former councilman also touted his work to create the New York City Panel on Climate Change, which monitors sea level rise. He called for erecting more storm surge barriers, which have already been done in cities like New Orleans, St. Petersburg and Venice.
“We cannot afford another Sandy,” he said.
In 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave Gennaro the Environmental Quality Award for Lifetime Achievement in Public Service. He said it’s “very rare” for a local elected official to win that kind of national award.
Gennaro was also endorsed by the New York League of Conservation Voters for this special election, which noted that the former councilman is a “decades-long champion” of the green policies.
“This is one of my passions,” he said. “I have a record of getting things done that people thought would never happen.”
One of those accomplishments, he said, is passing the “Tobacco 21” law, which raised the age of sale on tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21 years old. Gennaro said it took him eight years in office to get it done, and despite not having former Mayor Michael Bloomberg initially on board, the bill passed and was eventually made into national policy.
“I can still bring it at 63,” he said. “This is what I’m about, I get sh*t done.”
Outside of environmental issues, Gennaro said he does not consider himself a progressive, but rather a centrist. He said he’s pro-business, and is not a fan of the current form of mayoral control of schools.
While acknowledging that mayoral control is an issue where the state has power, Gennaro said he doesn’t believe the current system works well because it cuts out parents’ voices.
“I would be considered a common-sense moderate, which is a very good fit for my district,” he said. “That’s what they’re looking for.”
Gennaro said his experience in city government will be significant when it comes to the budget, which has been largely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis. He called for not balancing the budget “on the backs of our education system,” which would be “unacceptable.”
“I’ll be best positioned to make a difference in the all-important budget,” he said, “which is finalized in June.”
To get to the City Council, Gennaro will have to win in the first-ever city election to use the new ranked-choice voting system, in which voters rank their candidates in order of preference, rather than just choosing one candidate.
The former councilman said he’s in favor of this new system because it “expedites the ability for emerging groups” to get elected into office. Wha he does not like, however, is candidates making “side deals,” which he considers a “new version of a smoke-filled backroom.”
“I don’t want any part of it,” he said. “My job as a candidate is to bring up what I can do and try to be their number-one pick. I don’t want to play footsies with other campaigns.”
The District 24 race also includes activist Moumita Ahmed, Soma Syed, president of the Queens County Women’s Bar Association, small business owner Deepti Sharma, district leader Neeta Jain, Dilip Nath, president of the New American Voters Association, real estate agent Michael Brown and activist Mujib Rahman.