Democrat mascot donkey behind a wheelchair icon - The First Democratic Club in the Country Focusing on Disability Rights

Annual Luncheon

The 2006 annual luncheon of the 504 Democratic Club took place on
Sunday, May 21, 2006 at the Evergreen Shanghai Restaurant in New York City

President's Message

On behalf of the officers and Executive Committee members. I want to welcome you to the 23rd annual luncheon of the 504 Democratic Club. I want to also congratulate our distinguished honorees.

We take time to remember the passing of the pioneer disability rights leader, Frieda Zames, who passed since our last event. We are happy to have honored her with our Eileen Healy Award at our 25th Anniversary dinner.

We also have many things to be thankful for within the past year. After many years, the Disabled Rent Increase Exemption passed the legislature through the tireless efforts of the coalition encompassing the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York, Coalition for the Homeless, and Tenants and Neighbors, and we take note of this by honoring their leaders, Susan Dooha, Shelly Nortz, and Michael McKee with our Justin Dart Award. We also thank Christina Curry, this year's Eileen Healy Award winner. Christina Curry and Matt Sapolin, Director of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, for their important help in the passage of D.R.I.E.

This year, for the first time, we are happy to honor a significant mental health advocate, Kathryn Smith. Unfortunately, we lost her in the past year.

We are also honoring G. Oliver Koppell, Chair of the Mental Health, Mental Hygiene, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services Committee for years of disability advocacy as an Assembly Member, Attorney General, and Council Member. We look to him and Speaker Chris Quinn to provide meaningful access to taxis and car services for our community.

This year, for the first time, a 504 Democratic Club activist was elected to public office. In the February 28th Special Election, our own Sylvia Friedman, who organized our dinner last year, was elected to the State Assembly. She receives this year's Joan Kinzer award, and she has validated our greatest hopes as a champion of disability issues. The first bill she has drafted is to raise income eligibility for D.R.I.E. We also honor a new leader, Lawrence Carter-Long, who has brought his talents as an animal rights leader and communicator of our cause.

We take great pride that our champion and patron, State Senate Democratic Leader David Paterson was chosen by Attorney General Spitzer as his running mate to become New York's next Lieutenant Governor and possible future contender for the U.S. Senate. We Democrats are on track this year to take all State-wide offices and to come closer to our goal of taking over the State Senate, so that our legislation, including D.R.I.E. parity with seniors, Timothy's Law, inclusion of PWDs in the EPIC senior prescription program, and funding for stem cell research, can be passed.

Marvin Wasserman
504 Democratic Club President



photo of G. Oliver Koppell
Hon. G. Oliver Koppell
FDR Political Advocacy Award
presented by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn small photo of Christine C. Quinn

Council Member G. Oliver Koppell, this year's F.D.R. Award recipient, is the Chair of the Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services Committee.

He was elected to the State Assembly in 1979, where he served as representative of the Northwest Bronx for 23 years. He wrote and sponsored 280 laws including the Utility Consumers Bill of Rights, the Returnable Bottle Law, thee Automobile "Lemon Law," and one incorporating disability into the New York State Human Rights Law.

As State Attorney General, Koppell actively prosecuted consumer fraud, discrimination based on race, family status and disability. He acted as special prosecutor in a number of criminal proceedings and personally argued on behalf of New York State in the United Stats Supreme Court.

He was elected to the City Council in 2001.

As a legislator and Attorney General, he has employed persons with disabilities, particulary deaf and mobility-impaired individuals, on his staff.


photo of Susan Dooha
Susan Dooha
Justin Dart Award for Political Advocacy
presented by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer small photo of Scott Stringer

Susan M. Dooha, J.D., is Executive Director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY). CIDNY's goal is to ensure full integration, independence and equal opportunity for all people with disabilities by removing barriers to the social, economic, cultural and civic life of the community. In 2005, CIDNY reached nearly 15,000 New Yorkers.

Ms. Dooha joined the staff of CIDNY in early 2002. Under her leadership, CIDNY has undertaken new initiatives including:

Dooha has been a nonprofit executive, public health policy expert and community advocate for more than 25 years. Prior to her appointment at CIDNY, was Director of Health Policy for the nation's oldest and largest AIDS service organization, Gay Men's Health Crisis, where she worked for eight years. In 1996, she was name Advocate of the Year by the New York City Consortium of Independent Living Centers. In 1993, Ms. Dooha authored by the National Council on Independent Living and that became the health platform of the commemoration of the Americans with Disabilites Act (ADA).

Dooha is Vice President of the New York Association on Independent Living, a state-wide association of independent living centers. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Public Health Association of New York City and of the American Public Health Association's Disability Section. For nine years, she served as a member of the New York State Medicaid Managed Care Advisory Review Panel. She chairs a coalition of more than 50 voluntary health organizations, New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage.


photo of Shelly Nortz
Shelly Nortz
Justin Dart Award for Political Advocacy
presented by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer small photo of Scott Stringer

Coalition for the Homeless is the nation's oldest advocacy and direct service organization helping homeless men, women, and children. We are dedicated to the principle that decent shelter, sufficient food, affordable housing, and the chance to work for a living wage are fundamental rights in a civilized society. Since our inception in 1981, the Coalition has worked through litigation, public education, and direct services to ensure that these goals are realized. Through twelve programs the Coalition offers a range of services that help 3,500 people each day with food, housing, job training, crisis intervention and assistance with benefits.

The creation of the Disability Rent Increase Exemption Program has been on our "to do" list since the mid-1980s and we are proud to have helped make it happen. Partnering with the disability, tenant, and homeless shelter constituencies, along with allies in City government and the stewardship of our wonderful sponsors in the Legislature and City Council proved to be the magic that made possible this particular bill becoming a law. We applaud the team effort and all of the people behind the scenes who organized rallies, legislative visits and phone banks, as well as those who negotiates well into the night to finally grant this benefit.

Shelly Nortz serves as the Deputy Executive Director for Policy with Coalition for the Homeless where she has worked since 1987. She secures legislation and budgetary support to prevent and address homelessness through income supports, affordable and supportive housing, mental health care, and civil rights strategies.


photo of Michael McKee
Michael McKee
Justin Dart Award for Political Advocacy
presented by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer small photo of Scott Stringer

MICHAEL McKEE has been a community organizer and tenants' rights advocate since 1970. He was a founder of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition, a statewide membership organization that lobbies and advocates for tenant rights legislation. Founded in 1974, Tenants & Neighbors is now the oldest statewide housing coalition in the United States. Over the years, Mr. McKee served as statewide chairperson of the Coalition, legislative representative, executive director, director of development, and associate director. In 1996 and 1997 he served as rent law campaign manager for the organization's grass roots campaign to renew the state's rent and eviction control laws.

Since his retirement from the staff of Tenants & Neighbors in late 2005, Mr. McKee continues to perform certain functions as a volunteer, including hosting the weekly Tenants & Neighbors cable television program produced under the auspices of Manhattan Neighborhood Network.

He serves as treasurer of Tenants Political Action Committee, which supports pro-tenant candidates for elected office and opposes anti-tenant candidates.

In the early 1970s, Mr. McKee was a tenant organizer for the Metropolitan Council on Housing, then for the Brooklyn Tenants Union. From 1977 until 1982, he was executive director of the People's Housing Network, in which capacity he founded the School for Organizers. PHN trained hundreds of tenant organizers and tenant leaders all over New York State, establishing the infrastructure for much of the state's housing advocact for the following decade.

Mr. McKee is the co-author of Rent Regulation in New York City: A Briefing Book (1993), an analysis of the effects of rent and eviction regulation on housing, neighborhoods, tenants and landlords; co-author of a A Tenant's Guide to Subletting, Apartment Sharing and Apartment Succession (1998); and author of A Tenant's Guide to High Income Decontrol (2006). From 1978 until 1980, he was a member of the Temporary State Commission on Rental Housing, a legislative commission to which he was appointed by Assembly Speaker Stanley Steingut.

From 1974 until his death in 1989, Mr. McKee's companion was Louis Fulgoni, a graphic artist and painter, Mr. McKee lives in a rent-controlled apartment in Chelsea with his domestic partner, Eric Stenshoel, a lawyer.


photo of Christina Curry
Christina Curry
Eileen Healy Community Service Award
presented by City Council Member Inez Dickens small photo of Inez Dickens

Christina Curry, M.A., is the Executive Director for the Harlem Independent Living Center (HILC), Harlem, NY. Ms. Curry began her career in rehabilitation as an Advocate with the Deaf, Hard of Hearing communities, working primarily within the Black and Hispanic populations. From there, Ms. Curry transitioned to the mental health field as a Mental Health Counselor working with Deaf, Hard of Hearing domestic violence victims/survivors. At the same time, she began freelance work with an outpatient mental health facility located in Brooklyn, NY, working with the Black and Hispanic disabled community. She joined HILC in 1999 as the Program Director and was promoted to the position of Executive Director in 2001.

Ms. Curry has served on many committees, such as, the Chair for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing domestic violence victims/survivors task force (formed through the Brooklyn D.A.'s office) the Monarch Center Advisory Committee, Mt. Sinai SCI Advisory Committee, Office of Emergency Management Special Needs Advisory Committee, the Disability Network of New York City Executive Committee (DNNYC) along with serving on the New York State Independent Living Council Committee (NYSILC) and the New York Association of Independent Living (NYAIL).

Additionally, Ms. Curry is a financial sponsor for an independent domestic violence organization which provides its disabled members with the tools to reenter the job force, relocate, etc. and has been selected to serve on the Cultural Diversity Advisory Committee (CDAC) for the National Council on Disability in 2006.


photo of Lawrence Carter-Long
Lawrence Carter-Long
Sandra Schnur Emerging Leadership Award
presented by City Council Member Gale A. Brewer small photo of Gale A. Brewer

Lawrence Carter-Long is the Network Coordinator for the DISABILITIES NETWORK OF NYC. A 2004 participant in the prestigious SPIN ACADEMY, Lawrence brings his experience in media communications and strategy to disability advocacy in the Big Apple. He has been a guest on dozens of regional and national media outlets including NBC's THE TODAY SHOW, CNN and NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO and has facilitated workshops on effective communication techniques for activists at conferences and colleges nationwide.

In addition to his work at DNNYC, Lawrence is a regular contributor to RAGGED EDGE ONLINE, a disability rights web log, and a producer on WBAI's LARGEST MINORITY radio show, where he reports on disability arts, culture and community. He is a Contributing Editor for SATYA MAGAZINE which "strives to facilitate dialogue among social justice activists on a variety of diverse issues." Recent projects include curating the disTHIS! Film Series, along with DCTV, to spotlight movies which demystify the disabled experience and show disability through a whole new lens.

His involvement in social justice advocacy dates back over 15 years and includes numerous animal protection efforts including serving as a selection committee member since 2001 for the HSUS' Genesis Awards in Beverly Hills, CA and as an advisor to NYC's League of Humane Voters. He lives in Brooklyn with his human partner, Cat Clyne, and three feisty felines Toby, Pierre and Charlie Bear. More information including published articles, workshops and speaking engagements can be found at his website:


photo of Sylvia Friedman
Hon. Sylvia Friedman
Joan Kinzer Award
presented by former Public Advocate Mark Green small photo of Mark Green

Sylvia Friedman was elected to the New York State Assembly represting the 74th Assembly District on the east side of Manhattan in a Special Election on February 28th of this year. A longtime member of the 504 Democratic Club Executive Board, she is its first member to be elected to public office.

The Assemblywoman, who has a disability herself, has been a dedicated advocate for the disability community for many years. She served as Co-Director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York, as Program Director of Concepts of Independence, New York's pioneer Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program, and as liaison to the disabled community in the office of Public Advocate Mark Green.

In her first week in the Assembly, she proudly voted for Timothy's Law which provides parity in medical insurance for mental illness. She is working on a bill to equalize the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) program with the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE). Currently, the maximum income for DRIE recipients is $17,000 for an individual while SCRIE recipients may have incomes up to $24,000. At the same time, she is working on a bill to include people with disabilities in the all important EPIC program which helps seniors pay for their prescription drugs.

Before her election to the Assembly, Sylvia Friedman served as District Leader and then as Democratic State Committee Member. On the State Committee, she was a member of the Reform Caucus and last year was elected its Chair. She served on Community Board 6 in Manhattan, at various times chairing the Housing Committee, the Homeless Committee and the Parks, Recreation and Landmarks Committee. For the last twenty years, she has chaired of a shelter for twelve homeless men and women. Using a gift given to the shelther as seed money, she helped start and served on the Board of Friends House in Rosehill, a residence for fifty formerly homeless people with AIDS.

Assemblywoman Sylvia Friedman is thrilled with the honor given to her by the 504 Democratic Club.


photo of Kathryn A. Smith
Kathryn A. Smith
(1930 - 2006)
Special Recognition Award for Mental Health Advocacy (posthumously)
presented by Dirk McCall small photo of Dirk McCall, Director of External Affairs Quality Services for the Autism Community

Kathryn A. Smith was a board member of NAMI Staten Island for many years, a strong advocate for her daughter, gave support to other families and was a mentor to others, long before there was much public interest in mental health issues.

As the Chair of the Staten Island Mental Health Council, she worked to develop programs and services on the local level and held Legislative breakfasts to help educate elected officials.

With the pro bono help from Steve Vaccaro Esq. at Debevoise & Plimpton she sued the MTA through multiple court battles for over 11 years, fighting for her daughter and the right of thousands of people with mental illness to obtain the half price fare they deserve as covered under the handicapped provision of the NYS and Federal law the MTA denied through their ignorance and prejudice.

She met with then Assemblywoman Elizabeth Connelly of Staten Island, who introduced legislation covering the mentally ill who receive SSI and SSD and clarifying that the MTA was obligated to recognize people with mental illness as deserving of the half fare. This bill passes in Albany almost 10 years after the bill's introduction.

The 504 Democratic Club is pleased to present its first award for mental health advocacy to Kathryn A. Smith. The award will be accepted by her son, Thomas Smith, Past President of our sister club, the Stonewall Democratic Club.


Here's to a future with:

Marvin Wasserman
504 Democratic Club President


"To all those who's cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, and the dream will never die."

- Senator Edward M. Kennedy