Brad Schwartz said he never had political aspirations until he was fighting for his life after a decade of symptoms from an unknown illness had ravaged his body and dealing with the health care system.
Now Schwartz plans to challenge state Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill), who currently represents District 7, in next November’s election.
“[President Donald] Trump wasn’t the catalyst for me to run for office; it was the renewed attack on the Affordable Care Act that was because I knew immediately that the administration and the Congressional Republicans would attempt to either repeal or gut the act,” Schwartz said. “I felt like as a citizen, this was my opportunity to step up to the plate, and I felt an obligation to as someone who had recovered from an illness to fight for those who are still fighting.”
During his time at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Schwartz, an East Hills native and Port Washington resident, began developing mysterious symptoms that began as neurologic pain.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in film, Schwartz took a gap year, searching for an answer to his swollen joints and unending fatigue.
“I had a critical life decision to make at that point,” Schwartz said. “Do I spend every day going from doctor to doctor for another year or two years or three years, or do I just push forward with what my dream had been, which was to work in the entertainment industry, and apply to grad schools?” Schwartz said.
Schwartz chose his dream and enrolled at the American Film Institute and soon after began a career as a freelance editor and and producer across reality television, including time working on “Top Chef.”
“By the time I was 29, my body just deteriorated under the weight of the illness,” Schwartz said. “I lost about 50 pounds, and my parents and my brother had to come to Los Angeles to get me because I was so sick I could not get out of bed. I could feel at that point my body had crashed.”
Once back on Long Island, Schwartz visited the Columbia University Medical Center’s Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Research Center, finally having a name to put with the symptoms.
Schwartz was told he would either never recover or require at least 10 more years of intensive treatment.
He was bedridden for six and a half years, relying on his family to help pay his medical bills and other expenses while he was unable to work.
In the political world during this time, the Affordable Care Act was coming to life, passing during Schwartz’s recovery period.
While able to keep his insurance, many of his expenses were out of pocket.
“The expense was exorbitant to say the least, and I would think to myself, I’m fortunate because my family pitched in to help,” Schwartz said. “I couldn’t work; I couldn’t survive on my own. I thought about how difficult it is to fight every day to try to recover from an illness and what that would be like for someone who has to decide to potentially bankrupt their family in the process or forego all treatment and any hope of a future.”
Schwartz is now recovered, but he said the experience gave him “a deep perspective” on the issue of health insurance and is now seeking the state Senate seat.
Democrats currently have a majority in the state Senate but Republicans maintain control because of an alliance between nine Democratic senators and the GOP. They are looking to gain control by defeating Republicans and, possibly in some cases, Democrats who choose to caucus with the Republicans.
While his background is in entertainment, Schwartz said he has always followed politics and current events, especially during the years he was bedridden.
“It’s actually the editing aspect of my background that I think comes most in handy for this campaign, which surprises people,” Schwartz said. “They think it’s the organizational skills of a producer, but when you’re an editor, you’re always looking for concise ways to engage attention to hone a message. If you’re drafting legislation and you’re trying to garner public support and you’re trying to garner legislative support, framing and phrasing is so important to the narrative.
“So many things fail when they’re the right thing because they haven’t been presented in the right way. A lot of things get lost in the message.”
Schwartz said with about 30 percent more registered Democrats in the district, Phillips is one of the most vulnerable incumbents seeking re-election in November.
“When it comes to human rights, Elaine Phillips denied New York residents and their families the same basic civic rights and sense of security that she and her family enjoys by blocking GENDA from reaching the floor of the state Senate for a vote,” Schwartz said. “Again, that’s political calculation over courage, and it’s silence for her to hide behind. Rather than openly vote no on the bill, she killed it.”
The bill, which adds gender identity and expression as a protected class in the state’s human rights and hate crimes laws, was introduced Jan. 4 in the Senate’s investigations and government operations committee and died by a 6-2 vote before making it to the floor. Phillips, one of five Republicans on the committee, voted against the bill.
Schwartz said the number of Democrats, especially in the suburbs, who flocked to the polls two months ago, electing Laura Curran as Nassau County executive, Jack Schnirman as Nassau County comptroller and Laura Gillen as the new town supervisor of neighboring Hempstead, Schwartz said he expects similar turnouts in the 2018 elections.
“I think suburban voters across the board seemed to be rejecting the politics of fear and divisiveness, which is a really good start,” Schwartz said. “They’re looking for fresh faces and ideas that come from outside the political echo chamber.”