UP CLOSE: Bottcher declares victory in NYC primary
LAKE PLACID — New York City District 3 Councilor Corey Johnson’s likely successor, Erik Bottcher, doesn’t remember meeting anybody quite like him when he was a kid.
Growing up in Wilmington, and attending school in Lake Placid, Bottcher struggled. There were idyllic moments — swimming in the Ausable River for hours, skiing and snowboarding in the winter, bird watching. He remembers hoping that new movie he wanted to see at the Palace Theatre would be on the big screen, not on one of the smaller screens. He remembers that when there was nothing else to do, he hung out in the parking lot at the old Grand Union supermarket in Lake Placid.
But Bottcher was gay, and he knew it. He didn’t know anybody else like him.
“I struggled with it a lot,” he said. “There was a lot of internalized shame. My family made clear early on that they would accept me no matter what. That was helpful. But being gay was … the word gay was synonymous with bad in my generation, in my peer group.
“I remember as a gay person at that time, it was very common for a person to be 18 years old and to never have been on a date. To have never met anyone with any romantic interest in you whatsoever. No first kiss. No first dance. That’s hard when you’ve watched all your peers have all those things,” he added.
Bottcher was living with depression from an early age. At the age of 15, he attempted suicide multiple times.
“As an adolescent, people started telling me that I looked like I was gay, and that sent me into a tailspin,” he said.
The last time he attempted suicide, he was hospitalized for a month at Four Winds in Saratoga. He got the treatment he needed and said it ultimately stabilized him.
“As graduation approached, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak,” Bottcher said.
Bottcher graduated from the Lake Placid High School in 1997. He knew he wanted to get out of the small town where he’d grown up and see what else was out there.
“I wanted to be in a city,” he said. “I wanted to be around people who were like me that I’d never had before.”
Bottcher went to George Washington University in Washington to study political science. He knew he wanted to be involved in politics in some way, but he never thought he’d run for office himself.
“I would stop in New York City on my way to college and back,” he said. “New York City had such an incredible allure because it was the opposite of where I was from, with the density and the pace of life. I immediately knew that I wanted to move to New York City.”
After graduating from college in 2001, he worked in a variety of industries. He had jobs in advertising, real estate and graphic design.
“I became more and more active politically in my spare time on LGBTQ rights, and an opportunity came up at the (New York) City Council. I jumped at the chance,” he said.
In 2009, Bottcher became the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS community liaison in the City Council’s community outreach unit.
“That was a incredibly exciting time to work in the LGBTQ rights movement,” he said. “We were fighting to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, we were fighting to win things like hospital visitation rights and marriage equality was only legal in two or three states, not including New York.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo was elected in 2011, and Bottcher was tapped to be the governor’s special assistant for community affairs, a job with a focus on the LGBTQ community.
“He made marriage equality one of his first agenda items,” Bottcher said. “At the time, it was still very controversial, and it was considered a longshot because the Republicans controlled the New York state Senate. But he hired me as his LGBTQ liaison and in the media, that was interpreted as a sign of his commitment to getting marriage equality passed.”
Bottcher told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise about his first day on the job in 2015.
“I got the email; it said the governor wants to see you right now,” Bottcher told the Enterprise. “I go into the governor’s office, and there is an enormous, ornate office, and there he was behind his desk, and he said, ‘I want to know what went wrong in 2009 when the marriage equality bill failed. Why didn’t it pass? What worked, what didn’t work, and what do we do differently this time?'”
Cuomo told him they were going to go at the issue “like a campaign” and get the bill passed that session.
“The governor traveled around the state to build support for marriage equality,” Bottcher said. “He even gave a speech at the convention center in Lake Placid. I went there with him to the convention center, right next to the arena. It was a surreal moment being in my hometown with the governor of New York state, who was promoting marriage equality.”
After the speech, he went across the street to his old high school and introduced himself to the new principal.
“We had a long conversation about their efforts to promote acceptance and diversity for young people,” he said.
Later, Bottcher was standing on the floor of the Senate chamber with the other members of the governor’s team when the marriage equality bill passed.
“The roof came off the building,” he said. “Incidentally, that was exactly 10 years ago, June 2011.”
It was one of the highlights of his life.
“On a personal level, it was proof to me that dreams can come true because I never would’ve imagined in a million years that I would be there,” he said.
He worked with the governor for a few years. He became the governor’s regional representative in Manhattan and helped with the state’s response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. He helped organize emergency preparedness trainings with the National Guard.
In 2015, he returned to New York City Hall, this time as chief of staff for District 3 Councilor Corey Johnson. District 3 is comprised of the west side of Manhattan from Canal Street up to Columbus Circle, including the neighborhoods of Greenwich Village, west SoHo, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. It also includes Times Square.
Bottcher, now 42, is running to represent District 3 on the New York City Council. New York City’s primary election is ranked choice this year, meaning voters will rank candidates and if a voter’s first choice is eliminated from the race, their vote will count for their second choice candidate, and so on, according to the New York City Bureau of Elections. Bottcher didn’t secure 50% of the vote in the first round, so he hasn’t officially been declared the winner, but after securing 47% of the vote in the first round, he’s expected to win the Democratic primary. The city Bureau of Elections has not certified the primary election results yet and has not completed the absentee ballot count.
Bottcher has declared victory. Provided he retains his lead after the absentee ballots are counted, he would face no Republican or third-party challengers in the general election.
Bottcher may live in New York City, but the Adirondacks are still with him in big and small ways. He still keeps a pair of binoculars in his office, just in case some interesting birds visit the park next to City Hall. He still has a “love and appreciation for nature,” and worries about the impact of climate change.
He also appreciates what he has in his adopted home.
“Because I grew up in a rural area, to this day, I have an enormous appreciation for everything that New York City has to offer,” he said. “That sense of awe hasn’t worn off, even after 20 years.”
Even so, he still tries to come back to the Adirondacks a few times a year to visit his family in Wilmington.
“It’s not as often as I’d like to,” he said. “I don’t have a car.”