The Island Now: Brad Schwartz turns Medical Woes into Political Aspirations

The Island Now (click here for publication)

Brad Schwartz said he never had political aspirations until he was fighting for his life after a decade of symptoms from an illness had ravaged his body and forced him to battle 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; The renewed attack on the Affordable Care Act was because I knew immediately the new administration and 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, neurolgical symptoms and unending fatigue.

“When it became clear the medical community did not have an answer, 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 try pushing forward with what my future plans had been, which was to work in the media / entertainment industry, and apply to grad schools?” Schwartz said.

Schwartz chose his dream and enrolled at the American Film Institute [AFI] and soon after began a career as a freelance editor and and producer across television, including working on “Top Chef.”

“I never gave up hope my illness would be identified. So I spent my lunch breaks going to doctors offices. But 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 get me because I was so sick I could not get out of bed. I could feel at that point my body had crashed.”

Schwartz was eventually referred to the Columbia University Medical Center’s Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Research Center, finally having a name to put with the symptoms: Lyme Disease.

After a decade of improper diagnosis, Schwartz was told he might never recover from the damage which the disease had inflicted and would require many 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 perhaps the most vulnerable incumbents seeking re-election in November.

"Elaine Phillips stands against the NY Health Act which would guarantee healthcare for all New Yorkers. In fact, the bill is only 1 state Senate seat shy of having enough co-sponsors to become law.  So, I hope to win to become that final vote, so nobody in New York ever has to go broke trying to recover," Schwartz said. "It would be a blessing to turn my battle with illness into rights for others."

"When it comes to human rights, Sen. Phillips has consistently been on the wrong side. She denied residents and their families the same basic civil rights and sense of security she and her family enjoy 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, portends similar turnout 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.”