Animal Activists and Politicians Don’t Mix
All You Need Is…LOHV
The Satya Interview with John Phillips
From top left to bottom right: Elinor Molbegott,
Esq., Legal Counsel, Humane Society of New York; Zelda Penzel;
Council Member Rosie Mendez (D-Manhattan); John Phillips.
that animal protection is a political matter as well as a moral issue,
the League of Humane
Voters of New York City makes use of the democratic process to campaign
for the election of humane candidates to public office. Established
in 2001, LOHV-NYC is determined to make animal rights a widely held
political issue by building support among citizens, activists, political
parties, candidates and elected representatives throughout the boroughs.
And they are succeeding. Totaling more than 6,000 citywide, LOHV-NYC’s
membership continues to increase.
John Phillips, named Executive Director of the League of Humane Voters
of New York City in 2004, has been the forerunner in developing associations
officeholders and the first-ever NYC scorecard which tracks Council Members’ voting
records on humane legislation. He also organized the city’s first humane
lobby day, bringing dozens of animal advocates to City Hall. With John at the
helm, LOHV-NYC has worked with city officials to get animals on the legislative
agenda. Lawmakers have introduced LOHV-NYC supported bills on a wide variety
of animal issues, including protections for companion animals in housing; a ban
of the force-feeding of ducks for foie gras; and a city resolution denouncing
the use of fur by clothiers.
John uses his diplomacy skills to work with animal activists as well. Just this
past June, LOHV-NYC supported a ban of the use of exotic animals in city circuses
in coalition with seven animal protection groups, including the Humane Society
of the United States, the Humane Society of New York, Friends of Animals, In
Defense of Animals, NYC Animal Rights, and People for the End of Animal Cruelty
Before his work with LOHV-NYC, John worked with peace, anti-hunger, environmental
and LGBTQ youth advocacy groups. A devoted connoisseur of vegan food, he lives
in midtown Manhattan with two rescued pooches, J.R. and Magic. To discover more
about this politically savvy activist, Kymberlie Adams Matthews chatted with
John Phillips about his passion for increasing humane legislation and getting
out the vote.
Okay John, what is your first memory of taking action for a cause?
I came out and went vegan when I was 14. I think that counts.
Not to be too nosy, but you look so young. How old are you?
I’ll be 21 in October.
John, I must say you are a bit of an enigma. You’ve been active with various
groups—peace, anti-hunger, environmental and LGBTQ—since 14, and
at only 19, you were named Executive Director of the League of Humane Voters
of New York City. When most teens are interested in the ‘politics’ of
avoiding curfews, juicy gossip, and the next party, you were donning suits and
meeting with senators. How did you become interested in working with politicians?
I still like juicy gossip and parties! Really, my interest is in being as effective
as I can be as an animal advocate. For me, that means doing everything I can
to help get our own people in positions of power and influence.
Tell us about the League of Humane Voters of New York City, how did it all begin?
LOHV-NYC began in 2000 as “Political Action for Animals”—a
small lobbying project of the activism center at the famous Wetlands nightclub.
In 2001, Political Action for Animals changed its name to the League of Humane
Voters of New York City and was formally incorporated as a separate organization.
Our mission is to elect humane candidates to city and state office. Since 2001,
we’ve grown tremendously to more than 6,000 members and supporters citywide.
How do you approach potential candidates?
To qualify for our endorsement, candidates must first complete a written questionnaire
detailing their position on a variety of animal-related issues. Completed questionnaires
are made available to the public on our website, www.humanenyc.org, and to the
media. Candidates are also required to sit down for an interview with myself
and members of our executive committee. After the interview, our board of directors
evaluates the race and makes an endorsement based on the candidate’s chance
of winning, history of support, our potential impact on the race, etc.
In each election cycle, we send every incumbent and the challengers a copy of
our candidate questionnaire. We follow the procedure outlined above for each
candidate who responds. In close races, where we think we may be able to make
a significant impact, we pursue a response from each of the candidates. Each
non-response is recorded.
I should also mention that things change considerably when you’re a political
donor—of money or time. Candidates are beginning to seek out our endorsement
because they know they can count on us for support.
I’ve noticed that some of the best allies of NYC animals are Republicans.
That seems so um…contradictory.
How can anyone, Republican or Democrat, see someone suffer and do absolutely
nothing? I applaud and have great respect for Republicans like Frank Padavan
and for Democrats like Rosie Mendez, who take a stand for animals.
Let’s not forget about City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, either. She’s
an out lesbian who has been called the “most liberal leader in Council
history,” and yet she was one of only three members of the 51-member City
Council to receive a zero on our scorecard two years in a row.
We must not be partisans. Let’s not limit our base of support to the usual
That’s a good point. But how do you personally reconcile LOHV-NYC
endorsing a conservative candidate who is backward on other issues like gay rights
LGBTQ equality and poverty issues are very important to me. At the same time,
let’s not forget that humane issues are often a matter of life and death.
Let’s not downplay the significance or importance of our issue. It’s
absolutely imperative that politicians recognize that their support for humane
legislation (or lack thereof) will translate into votes earned or lost come election
What are some of the strides LOHV-NYC has made for NYC’s animals?
We’re very excited about the bill that just passed this June. Assemblywoman
Linda Rosenthal, whom we endorsed in February, managed to get a bill passed in
less than four months that will include pets in court orders of protection. Padavan
was the Senate sponsor.
I also consider the election of each of our endorsed candidates a major victory.
The relationships we are building will only strengthen over time and many will
go on to higher office. I am very proud of the work we have done to raise awareness
of these issues at the local level. I’m on a first name basis with many
of the Council Members here and many had little to no knowledge of animal issues
prior to meeting with us. More importantly, many never realized that there was
a political advocacy group working for humane legislation. I’m also very
proud of the League’s new City Council Humane Scorecard, which we plan
to release at the beginning of each year. Our 2004-2005 scorecard was published
in Satya’s March issue and I think it’s been received very well by
You have been pushing for a bill to ban the use of wild animals in circuses
NYC. Do you think this has a chance of passing anytime soon? What’s the
We think all of our legislation has a chance of passing. The issue of wild animals
in circuses has been on our agenda practically since we were founded. In 2005,
we decided to make the issue a top priority. Earlier this year, we asked Council
Member Rosie Mendez, whom we endorsed in the previous election, to sponsor a
bill to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. She was on board immediately
and a bill was introduced in June.
I don’t think this is going to be an easy fight. The Council Members need
to be educated. We have a lot of friends and a lot of support from the community,
though. I’m very encouraged by the attendance at our June press conference
for the bill—we had singer/songwriter Nellie McKay, Guiding Light’s
Grant Aleksander, and representatives from seven animal protection groups. Scores
of concerned humane voters also attended.
I am also very happy to be working with Rosie. She’s a great person and
she’s quickly become a leader on humane issues. I have a lot of faith in
her ability to get this bill signed into law.
How can people become involved with LOHV-NYC?
Find out who your elected officials are. Learn what their positions are on animal
protection issues. You can download our New York City Council Humane Scorecard,
and HSUS publishes a scorecard for state legislators. After you’ve done
this, try to set up a meeting with them and let them know your views on the issues.
You should also write and phone regularly. They need to hear from you.
When we make an endorsement, you can also participate in the League’s get-out-the-vote
operation. Humane candidates need volunteers to help petition to get their names
on the ballot, knock on doors, etc. If you are financially able, send them a
check with a note that says something about why you are donating to their campaign.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by how many people care about animals. I’m inspired
by our potential as a movement to turn that compassion into an organized voting
bloc that will elect humane candidates to office at every level of government.
We must. The animals deserve nothing less than a vegan animal activist for president!
To learn more or become a member visit www.humanenyc.org or mail a check for
$35 to LOHV-NYC, 151 First Ave., Ste. 237, NYC 10003.
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