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The man who could’ve been New York City’s first gay mayor drops out of race while candidly revealing battle with depression

Josh Milton September 25, 2020
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Corey Johnson, a gay man living with HIV, dropped his bid on Thursday (24 December) to succeed New York City mayor Bill de Blasio in 2021, citing the rigours of his job and the throes of the coronavirus as hewing his mental health.

Johnson, the out-and-proud speaker of New York City Council, burst into the race as a strong contender in 2019. But just one year later, and the New York City he so openly revered is no more.

Avenues remain still. Stores shuttered. Subways vacant. The pressures piling up not only on de Blasio, but the person who will succeed him, ratcheted up further by the wave of Black Lives Matter protests which Johnson’s role as a city leader saw him be cast into the centre of.

Such expectations have browbeaten the 38-year-old, he explained in a statement posted to Twitter, who said he has been suffering from depression since May. Running a turbulent political campaign, he said, while monitoring his mental health would be too trying a task.

“I have made the difficult decision not to run,”. Johnson said in the statement.

“This challenging time has led me to rethink how I can best be of service to this city, and I have come to the conclusion that this is not the right path for me.”

Corey Johnson, the man who could have been New York City’s first gay mayor. 

“This challenging time has led me to rethink how I can best be of service to this city, and I have come to the conclusion that this is not the right path for me.

“In the same spirit of openness, I would also add that I have been dealing with some personal challenges over the past few months, namely – depression.

“I am sharing this because I know from experience the value of speaking honestly about one’s struggles. I’ve been open about my sobriety, which along with my partner and mother, has been instrumental to me during this difficult time, and my HIV status.

“I believe it’s important to be open about this as well.

 New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson dances with other members of the city council at Brooklyn's annual LGBT+ Pride Parade. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson dances with other members of the city council at Brooklyn’s annual LGBT+ Pride Parade. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

“Too often mental health issues are shrouded in secrecy and stigmas, which causes people struggling with these issues to feel alone. I encourage anyone who is experiencing a mental health condition to seek help. I did and I am better for it.”

Johnson was first elected to the city council as a representative of the 3rd District in 2013 and left many Democrats stunned when, with great candour, he launched his campaign for mayorship in 2019.

He had often been placed by his supporters as an almost anti-de Blasio, with his whimsical love of New York City, his back-flips and dance routines at LGBT+ Pride parades and the warmth of his passion for issues such as homelessness and criminal justice.

But the last months have rankled him. When the death of George Floyd sparked thousands to stuff the streets of the city, Johnson pledged to carry out protester’s demands for a $1 billion trim of the police budget.

Yet, city officials remained divided on the cut in a fight which took a great toll on Johnson. Loneliness had long been eroding him, he said, since May, when shelter-in-place orders meant he was separated from his partner for three months.

“The last time I felt this way was when I was a 16-year-old kid in the closet in a small town in Massachusetts,” he told NY Magazine. “I just felt like I was not myself.”

More: Bill de Blasio, black lives matter, Corey Johnson, depression, HIV, mental health, New York, New York City, NYC, US

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