Johnson taps ex-Gottfried aide as his chief of staff
- Corey Johnson, far left, was sworn in on Dec. 27 as the new District Three city councilmember, as two of his top aides, Louis Cholden-Brown, center, and R.J. Jordan, looked on. Until this past week, it was thought Jordan — who managed Johnson’s campaign — would be his chief of staff. Photo by Sam Spokony
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JAN. 3, 2014 | In a surprising turn of events, two days after taking office as the new city councilmember for the Third District, Corey Johnson named Jeffrey LeFrancois as his chief of staff. It had previously been widely thought that R.J. Jordan already had the job nailed down — or, at least, so it seemed.
LeFrancois was Assemblymember Richard Gottfried’s deputy chief of staff for five years, also serving as his community liaison and L.G.B.T. liaison. LeFrancois recently left his job with Gottfried and was traveling in South America, before returning to the city just two weeks ago.
Political observers got the news when, slightly after noon last Friday, Gottfried tweeted out: “Congrats to @jlef423 Jeffrey LeFrancois, my former Deputy COS — Councilmember @CoreyinNYC’s new COS. Great news for all of us!”
However, it had been assumed that Jordan, Johnson’s campaign manager and close friend, would be his number one after Johnson took office. It was Jordan’s expectation, as well, as he reportedly posted so on Facebook and was recently signing his e-mails with a “chief of staff” address.
When he was the councilmember elect, Johnson, in fact, had publicly stated that he intended to name Jordan his head staffer.
Just last week, The Villager’s front-page photo was of Johnson being sworn into office on Dec. 27 with Jordan and another top aide, Louis Cholden-Brown, by his side as the smiling, newly minted representative raised his hand and took the oath of office.
At least one thing is clear: The well-liked Jordan was a tremendous campaign manager.
On Sept. 1, he posted on his Facebook page: “I’ve logged just over 3000 hours to help make Corey Johnson our next City Councilmember. There are 8 days to go till I cast my vote. This has all hit me very deeply. I really believe that we will do a lot of good for our neighborhoods.”
However, apart from running Johnson’s successful Democratic primary race — a bitter contest against Yetta Kurland — Jordan lacks political experience. He previously worked in catering.
On the other hand, LeFrancois is a seasoned political aide, well known in the community for his work for Gottfried.
According to Johnson, Jordan has decided to pursue acting, which he previously studied at N.Y.U. And acting runs in his family. His grandfather, in fact, was Bobby Jordan, one of the Dead End Kids of Hollywood fame in the 1930s. (Pointing to his new direction, on Jordan’s Facebook page, his main photo shows Bobby Jordan wearing a fedora and mugging for the camera with the other Dead End Kids.)
In a phone interview with The Villager last Friday, Johnson had nothing but positive things to say about Jordan.
“I wouldn’t have been elected without him, and I hold him in high regard,” he said. “I respect him and people in the community respect him. I consider R.J. to be the best campaign manager on a local level in the entire city. He decided he wanted to pursue things he was pursuing before the campaign.”
As for LeFrancois, Johnson, who served as chairperson of Community Board 4 for the previous two and a half years, said he knows him well through their frequent interactions on community board issues.
Nevertheless, Johnson readily admitted that, until very recently, he had been planning to name Jordan as his chief of staff.
“Yes, and that was the plan,” he said. “[But] R.J. told me he wanted to pursue other opportunities. There’s nothing negative about this. … But I’m thrilled about Jeffrey — he’s a rock star in the community. … R.J.’s fantastic, Jeffrey’s fantastic — and R.J. decided to pursue other opportunities.”
Asked when he made the decision to tap LeFrancois to be his chief of staff, Johnson said it was only a week ago.
Wendi Paster, Assemblymember Gottfried’s longtime chief of staff, had high praise for her former colleague LeFrancois.
“He’ll be terrific for Corey,” Paster said, “because he knows the district and the community very well. He knows city government very well. And he’s going to be a great asset for Corey and the community. Everyone who knows Jeffrey engages very well with him — he’s very smart, he’s personable.”
Asked if Gottfried had lobbied for LeFrancois to be Johnson’s chief of staff, Paster responded, “That is absolutely untrue. I have no knowledge of why R.J. is pursuing other things, but I think he would have been an excellent chief of staff to Corey. I think very highly of R.J., and so does Dick. Dick had absolutely no hand [in this], and would never interfere with an elected official hiring. There were no phone calls or conversations [about LeFrancois] between Corey and Dick, ever — ever,” she stressed.
However, Paster admitted that until the recent surprising news, “As far as I knew, R.J. was going to be Corey’s chief of staff.”
She noted that Jordan, to prepare for the job he expected he would have, was making a real effort to learn everything he could about it.
“He was talking to a lot of other chief of staffs of local legislators and councilmembers,” she said.
According to a source, Jordan posted on Facebook about three weeks ago that he would be Johnson’s chief of staff.
Similarly, Johnson reportedly announced at a meeting of the Village Independent Democrats club in November, after his win in the general election against Richard Stewart, that Jordan would be his chief of staff.
For his part, in response to a phone message and an e-mail from The Villager asking why the sudden change of plans, Jordan e-mailed a succinct statement:
“I am proud of my work on Corey’s campaign for City Council. I have decided to go back to school and pursue other opportunities. I believe Corey will be an outstanding councilmember and I wish him the best.”