Dominick Brennan, a 20-year-old Wagner College junior from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn majoring in government and politics as well as economics, will serve as the president of this year’s mock New York State Senate, part of the Senate’s legislative internship program.
While Brennan is the only Wagner student currently serving as a legislative intern in Albany, New York’s state capital, many a Seahawk has preceded him, including Joseph Percoco ’91 and Frieda Menos ’99.
Percoco, who interned in the Senate, ran several campaigns for Andrew Cuomo and served as his special counsel when he was attorney general. After Cuomo became governor in 2011, Percoco was named as his executive deputy secretary. You can read a couple of vivid profiles of Joe Percoco: one in the New York Times, the other in the Staten Island Advance.
Frieda Menos, an Assembly intern, began working as community liaison for Brooklyn Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein during her final year at Wagner College and became Weinstein’s chief of staff in 2005. This January, Menos started a new job as director of constituent services for freshly minted Brooklyn/Queens Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who was formerly a state assemblyman.
So, how does a Wagner College student get into the New York legislative internship program?
“It’s pretty simple to apply,” Brennan says. “Any junior or senior can place an application.”
What happens once you get into the program?
“There are 30 interns in the [Senate internship] program, total, from throughout the state. (The Assembly has as many as 150 interns each year.) After you’re selected for the program, you’re assigned to a senator’s office, at random.” Brennan was assigned to the office of Senator Martin Golden, for whom he had worked before as a campaign staff member.
“Two summers ago, I got an internship in my local congressman’s office,” Brennan says, recalling how he first got interested in politics. “From there, I got involved with the Brooklyn Conservative Party, working out of their state office. Then Senator Golden offered me a job on his campaign [in 2012]. When I found out about the senate internship program, I thought it would be a great way to see the other side of things — I’d seen the political side, why not go see the legislative side?”
What does Brennan do as an intern?
“Right now, we’re compiling a database of our legislation for ready reference when we have meetings with constituents,” Brennan says. He does legislative research for Senator Golden, helps with constituent correspondence, takes notes at meetings — “a wide range of things.” One major responsibility, he says, is taking notes and preparing reports for the senator on meetings of the Senate Civil Service and Pensions Committee, which Golden chairs.
“We get to spend a lot of time on the Senate floor, which is a really cool aspect of the internship.”
Brennan has particular memories of a couple of sessions when he was in the Senate chamber: “The passage of the SAFE Act [requiring universal background checks on gun purchases] … and definitely the budget session — we were there until 4:30 in the morning!”
In addition to Brennan’s duties as an intern, “every Thursday there’s a seminar component. We go down [to the interns’ classroom] for a couple of hours, and there’s a textbook we work from, ‘New York State Government.’ They’ll have reporters, senators, whoever is available come down to talk to us for about 30 minutes; the rest of the time, we have textbook discussion.”
“A big, big part of the program is the mock legislative session,” Brennan said. “Throughout the internship, each of us is supposed to work on our own piece of legislation. Mine would mandate the preparation of a New York State disaster preparation plan, based off of everything that happened with [Hurricane] Sandy.”
Not only has Brennan been elected president of the mock senate — which he will gavel into session on Friday, April 19 — but his piece of legislation has been picked for action by the real state Senate. The first place it will go, procedurally, is to the Senate’s Bipartisan Task Force on Hurricane Sandy, which is made up of senators from all the districts affected by the storm. “I got the idea for writing the bill because I went with Senator Golden to all the task force meetings. … It’s sort of a long shot, but I think it stands a good chance of passage.”
Brennan says the most important lesson he’ll take away from his Albany internship is learning “how the legislative process actually works — how ideas turn into law.”
Legislative internships in Albany run through the entire spring semester. Applications, which must be filed in the fall, must go through Wagner’s long-time campus liaison for the program, Dr. Jeffrey Kraus.
Both the Senate and the Assembly maintain websites for their internship programs, which include descriptions of their particular requirements as well as applications:
Wagner College gives interns a full semester of credit under GOV 390 (“New York State Government and Politics”) and GOV 391 (“New York Legislative Internship”), both of which are 2-unit courses.
Interns must cover their own expenses for lodging and meals in Albany, but stipends are provided that cover much of the cost.
“I had to find my own apartment,” Brennan says, “but the Senate gives you a stipend every 2 weeks to help pay for your room and board.”
Brennan highly recommends the program to others.
“Anyone who’s interested in the least bit in politics, anyone interested in a career in government — this is where you want to be, as far as networking and meeting people,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity.”