by Catherine Brinkman
The Reverend Michel Faulkner is heading into the final stretch of his campaign to be New York City’s next Comptroller. For roughly 35 years Michel has worked with the city to approve it. Either running a soup kitchen in late 1980s Time Square and presiding over funerals for gay men in the village when no one else would in the early 90s to give back. Or campaigning tirelessly to bring civility back to the public square with true non-partisan politics.
But he wasn’t always a reverend.
Before Michel was called to God you could find him on the football field. Faulkner grew up in Washington, D.C. playing football all through his childhood. In high school he realized that he had a talent for the game. Instead of being cocky, knowing he played at a higher level, Michel decided to work even harder to improve his skill set. Faulkner told me his favorite moment in his entire football career was when he met Vince Lombardi at age 10. It is understandable to see why as soon as Michel realized he had a skill, he spent even more time practicing being better.
Faulkner played for Virginia Tech, a four-year starter and All-American defensive lineman. While at Virginia Tech he earned a Bachelor’s of Art in communication. After college he tried out for a few NFL teams and got picked up by the New York Jets. “It was between me and seven other guys; four all pros and three draft picks. The Jets only needed seven. I was the shortest, ran the slowest 40 and I didn’t weigh as much as the other guys. The likelihood of me making it…” Faulkner trailed off. But he made the team. After a leg injury in 1982 Faulkner returned to Virginia to get a Master’s Degree in Education and Career Counseling.
Soon thereafter Faulkner went to work at Liberty University to serve as Assistant Dean of Students. By 1987, he was promoted to Vice President of Urban Ministry at Liberty U. In 1988 a position as Assistant Pastor opened at Lamb’s Church in New York City’s Times Square. Faulkner packed up his wife and two kids to move from Lynchburg, Virginia where they had a home with a backyard and two cars to an apartment over the soup kitchen of Lamb’s Church in Times Square. That’s a huge shift when you think back to the New York City of the late 80s and early 90s. But the move was riskier than just a vastly different environment.
Lamb’s Church did not have a budget to pay Reverend Faulkner. He had to raise his own funds. “This was 100% missionary style. I was asking friends and family for money so I could raise my salary, “ Faulkner said. “And you have five minutes to say what you need to say to the people in the soup kitchen,” he explained to me when describing spreading the word of God to the hungry people arriving for their breakfast. Obviously, Faulkner doesn’t fit the profile of a meathead football player by any stretch of the imagination. The way he interacted with his parishioners and how he delivered God’s message did not go unnoticed.
Faulkner moved up quickly, literally. He went to the Calvary Baptist Church on West 57th and Seventh Street. “I was the counselor to the stars. Stevie Wonder attended services,” recalls Reverend Faulkner.
Think of one of the most popular singers alive – I know you immediately thought of Barbra Streisand. Faulkner was talking about how great his church choir was, “they even sang for Barbra Streisand.” Having Barbra Streisand attend an event and talk about how good your choir is, does give you bragging rights. Faulkner was ordained at Calvary Baptist Church and it is around this time that his political path became more visible.
Michel got involved with Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral campaign and served on the police task force as the urban voice. “I was a Republican in Harlem,” he told me. He was involved with the George Pataki campaign for Governor and it was here that he was greatly disappointed.
Faulkner liked Jack Kemp, a politician that followed through on his word. “Kemp was an urban thinking Republican,” Faulkner told me. Kemp like Faulkner, was NFL Alumni, a Republican and a common sense, realistic thinking politician when it came to urban communities. This ties back to Pataki, because it was Pataki that nominated Kemp to be Vice-President on the 1996 Dole Presidential ticket. Faulkner helping Pataki as a liaison to the urban community was a no-brainer. During Pataki’s last campaign for Governor, it was said that two to three weeks prior to the election, the campaign would open and keep open a black office in Harlem. After the election, Governor Pataki closed the office in just three weeks. In Faulkner’s eyes this was a huge mistake.
Faulkner kept moving uptown. He founded New Horizons Church in 2006 on West 135th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Faulkner knows that there needs to be a seat at the table for the urban black community. “You cannot phone in democracy or civil engagement. The greatest tragedy in New York City right now; people been beaten down, thinking their voice doesn’t count and are hopeless. That’s dangerous,” Faulkner believes. The reason he continues to stay involved in politics is to address the issues facing the city like housing prices, increased crime rates and the education system. “I liked Bloomberg. We came together as an urban community when he was Mayor.”
This ex NFLer, who is a man of God, is a lifelong learner as well. When asked what he does in his down time he says “I’m reading Washington’s Farewell by John Avalon. It’s about how, when not careful, we fight over partisanship it will ruin our civilization,” he gets very serious. You can tell Faulkner takes protecting our democracy and having equal representation very seriously. It is not just campaign rhetoric. Not surprising Reverend Faulkner’s hashtags would be #Freedom followed by #ShowingUp .
It is up to New York City to decide if the man that’s served the poor and been their voice for 30 years has a right to represent the City. “I have a proven track record of providing solutions to the Government,“ Faulkner responded as to why we should vote for him for City comptroller.
Election day is November 7th in New York City. In honor of all the hard work that Michel Faulkner has done for the City of New York the very least we can do on November 7th is #ShowUP and vote.