The Life And Times Of Gary Ackerman
Long, long ago and not-so-far-away, a baby’s cries pierced the solitude of the lush green hills of Flushing.
It was November 1942. The nation was at war-and the baby, future statesman Gary Ackerman was raising his initial discontent upon his arrival.
And so it began.
November 19, 1942: Pink and perfect, Gary Ackerman is born to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ackerman, weighing “about 8 1/2 pounds.”
September, 1949: Fed and nurtured, Gary takes pencil and crayon in hand to take on the world of elementary education at P.S. 163 in Flushing.
September, 1957: Gary is off to Brooklyn Technical High School, where he majors in Electrical Engineering and “cutting class.”
September, 1961: Ackerman enters the world of higher education, studying Pre-Engineering, History, Political Science and Education at Queens College.
Ackerman excels at “extracurricular activities” at Queens, where he is chosen as president of Playboy’s Penthouse, is Editor-in-Chief of the college publication The Castle, chairman of the Emancipation Party, vice president of the Central House Plan, and president of the Senior Class of 1965.
While at Queens College, Ackerman shares a classroom with Andrew Goodman.
Goodman was one of three civil rights workers who traveled to Mississippi in 1964 to help register blacks to vote. The three are jailed, stalked and murdered by local law enforcement officers and Klansmen who dump their bodies at a construction site and deny knowledge of the crime.
Gary Ackerman and three other Queens College students staged the first-ever hunger strike in the history of the college, sitting-in at the school’s Memorial Center, to force the FBI to “get involved” in the investigation of the murders.
The hunger strike struck a chord with the feds, and after months of a hands-off policy related to the murder probe, the FBI heads to Mississippi to find the killers – and the bodies of the three young men.
June, 1965: Ackerman graduates from Queens College and heads back to the classroom – this time as a teacher in Jamaica, Queens.
Ackerman teaches math and social studies at the Junior High School through 1970.
June, 1967: Gary Ackerman weds his Queens College sweetheart, Rita Tewel. The pair met at a college “weekend” in 1965.
November, 1969: Lauren Ackerman, the couple’s first child, is born on Election Day.
February, 1970: Gary Ackerman publishes the first edition of the Flushing Tribune.
February, 1970: Ackerman applies for an unpaid leave of absence (for child care) from the Board of Education.
The request lands Ackerman in a “Catch-22” situation. The Board of Ed refused his request for unpaid leave for child care, while also refusing to grant him maternity leave – an amenity only available to female employees at that time.
Ackerman sued the Board of Ed, and although he lost the fight, he won the battle when the Board of Ed later agreed to grant men paternity leave.
1972: Rita and Gary Ackerman welcome their second child, a son, Corey, to the family.
November, 1977: Gary Ackerman sets his sights on political office.
He is defeated in his run for Councilmember At Large. Ackerman describes the defeat as a “good loss,” since the position was soon-to-be declared unconstitutional.
November, 1978: Back in the ring, Ackerman runs for and wins a seat in the State Senate in the then-12th Senate District, serving neighborhoods in Flushing, Whitestone, Bayside and Fresh Meadows.
November, 1983: Congressman Ben Rosenthal dies from a sudden heart attack.
Following a “short but bitter” campaign, Ackerman is elected to fill Rosenthal’s seat in Congress.
1983-84: Ackerman makes the first in a series of trips to Ethiopia, during the country’s famine, to help feed starving masses of children.
Ackerman also made a series of visits to Jerusalem to discuss terrorism and efforts to thwart attacks.
October, 1993: Queens Congressman Gary Ackerman made history when he traveled to North Korea and gained a rare audience with its reclusive premier – and became the first American official to cross the infamous 38th parallel between North and South Korea.
Ackerman’s journey was a mission of urgent hope, as he met with President Kim Il Sung to try to break down North Korea’s barriers with its Southern counterpart-and to express Western concerns about nuclear proliferation in the area.
Ackerman was only the second American ever to meet with Kim Il Sung. Ackerman urged Kim to allow inspection of two nuclear sites in North Korea by members of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (AEA).
Following the negotiations, Ackerman insisted on making his return to South Korea symbolic by crossing the forbidden DMZ on-foot – something no other U.S. citizen had ever done.
Ackerman hopped onto the barrier, straddled it, saluted both sides and proceeded into the safety of the American Garrison.
March, 2004: Lauren Ackerman was wed in 2003 in a ceremony held at Shea Stadium. Corey Ackerman is also married while Ari remains a single “catch,” Ackerman said.
Rita and Gary Ackerman celebrate 37 years together in 2004.
Ackerman said he has the “best job in the world.”
“Every day is special,” he said. “What can you say? Golly, I’m a lucky guy.”
Ackerman said he is forever grateful to his friends and neighbors who picked him to go to Washington D.C. to fight for their interests and causes.
There’s one more thing Ackerman asked to add to his “story.”
“I like to think of myself as a fisherman,” he said.
“But the fish are usually in no danger.”