Elected officials celebrate Village political icon Keen Berger

Elected officials joined members of the Village Independent Democrats on Sat., March 2, to honor longtime District Leader Kathleen “Keen” Berger on her retirement.

The occasion was a breakfast kicking off the Democratic club’s petitioning effort on behalf of local candidates in the next election, including Ashlee Crawford and Robert Rosenthal for Civil Court judicial positions; Democratic County Committee members; and Jennifer Hoppe, Berger’s likely successor as district leader.

Tony Hoffmann, a former president of V.I.D., presented Berger with a gold clipboard to commemorate the many hours she spent tirelessly petitioning for Democratic candidates.

The celebration was joined by the Village’s elected officials.

Congressmember Jerry Nadler thanked Berger “for her service and dedication to progressive Democratic politics in the Village, and for always being there for me as a steadfast supporter.”

Representative Carolyn Maloney presented Berger with an American flag that had flown over the Capitol in her honor, and noted that she had entered remarks praising Berger into the Congressional Record.

“Keen Berger has devoted her life to educating young people and making her community a better place to live,” she said. “She has been a caring and compassionate leader who has made a tremendous difference. We will miss her dedication and idealism when she retires as district leader.”

“Keen may be retiring from this position, but not from her dedication to progressive politics,” said Assemblymember Deborah Glick. [Fourteen years ago], Keen won a contested election to become district leader because she was the best candidate. Keen had long been active in the community in many arenas; she brought people together and has tirelessly worked to ensure unity and focus on doing what is best for people.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman presented Berger with an official proclamation that commended her “extraordinary service to her community, Judson Church, Community Board 2 and to her cherished family, friends and admirers,” and declared Sat., March 2, 2019, “Keen Berger Appreciation Day” in the 27th State Senate District of New York.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer pointed out that, “Keen Berger exemplified progressive values as V.I.D. district leader. She is the gold standard of what it means to represent her community.”

Berger declared her recent priorities in a Progress Report piece she wrote for The Villager last year: “One local [public education in our neighborhood], one city [Election Day process] and one national [immigration]. The election of Trump has made me add a fourth — doing my part to mitigate that disaster.”

Berger has been wildly successful with her first priority. It took 10 years of battle, but she was instrumental in the creation of the first new public school to be built in the Village in years, Middle School 297, which opened last fall in a state-of-the art building at 75 Morton St.

She’s proud of her efforts to improve the quality of Election Day workers, noting, “We are among the best at voter turnout and effective voting,” but lamented the “systemic problems at the Board of Elections that I have not yet fixed.”

Under this administration, the battle for more just immigration policies is unlikely to get any easier.

“I wear a button that reads, ‘The Bible says Sanctuary for Immigrants,’” she said in her Villager article, “because I want to wake up the evangelical Christians. As a supporter of the New Sanctuary Task Force at Judson Church, it is clear to me that ‘welcome the stranger’ is central to my faith, and that baby Jesus would have died if his parents had not emigrated to Egypt.”

Also in the piece, Berger noted her battle with ICE, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement service:

“I think they are afraid of me and the thousands of others who say, ‘You can’t deport a movement.’”

Berger has lived in the Village for more than 50 years, and has a storied political background. Her father, Harold Stassen, was a governor of Minnesota, ran in a number of Republican presidential primaries, and served in the Eisenhower administration. Her late husband, Martin Berger, was a district leader in the Village and served as president of V.I.D.

“I’m very much a neighborhood person, having raised four children here, walking these streets, shopping in the stores,” she told The Villager during her first campaign for district leader. “I’m a member of the block association. I mean, this is really my neighborhood, in hundreds of ways.”

Her and Martin’s four daughters attended P.S. 3, on Hudson St.

Berger said at the time that she’d try to energize the local Democratic Party base: “In this day, in this city, and in this nation, the Democratic Party needs a lot of help.”

Since then, she has played a huge role in revitalizing the Village Independent Democrats and promoting progressivism in city and state politics.

In fact, her proudest accomplishment has been serving as a leader of V.I.D. She noted that the club’s membership has tripled during her tenure as district leader, and that the club has been instrumental in the election of the area’s officials, promoting progressive legislation, ridding the New York State Senate of the I.D.C. (the Independent Democratic Conference), and sending buses to neighboring districts to help make Congress blue again.

Berger got her undergraduate education at Stanford University and Radcliffe College, and has graduate degrees from Harvard University and Yeshiva University. Her broad experience as an educator includes directing a preschool, serving as chairperson of philosophy at the United Nations International School, and teaching courses in psychology and human development to undergraduate and graduate students at several universities, as well as teaching social psychology to inmates at Sing Sing Prison.

Currently a professor of psychology at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York, Berger has authored numerous textbooks under her professional name, Kathleen Stassen Berger. “The Developing Person (with various subtitles),” is now in its 11th edition and used in all 50 states, 12 countries and in five languages. Her newest book, “Grandmothering: Building Strong Ties with Every Generation,” will come out in December or January.

For all of her political accomplishments, Keen Berger is perhaps best known among local activists for the cookies she bakes for local political events. Despite her retirement as district leader, everyone hopes she continues baking cookies for the Village Independent Democrats for many years to come.