Robert E. Cornegy Jr., 55, is a New York City Councilmember from Brooklyn whose 36th District encompasses Bedford-Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights. Voters in the Central Brooklyn neighborhoods first elected him in 2013 and re-elected him 2017.
The native New Yorker and his wife, Michelle, have a blended family of six children and live in Bed-Stuy. His father, the late Rev. Dr. Robert E. Cornegy Sr., served in the community as the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church. He credits his father and mother, (the late) Ellen Journey Cornegy, for instilling within him the importance of community service.
At 6-foot-10, he held the Guinness World Records title as the world’s tallest politician, a position he held from March 2019 to October 2019.
Cornegy, a college athlete, played backup center for St. John’s University during the 1984 – 1985 basketball season. That year, the team reached the Final Four of the men’s N.C.A.A. basketball tournament. He also played pro basketball in Israel and Turkey.
As an athlete, Cornegy is attuned to his body. Naturally, he was alarmed by experiencing shortness of breath when walking from his bedroom to the bathroom during the quarantine. It was a signal that his flu symptoms were probably something more serious.
“I immediately called an Uber and went directly to Brooklyn Hospital,” Cornegy recalled.
Test results came back positive for the COVID-19 virus. Cornegy said he had an unusual reaction to the diagnosis.
“How am I going to do my job and serve my community if I’m sick?” he asked himself, instead of fearing for his life.
Cornegy said he expected to survive the illness and immediately started a holistic dietary regimen to boost his immune system.
After a period of mandatory self-isolation and a negative test, Cornegy ventured out into the community, following safety guidelines, to distribute groceries and face masks that were in short supply.
The city councilman said he was distressed by the incompetence of top elected leaders at all levels of government. He pointed to misinformation from the White House about the virus, as well as the fruitless back-and-forth arguments over the cost of personal protective equipment (PPEs).
“In and of that, a lot of people lost their lives, and I think that’s tremendously irresponsible,” he said.
Looking to the post-pandemic period, Cornegy said there’s much work ahead after COVID-19 laid bare racial disparities.
“The disparities existed not only in health care but also in education, housing and small business,” he said. “We already knew hospitals in Black and Brown communities were understaffed and underserved. All COVID did was exacerbate these inequalities we already knew existed. And it cost lives.”
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