Jason Laidley never imagined being involved in politics, but today, the lifelong northeast Bronx resident is chief of staff for Senator Jamaal Bailey.
Working with his friend in the community they grew up in means the world to him. Yet, Laidley has no aspirations for a higher office.
“I like what I do and the position I’m in,” he told the Bronx Times. “You have to have a certain temperament to be an elected official.”
Laidley, 42, was born in Buffalo and lived there until he was 6-years-old. He doesn’t remember much, except a lot of snow.
His family is Jamaican and they relocated to the Caribbean community in the Baychester/Wakefield area. Laidley was an only child, yet with many friends on his block, he was never alone.
From a young age Laidley knew two things: his parents worked hard and parts of his neighborhood were not safe.
“There were a lot of bad pockets,” he explained. “You kind of had to watch out and keep your head on a swivel.”
His mom, Cynthia, was a nurse and a teacher and his father, Delburn, an accountant. Laidley noted he got his “hustle and grind from them.”
“I wanted to be successful because I saw my parents work hard,” he stated.
He recalled that the changing point in his life came around the age of 14. His best friend lived on his block and they often did everything together.
However, Laidley spent every summer with family in Jamaica. That year when he returned to the Bronx he discovered that his friend was locked up for killing two people in a drug deal gone bad.
This shook him to his core. Laidley could have been shot, arrested or traumatized by what he saw if he was there.
“It was a shell shock” he recalled. “This is who I was with most of the time. I think that was the real change in life. I feel like if I was there maybe he wouldn’t have done that.”
Then about a year later another friend of his was shot.
Laidley then began going to church and staying away from the violence. He attended middle school at Mount St. Michael’s, but went to high school in New Rochelle.
Going to Westchester was like a breath of fresh air.
“It was a new experience because I got to meet people of all different backgrounds,” Laidley explained.
In high school he had no aspirations for a career, but when he took an aptitude test did well at math. So, he decided to study computer science.
Laidley attended the nation’s first HBCU, Lincoln University, which is in Amish Country, Pa. While it was different than the Boogie Down Bronx, he made lifelong friends.
He joined People Standing United, an organization for young Black men that holds events and does things in the community.
“College really molds you into who you are,” he stated.
He got a degree in computer science, but couldn’t find a job. So, looking to make ends meet, he began temping at an accounting firm.
Then he worked as a garbage man in Mt. Vernon for a year. He enjoyed it. Oddly, it had perks. Laidley was home by 2 p.m. and got to see the actress Phylicia Rashad on his route.
However, after a year his boss called him into the office. Laidley arrived thinking it was for a promotion. He then asked him if he had a college degree and he said yes. Laidley was then let go.
“The manager believed you’re not going to throw that all away and be comfortable at doing something,” Laidley said.
From there he went back to temping at an accounting firm, but was still seeking a stable fulfilling career.
Laidley knew Assemblyman Speaker Carl Heastie for a long time and Heastie passed Laidley’s resume onto the comptroller’s office. He went in for an interview, but was offered a position that would have paid the same that he was making temping plus it would have been a longer commute.
The comptroller’s office must have really taken a liking to him because they called back and suggested anther role in the community relations department that paid more.
From there his career in politics was born. From helping seniors to bringing resources to people, Laidley quickly fell in love with the job.
“That was the first time I felt like a buzz of something I should be doing,” he stressed. “People had problems. I was able to solve them and that made me feel good.”
Laidley worked in the comptroller’s office under three administrations for 13 years and was promoted often. Eventually, under Scott Stringer he became the borough director for the office.
In 2016, Jamaal Bailey, a lifelong friend of his who had interned for Speaker Heastie, asked Laidley to run his campaign for Senate. Laidley accepted and upon victory, became his chief of staff.
“He wanted to run, I was like great let me help you,” Laidley explained.
While Laidley is four years older than the Senator, the two know the northeast Bronx well. Working with his friend in a place where he has spent the majority of his life is special, he remarked.
He and Bailey know the community, learned from Heastie and now Councilman Kevin Riley “who many think is Laidley’s brother” has followed in their footsteps.
“It doesn’t feel like work when you have your friend with you,” Laidley said. “It was destiny for me to end up here.”
Laidley stressed that not everything is work for him. His wife Ebony Meeks-Laidley, who is a senior adviser for Councilman Speaker Corey Johnson and his 3-year-old daughter London are the most important people to him.
“She’s (London) the love of my life,” he said. “She acts totally like me.”