A Spirited Row About Gay Advocacy

Patrick Murphy, Dan Garodnick trade barbs on authenticity, independence in Council race

For at least the past four years, the City Council has been an unwavering champion for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

Now, in a hotly contested race to succeed Democrat Eva Moskowitz in the Council’s District 4, that stretches down the East Side from 96th Street to Stuyvesant Town, each of the two major candidates is staking the claim that he is uniquely qualified to push the agenda further.

And on that basis, as much as on any other issue in the campaign, the contest between Democrat Dan Garodnick and Republican Patrick Murphy has become very personal.

Recalling that he confronted anti-Semitism as an undergraduate at Dartmouth, that he developed student tolerance programs at 42 public high schools across the city, and that, before taking a leave from his position with the law firm of Paul, Weiss, he was part of the team waging one of the pending same-sex marriage lawsuits in New York State, Garodnick said, “My background in civil rights doesn’t come out of nowhere.”

“I am someone who stands on principle and who is consistent,” he said over coffee right after a morning rush hour campaign blitz earlier this week. “I am proud to say I’m a Democrat. I am proud to say that I have been active in the civil rights struggles and that I do not change my message when I speak to different audiences.”

That last phrase is intended to take very pointed aim at Murphy, a gay man active with the Log Cabin Republicans, who played a leading role in that organization’s successful effort last year to beat back the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment, a top legislative priority of Congressional Republicans that was endorsed by President George W. Bush.

Several days earlier, Garodnick’s campaign had faxed to Gay City News two different versions of a Murphy mailer, which the Democrat noted demonstrated that his opponent does not highlight his fight against the marriage amendment or his endorsement by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund in literature sent to Republican households.

“Bogus” was the way Murphy characterized the claims Garodnick made. Acknowledging that he did in fact emphasize different issues in several versions of mailers he sent out, Murphy also pointed out, correctly, that they all mentioned that he lives with his “partner.”

Murphy’s impatience with the charge might well be due to his willingness last year to take on his own party not only over the matter of amending the Constitution, but far more significantly on the question of supporting Bush. Murphy, who helped raise the $1 million the national Log Cabins spent on ads in swing states to defeat the amendment, was also on the national board that voted to deny the president the group’s endorsement.

Given that track record, Murphy is dismissive of the political use Gardonick has made of a $1,250 check the Republican wrote to attend a GOP fundraiser early in 2004. Murphy explained that he attended the dinner with the express purpose of confronting Bush political guru Karl Rove about the Log Cabin fear—which proved accurate—that Bush would endorse the marriage amendment. Murphy said neither the Victory Fund, nor the Empire State Pride Agenda, which has also endorsed him, are buying Garodnick’s claims that Murphy is playing stealth gay candidate.

Garodnick’s response was that he’s been able to stand up to Bush without spending a penny, and he added that he also has the independence to stand up to Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg should he win reelection next week, as is widely anticipated. Noting that he has taken no position in the mayor’s race, Garodnick said, “I think I have the independence to serve this district best. I am some one who will be able to stand with the mayor, whoever he is, when he is right, and stand up to him when he is wrong. I don’t owe anything to either candidate.”

But Murphy fires back that Garodnick, who won a multi-candidate September primary handily and has strong support from the Democratic establishment and also labor unions, “has no history of independence.” In fact, the Republican used Garodnick’s professed agnosticism on the mayoral contest against him.

“This is a guy who has been endorsed by every living Democrat and on the most important race in the city he won’t take a position on it,” said Murphy, who is enthusiastic in his support for Bloomberg, despite public differences with the mayor on several key gay issues. “And if he won’t take a position on a critical choice the city has, I don’t see how we can believe he is going to make the tough choices on the City Council. He won’t.”

Murphy also charged that Garodnick won the support of labor unions by “making promises to oppose legislation before he’s on the Council”—namely, a provision that would bar more than one part or affiliate of the same union from contributing to city election campaigns.

“The bottom line is you don’t make deals with anyone before you get on the City Council,” Murphy said. Garodnick denied any quid pro quo and said he was concerned about union affiliates with legitimately different mandates.

The Democrat in turned questioned Murphy’s independence, saying that notwithstanding his opponent’s work against the Federal Marriage Amendment, “I haven’t heard him stand up to Bush on choice, on his economic policies, on his environmental policies.”

Murphy pointed out that both candidates have received perfect ratings for their positions on choice, and he reiterated points he made in an earlier Gay City News interview—that he disagrees with the mayor on several issues, including his appeal of the February pro-marriage court ruling and Bloomberg’s opposition to the Equal Benefits Law, which would give the partners of gay employees of city contractors the same benefits married spouses receive.

Noting that the mayor had since made some progress on the benefits issue by ordering all city contractors to report whether they provide equal benefits, Murphy pledged that as a councilman he would “make sure that the window on the analysis” of whether the mayor’s “moral suasion” was leading to wider benefits availability is “very short.” If the effort fails, Murphy said, he will press Bloomberg to do more.

On the broader set of challenges facing the city, both candidates cited a looming budget deficit estimated at more than $4 billion next year. Murphy claimed he is the candidate “providing solutions”—pointing specifically to plans for reforming the way pension benefits, for new city employees, are defined. The Republican insisted that mandated spending—on pensions, benefits, debt service, and Medicaid—must be trimmed if any discretionary spending on needed social services can be developed.

Garodnick was less specific on trimming the budget, pointing largely to “waste” and “fraud”—an approach Murphy ripped as insufficiently ambitious to get the job done. The Democrat has bragging rights on one major budget issue, however. As the attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Garodnick won a Court of Appeals ruling that the state deprives public school students here of their constitutional rights by shortchanging the flow of state tax receipts back to the city. Garodnick faults Republican Governor George Pataki for failing to address the mandates of that court order.

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