Bronx City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera. | NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL
The State Senate campaign of Bronx City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera, well-known for his longstanding anti-LGBT views, is drawing fire from the incumbent he is challenging in next week’s primary for “flagrant campaign finance violations” in using funds raised for the general election campaign in his primary campaign.
In a September 7 press release, the campaign of incumbent State Senator Gustavo Rivera – who has represented the 33rd District in the central Bronx, extending from Kingsbridge Heights to East Tremont, since 2011 – charged that the Cabrera campaign illegally applied upwards of $22,000 in donations that Sean M. Fieler and Ana C. Fieler made to Cabrera’s general election campaign to the current primary campaign.
State campaign finance laws limit primary campaign donations to $7,000 per person, and in the most recent filing and an earlier one in July, the Fielers, a married couple, already maxed out in their primary campaign donations. The most recent filing, which shows $3,000 in a primary campaign donation from Ana Fieler, $22,000 from the couple in general election donations, and only $1,000 in donations from anyone else, reports that the campaign had only $2,931.67 on hand at the beginning of the reporting period and spent $28,642.25, leaving a balance of just $289.42. That would suggest that the $22,000 collected for the general election campaign was in fact spent on the primary campaign.
Incumbent State Senator Gustavo points to his challenger Councilmember Fernando Cabrera using general election funds in primary race
When the Cabrera campaign was reached for comment, a man who identified himself as Mike but refused to give his last name, said he could not address the issue but would have someone from the candidate’s team get back to Gay City News, which received no call back as of the time of this posting.
The Rivera release characterized the Fielers as “out-of-state anti-abortion conservative activists.” Sean Fielder, who lives with his wife in Princeton, New Jersey, is a hedge fund manager who chairs the American Principles Project, which opposes women’s reproductive freedom and marriage equality for same-sex couples. According to rewire.news, a website that does reporting on reproductive rights issues, he is a “fervent Catholic” and “has personally contributed nearly $18 million to political candidates and causes that align with his anti-choice, anti-LGBT, and pro-theocracy views, according to an analysis of tax filings and campaign finance records.”
It’s hardly surprising that Cabrera, a longtime opponent of marriage equality, attracted the attention of the Fielers. During his first challenge to Rivera two years ago, a YouTube video surfaced showing the Bronx councilmember in Uganda lavishly praising that nation’s aggressively anti-gay government as “the righteous.” (Cabrera removed that YouTube clip after it emerged publicly, but Gay City News has access to the original thanks to the efforts of activist and blogger Andrés Duque. An excerpt follows below, and the full video at the story's conclusion.) Several years ago, anti-gay forces in the Ugandan legislature were advocating the death penalty for homosexual conduct.
In contrast, Rivera, widely viewed as a leader among a new generation of Bronx elected officials, has close ties to the LGBT community.
Cabrera, who has also been a longtime advocate for allowing church congregations to use public school space for their weekend worship services, worked for years with the Family Research Council, an organization condemned as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. FRC’s leaders have at one time or another endorsed criminal penalties for homosexual conduct and praised Uganda’s move toward harsh anti-LGBT punitive measures.
The Cabrera campaign staffer who identified himself as Mike, upon hearing this reporter was calling from Gay City News, said, “Oh, Senator Rivera is always gay-bashing us.” Asked if that meant Cabrera’s team had been bullied for being perceived as gay, Mike quickly amended his statement to say, “He’s anti-gay-bashing us.”
State Senator Gustavo Rivera, with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, on the night of his 2014 primary victory. | GAY CITY NEWS
The Rivera campaign had earlier alerted state elections officials to evidence that the Cabrera campaign had similarly violated campaign finance restrictions by spending $11,000 in general election donations from Manhattan businessman Roger Hertog, who has long affiliations with conservative policy groups including the Manhattan Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Club for Growth.
According to the Rivera campaign, Hertog donated $150,000 to the New Yorkers for Independent Action Super PAC, a group that champions a controversial tax credit bill in Albany that would benefit parochial and other private schools. According to a July story in the Daily News, Rivera is one of four targets of the Super PAC’s spending. Sean Fieler, the Rivera campaign said when drawing attention to the Hertog donations, donated $75,000 to the same Super PAC.
Rivera easily defeated Cabrera in their first face-off two years ago, capturing roughly 60 percent of the primary vote – despite the fact that the challenger that year had some significant establishment support from progressives. In 2014, in political payback for Rivera’s support for State Senator Adriano Espaillat who had twice challenged iconic Harlem Congressmember Charlie Rangel, Rangel supported Cabrera, as did others including Public Advocate Letitia James.
This year, James has endorsed Rivera, as have State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a host of major labor unions, pro-choice groups, and the LGBT-focused Stonewall Democrats of New York City and Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club.