Four U.S. House candidates, all pro-marriage equality, scramble for votes
In one of the final debates among the Democratic contenders for Brooklyn’s 11th Congressional District, the candidates offered voters a choice among four supporters of gay marriage and other goals sought by the lesbian and gay community.
“After September 12 we will no longer have four candidates,” said Gary Parker, president of Lambda Independent Democrats (LID), referring to the date of the primary election. “We will have one, but we know that that one candidate will support marriage equality.”
While the race has largely been without rancor, one point of tension has been that it was only at the end of last year when City Councilman David Yassky, the sole white candidate, moved into the district, which includes portions of Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope but has its greatest number of voters in Flatbush, Crown Heights, and East New York.
Democrat Major Owens has represented the district since 1982 and in some parts of the district the seat is seen as an African- and Caribbean-American one, having been represented by a black Democrat since the late Shirley Chisholm was first elected in 1968. In 2004, Owens announced he would not seek re-election this year. With only Democrats in the running, the September 12 primary will decide the winner.
While not directly attacking Yassky at the August 30 event, the three black candidates made remarks that were clearly directed at him.
“There are candidates here who have been rooted in the community,” said Chris Owens, the son of Major Owens, during his closing remarks. “I’m somebody who lives here.”
During their opening remarks, state Senator Carl Andrews and City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke both noted that they also were born and raised in the district.
“As a state senator, I believe I’ve done a good job of representing the constituents of the 20th senatorial district,” said Andrews who has held his seat for 14 years.
With the four largely in agreement on many issues, including those of import to the queer community, the candidates each emphasized things they had achieved for the New York City and the gay community while also putting forward their progressive credentials.
Clarke, who has been in the City Council for just under five years, noted her support for city money to battle methamphetamine and her efforts on behalf of queer kids.
“We created new funding streams to open up new places in response to Covenant House’s failure for LGBT youth,” said Clarke, regarding efforts to providing shelter for homeless young people. Clarke is endorsed by the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, a gay political group.
Yassky, like Clarke also first elected in 2001, talked about his work battling guns and violence. He attacked the Republican-controlled Congress.
“I am running because I believe that this Congress is a disaster for us, for this community, for this city, for this country,” he said during the event held at Park Slope’s Montauk Club. “I am running for Congress because I believe that I have a record of accomplishment, of achievement.”
Owens, who briefly served on a community school board, focused his opening remarks on the Iraq war and its impact on America.
“The greatest challenge we face today as a nation is the Iraq War,” said Owens who is endorsed by LID and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, an out lesbian who represents the West Village. “We cannot deal with healthcare, we cannot deal with housing… So many of our resources are being drained by this war.”
Andrews said that healthcare and housing were suffering and took a poke at President George W. Bush.
“This administration has declared war on the middle class, the working class,” he said. “The war we should be fighting is the war on poverty.”
The sole major disagreement among the four is the Atlantic Yards, a major and controversial development project that is slated for downtown Brooklyn near the terminus of the Long Island Railroad at Flatbush Avenue. Only Owens opposes the project, which has pitted those fearing the enormous scope of the development against Brooklynites eager for the jobs the project will generate and the building of a stadium for the Nets, a pro basketball team currently in New Jersey.
The event drew roughly 50 people and was sponsored by LID, Stonewall, the Out People of Color Political Action Club, a citywide group, and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay lobbying organization.
The Democratic Primary for the 11th District U.S. House seat in Brooklyn includes two members of the City Council, Yvette Clarke and David Yassky, state Senator Carl Andrews, and Chris Owens, a community activist who is the son of the incumbent, Major Owens, who is retiring.