ESPA Dinner A Family Affair

John Edwards’ daughter and Gavin Newsom’s wife offer the evening’s main addresses

In years past, the fall dinner hosted by the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state’s gay lobbying group, has attracted the heaviest hitters in the political world, including Bill Clinton and Al Gore, both of them while still in office.

Last Thursday evening, amidst the hardest fought election campaign in memory, the well-heeled crowd that exceeded 1,100 was greeted instead by very close loved ones of some of today’s biggest newsmakers. Kate Edwards, the adult daughter of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, and Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom, the wife of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, were the evening’s two keynote speakers.

Edwards, reading from a speech that noted several of the recent achievements made by New York City’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, was most animated when she talked about how her views on same-sex marriage differed from her father’s.

“Someday, I hope to have a wedding of my own and I would be so so upset if some of my guests weren’t able to participate in such a ceremony of their own which was recognized by every state in the nation, ” she told an enthusiastic audience. “My father and I don’t share the exact same position on gay marriage, but the effort to support equal rights is the thing we share.”

Turning her attention to the Republican opponents of her father and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, Edwards continued, “The other side is doing everything it can to stoke people’s fears and resentments,” a reference that evoked thoughts of Pres. George W. Bush’s efforts to pass a federal constitutional amendment barring gay marriage. The Democratic nominees oppose that effort.

Guilfoyle Newsom, who once served as an assistant district attorney in San Francisco and is now a legal commentator for Court TV and several broadcast and cable news organizations, stepped in to speak in place of her husband who was detained on the West Coast with official business. She recounted a story that Newsom himself has told several times—how he decided to see if he had the legal authority to sanction gay marriages after attending Bush’s State of the Union Speech in January, during which the president signaled his intention to fight same-sex marriage even if it meant amending the constitution.

“Enough is enough,” Guilfoyle recalled her husband saying upon his return to San Francisco. “It really pisses my husband and me off when people play politics with the Constitution of the United States.”

For several weeks beginning Valentine’s Day weekend, about 4,000 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples. The California Supreme Court has since ruled that Gavin exceeded his statutory authority, but has not yet ruled on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage there.

“This fight has really just begun and it’s exciting,” Guilfoyle Newsom told the ESPA crowd. “It’s not a struggle, it’s an inspirational fight.”

The Pride Agenda dinner, held at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers on Seventh Avenue in Midtown, attracted widespread media attention when word leaked that New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, who recently announced his resignation as he acknowledged that he is gay and had an extramarital affair with a male employee, would attend. It was McGreevey’s first appearance at a gay public event since his August bombshell.

As camera crews mobbed him upon his arrival, McGreevey said, “I’m just thankful for the support of thousands of New Jerseyans who stood by me and offered their support and prayers.” Asked if his appearance signaled an interest in doing gay advocacy work, the governor said, “Right now, I just expect to eat dinner.”

McGreevey was praised by New York’s senior senator, Charles Schumer, who hailed him for his “courage and stalwartness,” during a brief address in which he warned of the danger that a Bush reelection would pose for the shape of the federal judiciary. Schumer noted that at least three Supreme Court vacancies will likely come up in the next four years. Schumer, who faces a poorly-financed re-election opponent in Republican State Assemblyman Howard Mills, has been among the most forceful Senate Democrats in challenging Bush judicial appointments.

The evening also included a brief address by State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who the day before announced that New York State would recognize same-sex marriages performed in Canada for purposes of public employee pension benefits. Earning a hero’s welcome, Hevesi told the crowd, “We did the legal thing. We did the right thing. We did the moral thing.”

In contrast with Hevesi, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who dropped in at the pre-dinner cocktail party, appeared against the backdrop of having taken action against the gay community. Earlier in the day, the mayor filed suit against the Equal Benefits Law, enacted over his veto by the City Council, that would give employees of city contractors access to partner benefits equivalent to the spousal benefits their companies offer. Bloomberg has argued the law will stifle the city’s ability to attract the lowest cost contractors.

ESPA’s Joe Tarver said that the group’s executive director, Alan Van Capelle, expressed his disappointment to the mayor at the cocktail party, but added that the group hopes to be able to work with Bloomberg in the future.

In his remarks at the dinner, Van Capelle emphasized the grassroots town hall meeting efforts ESPA has undertaken during the past year, particularly on the issue of same-sex marriage.

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