James for Council; No on 3

Voters in Brooklyn’s City Council District 35 had an election contest thrust on them by the tragic assassination of James Davis on in City Hall on July 23, but they are fortunate to have the opportunity to fill the vacant seat with a candidate as well qualified, knowledgeable, and compassionate as Letitia James.

Gay City News wholeheartedly endorses her election on Tuesday, November 4.

Since graduating from Howard University Law School, James has spent her career as a legal advocate for underprivileged New Yorkers and a policy professional working on the critical urban issues facing the neighborhoods she would represent on the Council. She has worked as a legal aid attorney, in the office of state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, and as counsel and chief of staff to two Democratic assemblymembers from Brooklyn––Al Vann (now on the City Council himself) and Roger Green.

During her years in public service, James has come to know the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community well, which is important in a district that includes significant queer enclaves in Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, and Prospect Heights. As a staff member to Vann and Green, she has worked closely with the Lambda Independent Democrats, Brooklyn’s queer political club, and won its support in races in 2001 and this year.

In her appearances in front of gay audiences and in an interview with Gay City News, James demonstrates a ready familiarity with key issues facing our community. She is a supporter of same-sex marriage rights. She is prepared to co-sponsor of the Dignity for All Schools Act, an anti-bullying measure currently before the Council, and to press the city’s department of education, currently cool to the legislation, to take seriously the issue of anti-gay harassment in the public schools.

James’ willingness to speak out forcefully is evidenced by comments she made about the lawsuit that state Sen. Ruben Diaz has filed against the city’s funding of the Harvey Milk High School.

“The comments that were made were homophobic. The comments that were made were insensitive. The comments that were made were to me not Christian,” she said. “The lawsuit is frivolous. The lawsuit is without merit. I believe that it will be dismissed.”

James had not intended to run for City Council until the time of Davis’ death, and her entry into the race came too late for her to qualify for the September Democratic primary, so she is running on the Working Families Party line. The Democratic candidate in the race, Geoffrey Davis, the late councilmember’s younger brother, qualified because a candidate committee, headed by his mother, was empowered under state law to designate James Davis’ successor on the ballot.

The younger Davis has worked to run an earnest campaign, and has also voiced strong support for major LGBT political goals. His inexperience in public life, however, shows. On the stump he is vague, to put it diplomatically, about the specifics of policy and legislation.

Of greater concern is Davis’ unwillingness to address in detail serious questions about his past, including allegations made in court papers by one woman that he has failed to provide support to a child he fathered with her.

Voters in the 35th district have a clear choice that they can trust––Letitia James.

There are 50 other City Council races on November 4 and, while none is as competitive as the Davis-James face off, LGBT voters should rally behind other strong advocates for our community. A full list of endorsements made by the Empire State Pride Agenda is available at prideagenda.org, but in Manhattan, the Council’s three out gay and lesbian Councilmembers deserve special attention.

Margarita Lopez, seeking re-election in the second district that runs from the Lower East side north to Grammercy Park; Christine Quinn, who represents the West Side third district that runs from Canal Street to Clinton and east to Fifth Avenue; and Philip Reed, the eighth district councilmember who represents portions of the Upper West Side, East Harlem, and the South Bronx all deserve to return to the Council. A strong turnout for each of them will send a signal that the LGBT community stands up for its own.

The most controversial issue on Tuesday’s ballot is a proposal with strong backing from Mayor Michael Bloomberg that would make all municipal elections non-partisan.

Advocates of the reform, which has been enacted in many of America’s largest cities, argue that eliminating party primaries will undermine the influence of political bosses and increase voter turnout. Specifically, the ballot proposal’s supporters predict that communities of color will witness higher rates of voting and elect more of their own leaders to office.

The data put forward to support these arguments, however, is disappointingly hit and miss. None of the studies trotted out to back up the case for change establishes with any degree of satisfaction that non-partisanship is the cause of any of the benefits cited.

Disenchantment and cynicism are plaguing our political process, and political cronyism is undoubtedly to blame in part. But more than anything else, voters are turned off by a pervasive sense that politicians don’t level with them. Had the effort for non-partisan elections been waged with more respect for the intelligence of voters, it might inspire greater faith that the true aim is greater participation by the public in our government.

The proposal made its way onto the ballot as the result of the efforts of a Charter Reform Commission handed picked by the mayor with the express aim of approving his electoral scheme. Even as the Commission held public hearings this summer, one of its staffers appeared as an advocate for the proposal at a debate at the LGBT Community Center.

In recent weeks, Bloomberg has begun spending some of his own considerable wealth to support a mailing effort to push the initiative, even while declining to have his name listed on the printed material. As a billionaire who continues to face widespread public concern that he bought the last mayoral election, Bloomberg should place greater priority on making his political efforts fully transparent to voters.

Changing the way that we elect our city’s leaders is not an issue to be taken lightly. Supporters of ballot question 3 in Tuesday’s election have not met their burden. Gay City News recommends a No vote.

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