Public advocate candidate and former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, like Brooklyn Councilmember Jumaane Williams, contributed to an anti-gay politician despite pledging in a questionnaire for the Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC that she had never made such a donation.
Mark-Viverito donated $500 to Brooklyn Councilmember Chaim Deutsch on November 4, 2013, during the time she was building support for her election as speaker in January of 2014. The donation came more than three months after a video posted on YouTube of Deutsch attacking his opponent for having the support of a group that he said had an “agenda with gays and lesbians,” comments reported at the time in Bklyner. Deutsch has voted against gay rights throughout his time on the Council, and according to the co-president of Russian-speaking network RUSA LGBT, the councilmember admitted that he voted against banning gay conversion therapy because he thought people should have a “choice” to be “cured” from homosexuality.
Mark-Viverito answered “no” on the questionnaire when asked whether she had ever “endorsed or financially supported any candidate for public office or current elected official with a track record of working against LGBTQ equality.”
A spokesperson for the former speaker claimed in a statement to Gay City News that Mark-Viverito’s donation “came before she had any knowledge of Chaim Deutsch’s anti-LGBTQIA remarks, and she’s already spoken with Stonewall about this.”
Mark-Viverito’s response, however, doesn’t add up. Even if she was unaware of Deutsch’s publicly known position before giving his political committee $500, she certainly was aware of it when answering no on the recent Stonewall survey. She was serving as speaker while the Brooklyn councilmember voted repeatedly against gay rights. She was a prime sponsor of a ban on conversion therapy and was present when Deutsch voted against that.
In 2017, when Deutsch faced a potential primary challenger, KingsCountyPolitics.com reported that Mark-Viverito endorsed him, saying, “Chaim has the experience, compassion and dedication that South Brooklyn families need in their Councilman. Chaim has made it a priority to stand up for senior citizens, students and the most vulnerable among us. I am proud to endorse his re-election to the Council.”
Though Deutsch’s vote against the conversion therapy bill came after Mark-Viverito’s 2017 endorsement, earlier in her speakership he had voted against a number of other LGBTQ Council initiatives.
Still, the former speaker’s campaign reiterated her ignorance of Deutsch’s record and attacked her opponents in the race when she said that “unlike some public advocate candidates, Melissa would never donate to a candidate who she knew had an anti-LGBTQIA record.”
When asked about Mark-Viverito’s donation and her answer on the questionnaire, Stonewall president Rod Townsend told Gay City News that “candidates cannot stand with the LGBT community and elected officials at the same time.”
Townsend added, “SDNYC’s questionnaire specifically asks candidates to review and explain their history, and our members have an opportunity to make their own decisions on who does, and does not, make the right choice.”
Townsend added that Mark-Viverito alerted the group to the donation on the same day that Gay City News reached out to the former speaker about it, and she told the club that she would address it when speaking to their membership during Stonewall’s endorsement meeting, which will be held this evening at 8 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center at 208 West 13th Street in Manhattan.
“We look forward to a robust discussion and debate at our endorsement meeting tonight,” Townsend said.
Gay City News reported on a similar misleading response to Stonewall by Williams, who made $1,375 donations to Deutsch and Councilmember Fernando Cabrera in 2017 even though he answered on the questionnaire that he also never donated to anti-gay candidates. Williams responded after the story was posted, apologizing for what he said was an “oversight” and maintaining he did not remember donating to Deutsch in the most recent election cycle.
Williams vowed to donate to pro-LGBTQ organizations. He has nevertheless earned the endorsement of another LGBTQ group, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club.
Stonewall noted in a statement to Gay City News on Tuesday that Williams’ answer on his questionnaire “does not line up with his donation history.”
Mark-Viverito is among 10 public advocate candidates who filled out the questionnaire for Stonewall. Bronx Assemblymember Michael Blake was the only one to admit that he donated to homophobic politicians in the past.
Upper Manhattan Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, another candidate for the public advocate position, donated $2,000 to Bronx Councilmember Fernando Cabrera, who praised the government of Uganda after it passed a law criminalizing same-sex relations, imposing harsh penalties, and denying recognition of LGBTQ people. Stonewall endorsed Rodriguez during his re-election campaign for City Council in 2017, but the endorsement was rescinded after it was revealed he had endorsed anti-gay politician Ruben Diaz, Sr., who was then running for the Council.
Rodriguez did not submit answers to Stonewall’s questionnaire this year, and he did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding his donation to Cabrera.