Miller Wins ESPA Mayoral Nod

State gay lobby says City Council speaker has best record of delivering for LGBT community

City Council Speaker Gifford Miller marches in the Pride Parade Sunday with Chelsea City Councilwoman, Christine Quinn, one of the Council’s three gay and lesbian members, just hours after Miller received the endorsement of the Empire State Pride Agenda in his quest for the Democratic nomination for mayor.

The Empire State Pride Agenda, the state lobbying group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, has taken the unprecedented step of endorsing a party’s mayoral primary in the September Democratic contest, embracing City Council Speaker Gifford Miller in his quest to defeat incumbent Michael Bloomberg in November.

“You don’t have to convince Gifford that our community faces discrimination every day,” said Alan Van Capelle, the Pride Agenda’s executive director at a pre-parade press conference at their Chelsea headquarters on LGBT Pride Day. “He gets it and he’s willing to do something about it.”

“I’m proud to have the Pride Agenda’s support,” said an exuberant Miller, who called ESPA “the preeminent group representing the LGBT community” and its endorsement “a validation of what I’ve done.” He added, “The mayor of the most LGBT people in the world ought to be in the forefront” of the fight for equality.

Bloomberg has vigorously fought two of the major legislative initiatives of the Pride Agenda that Miller steered through the Council—the Equal Benefits Law requiring contractors doing business with the city to provide domestic partner benefits on the same basis as they are offered spousal benefits and the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), an anti-bullying law, both enacted over mayoral vetoes. Bloomberg argues that the measures are “illegal” and is in court challenging the contractors’ law and preparing a defense against a lawsuit by the Council to compel him to enforce DASA.

At a press conference before the parade, Bloomberg explained that, “The city can’t use its procurement policies to advance social issues,” but would not say whether a measure similar to the Equal Benefits Law that forbid the city from doing business with the apartheid regime of South Africa in the 1980s had also been illegal.

The Pride Agenda also took exception to Bloomberg’s decision to appeal a February ruling by New York State Justice Doris Ling-Cohan that ordered the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In February, the mayor, stating for the first time that he supports same-sex marriage rights, explained that he appealed the lower court ruling to avoid “chaos” if the marriages were eventually invalidated by the Court of Appeals; he now says he had “no choice” but to appeal.

Miller said during the Pride March that he will drop the appeal and start performing same-sex marriages “on January 1” if elected mayor.

Van Capelle took pains to emphasize that Miller’s Democratic opponents—former Bronx Borough Pres. Fernando Ferrer, Manhattan Borough Pres. C. Virginia Fields and Brooklyn Congressman Anthony Weiner—all have made solid commitments to equal rights for LGBT New Yorkers. He told Gay City News that he reached out to them before announcing the Miller endorsement “and people were fine; they understood and folks suggested that if they are in the Democratic runoff and Gifford is not, they would like to be looked at again.”

None of the candidates, including Bloomberg, is publicly criticizing the Pride Agenda for its decision, which was made by an eight-member committee consisting mostly of board members and did not formally include Van Capelle.

A New York Times poll conducted June 21-26 found Miller has the support of only seven percent of registered Democratic voters. Ferrer led with 34 percent, followed by Fields with 20 percent and Weiner with 10 percent. Match-ups with Bloomberg have Ferrer trailing 48 to 35 percent, and the other Democratic candidates faring worse, with Miller down 51 to 28 percent.

The mayor, who is financing his own campaign outside the city’s public campaign finance system, has already begun a multi-million dollar media buy that includes television and print outlets, including the gay press.

Van Capelle said that, based on past polling, his group believes that as much as 8.6 percent of city voters identify as LGBT, making the community a potential key swing constituency. As for Miller’s low standing in the polls at this point, Van Capelle said that the East Side councilman is “viable” and that “no one is paying attention to the mayoral race now.”

“This is not a paper endorsement,” Van Capelle emphasized at the press conference. “We will be on the streets for Gifford.”

In 1997, the Pride Agenda, under different leadership, refused to support the Democratic candidate, then-Manhattan Borough Pres. Ruth Messinger, when Rudolph Giuliani won re-election, despite her unparalleled leadership on LGBT issues for two decades. Giuliani was way ahead in the polls and the Pride Agenda remained neutral in the race in exchange for the mayor’s commitment to sign a bill codifying existing domestic partner rights into law. The provisions of that bill fell short of one earlier introduced by then-Councilman Thomas Duane, a gay Chelsea Democrat now in the State Senate.

“It’s not 1997,” said Van Capelle, but no decision has been made on whom to endorse if Miller loses.

“Gifford Miller is going to be the nominee,” Van Capelle insisted.

Duane was on hand at the Pride Agenda press conference for Miller.

“He’s not just been with us 100 percent, he’s put LGBT rights front and center and ardently pushed for us more than other politicians,” Duane said.

Miller was also flanked by gay Councilman Philip Reed, a Democrat who represents portions of the Upper West Side and East Harlem, and Christine Quinn, a lesbian Democrat from Chelsea, who is hoping to become the next Council speaker, the second most powerful post in the city.

Van Capelle said Tuesday that the reaction to Sunday’s endorsement from community members was “overwhelmingly supportive.”

Miller has also been endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, the city’s oldest gay political club, and the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens. Ferrer was endorsed this week by the Out People of Color Political Action Club, Weiner won the vote at the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, and the Log Cabin Republicans will stump for Bloomberg who faces a primary challenge from former Queens Councilman Tom Ognibene.

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