Leslie Crocker Snyder widely faulted on support for death penalty
Robert Morgenthau has been the Manhattan district attorney for 32 years—nearly the entire span of the modern gay civil rights movement. And despite some criticisms of his slowness to include out gay people on his staff and his aggressive prosecutions of activists protesting in the streets, most of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender political community is sticking with him as Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former judge, gives him his first real primary in 20 years.
Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, brought Morgenthau around to gay bars in his first campaign and this time out his club endorsed the Democratic incumbent unanimously. Roskoff cited the DA’s work on behalf of the city’s lesbian and gay rights bill that passed in 1986 after a 15-year battle.
“He testified for it every time, lobbied councilmembers, and talked to the editorial boards to win support for it,” Roskoff recalled. “He is a liberal in the traditional sense of the word, a progressive Democrat who has lobbied hard against the death penalty in stark contrast to his opponent who supports the death penalty, has written a book called ‘25 to Life,’ and has no record on gay rights.”
Morgenthau is also supported by the citywide Stonewall Democratic Club and Manhattan’s Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats (GLID). Snyder won the endorsement of the Out People of Color Political Action Club.
“We didn’t hear anything at all from Morgenthau,” said Gerard Cabrera, co-president of OutPOCPAC, “and she was enthusiastic about reforming the office and addressing people-of-color concerns such as making the office more responsive to those they serve.”
Melissa Sklarz, president of GLID, cited Morgenthau’s work against the death penalty as key to her club’s endorsement of his re-election. She called Snyder “bright” and said she “presented a good case to the club.”
Dirk McCall, president of the Stonewall club, said, “Morgenthau has a wonderful record on LGBT equality” and noted “he’s been there on our issues.”
Ken Sherrill, the first out gay Democratic district leader in the 1970s, remembers a time when Morgenthau was not there. In 1985, he and the other two gay leaders endorsed civil rights attorney C. Vernon Mason for the post because Morgenthau had yet to hire an out gay or lesbian assistant district attorney.
Sherrill said that Morgenthau’s people tried to dissuade them from their opposition that year by telling them, “It’s his last race.” Twenty years later, at 85, Morgenthau is seeking another four-year term. The DA “learned that we are a constituency that had to be dealt with” in 1985, Sherrill said.
Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter College, said, “Snyder has no natural constituency, except maybe death penalty supporters.”
The challenger has tried to play down that support in this contest, noting that there is no death penalty law now in New York and that she would only use it in extraordinary circumstances if there were.
Surveying the range of electoral contests in the city this year, Sherrill noted, “A lot of people are running for offices to get their names around so they’ll have more prominent names four years from now.”
But, in this case, he argued, Snyder may be damaging herself by taking on an icon who is backed by virtually the entire political establishment.
Concerns about the incumbent are not limited to the fact that his support for gay rights was slow in coming. In response to a 2003 protest related to the Israeli government’s killing of an American woman working with Palestinians, Morgenthau tried to jail Kate Barnhart along with 15 others.
“He’s losing touch with what’s going on in his own office,” Barnhart said, citing his statement that she and her co-defendants were offered plea bargains when in fact they were not. Those convicted in the action were ordered to perform community service last month.
Yet Barnhart’s antipathy for Morgenthau doesn’t translate into support for Snyder.
“We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place,” she said. “Morgenthau’s priorities are way off, prosecuting activists while people are committing rapes. And Snyder supports the death penalty.”
Gay State Senator Tom Duane of Chelsea, who has not endorsed in the race, said, “I don’t like what he did to the AIDS activists. I’m pleased that he supports same-sex civil marriage, though I wish he’d write an amicus brief for our side in the suit for it. I like her ideas on a domestic violence court. And her being in the race has pushed the Rockefeller Drug Laws as an issue. But I’m uncomfortable with her stand on the death penalty.”
In the latest Quinnipiac University Poll, Morgenthau is beating Snyder by a 61 to 16 percent margin.
The LGBT Community Center is holding a forum for candidates for DA in both Manhattan and Brooklyn on Tuesday, September 6 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. A forum for the candidates for Public Advocate will be held on Thursday, September 8, also from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.