Neither the Perfect Host Nor the Perfect Guest

Apparently, a fair number of spectators at Sunday’s Gay Pride March were buying the Family Research Council’s PR about our mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

In an overheated blast at three New York Republicans in advance of the August Republican Convention here, the group charged that Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Gov. George Pataki are “Republicans In Name Only” or, cleverly, RINOs, who share a “pro-homosexual, anti-traditional marriage… extremist agenda.”

Despite abundant recent evidence that that is not—shall we say—a fair characterization of Bloomberg, never mind Pataki or Giuliani, most of those responding to the mayor’s appearance on Fifth Avenue this past Sunday greeted him positively, if not enthusiastically. In yet another sign that Log Cabin Republicans have a tough time catching a break in this town, that group, marching separately from Bloomberg, mostly faced catcalls.

Despite the roar of the crowd, a discerning read on the mayor’s recent record on issues of importance to the queer community would have to grade him either hostile or, at best, AWOL.

Just this week, the City Council was forced to wield its power to override a mayoral veto on the Equal Benefits Bill, a measure that will require city contractors to give its gay and lesbian employees parity with respect to the spousal benefits they offer their workers. The Empire State Pride Agenda last year declared the measure its most important goal at City Hall and candidate Bloomberg initially supported the legislation. Now, despite the Council override, the mayor is threatening legal action to block implementation.

The administration has also been resistant to the Council’s passage, this week as well, of a bill toughening the fight against bullying and harassment in the public schools, including that motivated by anti-gay and gender expression bias. Bloomberg’s top advisors only agreed to talk about the measure at all when the U.S. Justice Department focused a spotlight on racial bias, unaddressed, in a Queens high school. No one knows whether the mayor will sign or veto the new bullying law.

Bloomberg is strikingly passive on the biggest marquee issue facing the gay community. As other top city politicians are speaking out in favor of same-sex marriage, the mayor, who is divorced, has mostly taken a pass, alternately ridiculing the notion that anybody would want to get married and coolly suggesting that anyone interested in advancing the issue should go to Albany and lobby the Legislature—not bother him about it.

The New York Times and others have recently noted the low key, again almost passive posture that Bloomberg is adopting toward the impending gathering of Republicans at Madison Square Garden. In contrast to Giuliani and Pataki, who have been assigned high profile, prime time speaking slots on key convention nights, the mayor is being confined to a short greeting on the generally uneventful opening night of the gathering. Bloomberg has not pushed for any greater role, and pundits are speculating that over-identification with the Republican administration in Washington is unlikely to help him in his re-election bid next year.

But Bloomberg’s supposed coolness to the national G.O.P. is the flip side of the coin from his warm Pride reception on Sunday—it is mostly about appearances and posturing, rather than substance.

The mayor is carrying out his primary Republican Convention assignment with great alacrity—by throwing up all the roadblocks he can, within the increasingly frayed protections of our Constitution, in the path of those who disagree with George W. Bush and wish to peaceably assemble in protest. Anti-war protesters are being denied access to both Central Park and to streets anywhere close to Madison Square Garden. Organizers of a gay rights rally and concert, originally conceived with a “Summer of Love” theme and top name headliners, are also being told not to plan on Central Park, but to look to Flushing Meadows instead.

Perceptions will count for plenty when the media descends on New York and reports on how the city is responding to the president. Protesters kept at bay on the streets will have a tougher time getting their message across in the press. Karl Rove, the president’s chief political henchman, knows this, and so too, does a man who built a worldwide media empire.

Bloomberg is probably gleeful about speculation that he is a reluctant host to his Republican brethren, but the sad fact is that he plays host worst when it comes to his own constituents.

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