Ousting Bush the Common Goal

Despite different bets on Dem sweepstakes, LGBT delegates agree on Oval Office change

While the debates among the men and woman hoping to carry the Democratic standard into the 2004 presidential election have turned into dissing contests, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) New Yorkers running to be delegates at the party’s Boston convention next summer have only one real goal—getting George W. Bush out of the White House.

No matter who wins the March 2 New York primary, there is sure to be a good representation from the LGBT community in part because the Democratic Party mandates it and also because the state’s gay political activists have collaborated on dispersing themselves among the various campaigns.

The good will among competing Democratic presidential state campaign leaders was on full display Saturday night in a Village high rise at the famous annual holiday party of longtime gay activist Allen Roskoff, now an aide to state Senate Democratic Leader David Paterson. While the host is backing the candidacy of Howard Dean whose out New York director Ethan Geto was on hand, also mixing sociably was Councilmember Bill DiBlasio (co-chair of the John Edwards campaign), former Public Advocate Mark Green (co-chair of New Yorkers for John Kerry), and state party Vice Chair Emily Giske (a leader of the Joe Lieberman troops) whose partner, Judy Selby, a board member at the Human Rights Campaign and the Empire State Pride Agenda, is running as a Kerry alternate delegate.

“Kerry has had a strong history of supporting our community,” said Selby. “He was one of 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] in 1996, and the only one to do so who was up for re-election that year. But I respect Dean. The beauty is that there are so many candidates on the Democratic side who are friendly to us.”

Even though Lieberman has been somewhat of a hard sell in gay circles because he did vote for DOMA in 1996, Giske pointed out that “he was one of the first leaders on gay civil rights as a state senator in Connecticut.” But she, too, noted, “Any of the nine candidates would be a friend in the White House for us.”

For all the mutual support in the room, some delegate candidates are more openly optimistic than others.

“I’ve already booked a room in Boston,” said out state Sen. Tom Duane (D-Manhattan), running to be a Dean delegate from U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler’s Manhattan-Brooklyn district. Duane has already gotten a commitment from Dean that one of the first things he will do as president is to visit facilities for people with AIDS in New York “and see where the federal dollars are going.”

When you vote in the presidential primary, you both vote for the candidate of your choice and then select your preference for who should be the delegates and alternates from your congressional district. Some delegates are selected by the campaigns afterwards based on the statewide vote the candidate received.

Queens Democratic district leader Danny Dromm, another veteran gay activist, has the distinction of leading the slate of Dean delegates in his Jackson Heights district, ahead of even Borough President Helen Marshall. Like most Dean supporters, he found collecting signatures for his man relatively easy because of the candidate’s outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq and his support of civil unions for gay people.

“I think he’ll win in Queens,” Dromm said, noting the support Dean has gotten from Queens County chair Tom Manton and the county organization.

Not all the delegate action was at the Roskoff party. Mark Benoit is the out gay state director of the Wesley Clark campaign and was accompanying the former general on campaign stops on Staten Island and in Chelsea Saturday night. He praised Clark as “a good listener” and “very analytical.” Clark is “someone you don’t have to tell things twice,” Benoit said.

Among the out people running as Clark delegates are attorney Brian Ellner of Chelsea and talk show host Diana Montford, who says that she is the first openly transgendered person to run for delegate.

“We took pains to see that our slates were as diverse as possible,” said Benoit, “and it turned out to be pretty easy.”

Brooklyn’s lesbian and gay leaders are well represented on delegate slates. Scott Klein, running for Clark delegate in U.S. Rep. Major Owens’ 11th district in Brooklyn, said, “My interest is in defeating George Bush and in many ways, Clark is the one who can do it.”

Klein said he has been working on gay issues “on the inside,” thinks Clark “needs to move a little forward” on them, but insists that “the campaign has been responsive.”

Renée Cafiero, running as a Dean delegate in U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns’ 10th district in Brooklyn, has the distinction of having been one of the five out delegates for George McGovern at the 1972 Democratic Convention, the first time there were any openly gay or lesbian delegates at a major party gathering. An officer of the Lambda Independent Democrats (LID), she says that the members of her club are “all over the map” when it comes to backing Democratic presidential hopefuls. Club president Dan Tietz is on a John Kerry slate.

Another Brooklynite, Bob Zuckerman, the former president of the Stonewall Democrats, a citywide club, is running as a delegate for U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt.

“The ultimate goal is to defeat the guy in the White House,” Cafiero said. “I would vote for any of the Democrats.”

Former City Council candidate Ken Diamondstone, also with LID, is also running as a Dean delegate in Towns’ district. He noted that many people of color are coming up to him anxious to sign the petitions in a community that is 80 percent people of color.

Back in Manhattan, Fred Hochberg, who just became dean of the New School’s Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy, is running as a Kerry delegate in Nadler’s district.

“I’ve known [Kerry] for ten years,” Hochberg said, “and knows how to get things done in Congress and that’s where the laws are made. He’s also good on small business and is still the most qualified guy in the field.”

Hochberg headed the Small Business Administration in the Clinton administration.

“The main issue is, who can unite the party?,” he insisted.

While fractiousness may prevail on the stump among the candidates, LGBT delegates—often derided as a divisive element within the party by more moderate members—stand ready and willing to come together around the Democratic standard bearer.

“The party is trying to bring LGBT people on to delegate slates and it’s admirable,” said Alan Fleishman, out Brooklyn Democratic district leader, long affiliated with LID.

But more than winning a trip to Boston for the convention or even fighting about the nuances of LGBT issues, everybody’s top priority is defeating George W. Bush next November.

Running Hard, Playing Nice

New Yorkers, gay and otherwise, angling for next summer’s Boston convention include: (top to bottom) Diana Montford, Allen Roskoff, and Mark Green; Emily Giske (R); Tom Duane;Alan Fleishman.

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