Pride Agenda Endorses Ferrer

Statement notes Bloomberg’s resistance on marriage ruling, contractor benefits, bullying

The Empire State Pride Agenda, New York’s statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lobbying group, on October 14 endorsed Democrat Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president, in his race against incumbent Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In a written statement, Alan Van Capelle, the group’s executive director, noted that on four key issues of importance to the LGBT community—the February gay marriage victory, a measure that would give equal partner benefits to employees of contractors doing business with the city, a schools anti-bullying measure, and a transgender rights bill—the mayor stood with the community on only one of them.

Ferrer, in contrast, has offered specific and written support for the Pride Agenda position on each of the three issues for which the group faulted Bloomberg.

“The Pride Agenda believes Fernando Ferrer is the best candidate on LGBT issues in the race for mayor of New York City,” Van Capelle said.

Though Bloomberg signed a bill in 2002 that added civil rights anti-discrimination protections based on gender identity and expression—a measure commonly referred to the transgender rights law—the Pride Agenda criticized the mayor on three other major issues.

Last year, the City Council, over the mayor’s veto, enacted the Equal Benefits Law that would require any contractor doing at least $100,000 in business with the city to offer their gay and lesbian employees partner benefits equal to what workers’ spouses receive. The Council similarly defied the mayor on a law that would protect students and employees in public schools against harassment and bullying based on gender identity and expression and sexual identity, among a variety of categories.

The mayor took the Equal Benefits Law to court, challenging its constitutionality, and has won an intermediate court victory, subject to further Council appeal. Bloomberg is refusing to implement the Dignity in All Schools Act, and has suggested he may challenge that measure in court as well.

In his highest profile rebuff of the gay community, Bloomberg in February appealed a ruling from Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan that ordered the city clerk to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The city corporation counsel’s office asked that the appeal be expedited and heard by the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, but that request was denied and the case will have to work its way through the intermediate courts.

Had Bloomberg not appealed the Ling-Cohan ruling, gay marriages would have been in full swing in New York City by now. Critics of the mayor, including Congressman Barney Frank, the gay Massachusetts Democrat, have argued that the fact of legal gay marriages in the city would have strengthened the pro-gay case in any challenge to the Ling-Cohan ruling and in the ultimate Court of Appeals consideration of other marriage cases pending statewide. With the appeal in process, it could easily be 2007 before the question of gay marriage is resolved by the New York courts.

Van Capelle noted that Ferrer has been a longtime supporter of gay rights and that in a written reply to the Pride Agenda this year has promised to drop the legal challenge to the contractor bill and to withdraw the appeal of the marriage ruling, allowing same-sex marriages to go forward in New York City.

Ferrer’s “public statements and letter to us on these two issues move beyond the generalities of simply being supportive and speak to the specifics of how he will exercise his support should he become mayor,” Van Capelle wrote. “We appreciate this specificity and value his willingness to use the office of the mayor on behalf of our community.” Van Capelle also noted that the Democrat has pledged to implement the school bullying law.

“I’m so honored to receive the endorsement of the Empire State Pride Agenda,” Ferrer said in a written statement. “Together, with the help of ESPA, I’ll end the appeal over same-sex marriages, direct the Chancellor to implement the Dignity for All Students Act, and make New York a place where all people, gay and straight, are truly equal.”

Earlier last week, Ferrer suffered two high profile defections among LGBT Democrats. Margarita Lopez, a Lower East Side Democratic councilwoman unsuccessful in her bid for Manhattan borough president, endorsed Bloomberg on Thursday. Though she did not respond to a request for comment on the eve of her decision, she later told the Villager, a sister publication of this newspaper, that while she disagrees with the mayor’s decision to appeal the marriage ruling, “Sometimes my mother and my father disagree on this issue.” Lopez also said the mayor’s efforts in helping to arrange a blood transfusion for her partner when she was seriously ill several years ago touched her personally.

The day before the Lopez announcement, the Bloomberg campaign announced that Brian Ellner—a Democrat who also ran for borough president in a campaign centered on a television ad that mocked President George W. Bush, whose head was mounted on an unclothed torso, with the tag line: “the emperor has no clothes”—was joining the campaign as a paid advisor and LGBT liaison.

Van Capelle took pains to emphasize that the mayor has taken some steps to advance gay rights issues during his tenure, specifically mentioning Bloomberg’s announcement last week that he had prevailed on four leading insurance companies to make domestic partner benefits plans available to small businesses with less than 50 employees previously unable to secure such coverage. During the past year, the mayor has also seen to it that same-sex married couples legally married in other jurisdictions receive full spousal recognition under applicable city benefits programs.

“While all of these actions are commendable and we said so at the time they were announced, they are not a substitute for the significant gains the LGBT community could have made had the mayor used his power to implement the Equal Benefits Bill, the Dignity in All Schools Act, and the court decision on marriage,” Van Capelle concluded. “Mr. Ferrer has shown during his career in politics, as well as stated to the Pride Agenda, that he will use the power of the office he holds to advance, without hesitation, equality and justice for the LGBT community in a way that Mayor Bloomberg is reticent to do.”

Two weeks before, six of the seven member groups of the Greater Voices coalition of LGBT political clubs pressed the Pride Agenda to endorse Ferrer, voicing a concern that the group might opt to make no endorsement on the bet that the Democrat, far behind the mayor in the polls, will not win. The groups that signed on to that letter were Brooklyn’s Lambda Independent Democrats, Staten Island Stonewall, the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, the Lambda Democrats of the Bronx, the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, and the Out People of Color Political Action Club.

The Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club declined to participate in that effort. The club last week released a statement urging voters not to support Bloomberg, whose record on LGBT issues it termed “dismal and an insult,” but adding that it had “voted to not endorse the Democratic candidate, Fernando Ferrer. This club only endorses candidates who have earned our trust in their commitment to LGBT and other progressive issues.” One key reason the club endorsed District Attorney Robert Morgenthau in his successful primary race against former Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder was the challenger’s support for the death penalty, an issue on which Ferrer has several times changed his stance.

The Log Cabin Republicans of New York City have endorsed Bloomberg’s reelection.

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