Pro-Gay Choices in Brooklyn

Four of five Democrats running for open congressional seat favor same-sex marriage

A forum featuring the five candidates seeking Brooklyn’s open 11th Congressional District seat showcased near complete unanimity among the Democrats on such issues as the Atlantic Yards project, improving city schools, and immigration matters—and only one slight difference on LGBT rights.

“It’s going to be a tough choice because all of our candidates have been previously endorsed by the Lambda Independent Democrats or are longstanding members,” said Gary Parker, president of the gay political club, at the start of the event.

Some 100 people packed a small room at the Montauk Club in Park Slope for the January 26 forum. LID and the Out People of Color Political Action Club sponsored the event.

City Councilman David Yassky, first elected in 2001, opened the evening by noting problems in the district, which stretches from Brooklyn Heights to Park Slope, Crown Heights, and Flatbush and includes some of Brooklyn’s richest neighborhoods and some of its poorest as well. The 11th District also has a rich ethnic and racial diversity.

“One out of three children in the 11th Congressional District, that’s 50,000 children, are living in poverty,” said Yassky, who represents the 33rd Council District that includes neighborhoods from Greenpoint to Park Slope. “One third will not graduate from high school. Half of the African-American men are unemployed.”

Like his fellow candidates, Yassky was concerned with building more affordable housing, improving city schools, and creating jobs.

On gay issues, marriage dominated the evening’s discussion.

Yassky, City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke, and Chris Owens, the three candidates who arrived on time for the forum, are all supporters of same-sex marriage.

“I am for gay marriage,” said Clarke, who was also first elected to the City Council in 2001, representing the 40th District, made up of Crown Heights, Flatbush, and East Flatbush. “However, I do recognize the divide within this district.”

Owens, who has served on a community school board and highlights his work in health care and on behalf of a woman’s right to choose, began his comments by discussing broad themes of equality and then concluded with, “When we include everybody, everybody benefits.”

Yassky, Owens, and Clarke are all in favor of impeaching President George W. Bush or, at a minimum, investigating the possibility that he lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and illegally ordered the National Security Agency to conduct warrant-less wiretaps on Americans.

All three favor the proposed Atlantic Yards project, a sprawling development that would build a basketball arena and multiple skyscrapers in downtown Brooklyn, where Atlantic Avenue meets Flatbush Avenue, but only if the scale of the project as currently proposed can be reduced and its impact on traffic and the environment mitigated.

All three are also in agreement in their opposition to the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that bars openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the military.

Democrat Major Owens has represented the 11th Congressional District since 1982. In 2004, he announced that he would give up the seat. Chris Owens is his son. With only Democrats running for the seat, the September 12 Democratic primary will decide the winner.

The other two contenders, state Senator Carl Andrews and Assemblyman N. Nick Perry, arrived roughly one hour after the forum began and missed most of the questions. They were given two minutes to introduce themselves and then asked if they supported gay marriage.

“On gay marriage my position is clear,” said Andrews who was elected to the state Senate in 2002, representing District 20, a largely Carib-bean-American community that includes Crown Heights and a portion of Park Slope. “I’m in favor of it.”

Andrews said he had fought to get benefits for the domestic partners of some of those killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Perry began by saying, “It’s nice to come in on the toughest question.”

He discussed his 14 years in elected office, representing East Flatbush’s Assembly District 58, and said, “I offer you my background as a legislator, as someone who cares about the community, as someone who, if you ever have to be in a fight, you want me in the room.”

Perry then sat down only to have the marriage question repeated to him. He stood up and noted his support for the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, a state law that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, and his opposition to a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. Perry once again sat down only to get the question one more time. He stood and said, “I believe that marriage is be-tween a man and a woman. That’s my belief.”

But Perry also said that while he was personally pro-life on abortion, he voted pro-choice and added that on gay marriage, “As a legislator, I would base my vote on the choice of the people who elect me.”

All five contenders said they support allowing non-citizens to vote in city elections, though Yassky said that such voting should be restricted to citizens and those who have applied for citizenship.

All five support treating the partners of gay and lesbian couples like legal spouses under U.S. immigration law.

“This is going to be a very tough race for Lambda,” Parker reiterated at the close of the forum.

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