Spitzer, Feingold ESPA Headliners

Crowd of 1,200 greets potential guv and prez, but heart belongs to Christine Quinn

Roughly 1,200 people raised than $1 million for the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) at its Fall Dinner, the annual fundraiser produced by the statewide gay lobbying group.

“Discrimination of any type is wrong and it’s even worse when it’s orchestrated by our government,” said Alan Van Capelle, the group’s executive director, in a speech toward the end of the October 5 event. “There comes a moment in every movement when people say enough is enough.”

Van Capelle was referring to the gay and lesbian community’s pursuit of civil marriage rights. He said the community must demand that the state Legislature, particularly the Democrat-controlled Assembly, move on gay marriage.

“This year we’re going to get them to use their majority,” Van Capelle said. If elected officials support other gay community causes, but not marriage, “I think this community needs to stop making excuses for them… We need to vote them out of office,” he said.

Van Capelle also touched on ESPA’s history and its future. The first dinner, held 15 years ago, raised just $5,000 and elected officials who attended asked that their names not appear in the program. ESPA will distribute $200,000 in campaign donations this year and it hopes to hand out $1 million in two years, Van Capelle said.

Attendees and speakers this year included U.S. Senator Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, Eliot Spitzer, the current state attorney general and the Democratic candidate for governor, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, the Democrat who represents Chelsea, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate for state attorney general, members of Congress, state and local elected officials, and noted actors.

ESPA has endorsed Spitzer and Cuomo. The Spitzer campaign was a sponsor of the dinner as was Gay City News, among many organizations.

Feingold, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992 and is contemplating a run for president, was introduced by playwright Tony Kushner who read a list of progressive positions held by the senator.

Feingold, a gay marriage supporter, opposes an amendment to Wisconsin’s state constitution that would ban such marriage. Voters there will decide that issue on November 7.

“I decided that not only would I publicly oppose this amendment, but I would make it clear that I support marriage equality,” he said.

Spitzer, who has an overwhelming lead in the polls over Republican John Faso, the former Republican minority leader in the state Assembly, gave what sounded like an inaugural speech that evoked a broad vision for New York. The state must become “more just and fair and decent than the one we’ve been told to settle for,” he said.

“I believe that New York State needs to pursue a vision of civil rights that accounts for everybody,” he said. “We must make same-sex marriage legal in New York State.”

Cuomo spoke briefly. He noted his support for gay marriage and finished with “Let’s make New York State the progressive state it once was.”

Quinn got the evening’s loudest laugh, inadvertently, when talking about her activism before joining the City Council. Now, years later, Quinn said that “hopefully” she was “a little bit wider” when she meant wiser. Actor Edward Norton, who later introduced Spitzer, noted the “comedy stylings of Christine Quinn.”

On a more serious note, Quinn, the first openly lesbian or gay leader of the Council, said she was nervous about addressing the crowd.

“I feel an enormous responsibility to my lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community,” she said. “You have literally brought me to this place.”

Quinn said that when she was elected speaker this past January she received a letter from a young gay man named Joe who thanked her for her example. Quinn said she called the young man.

“I told Joe that that it’s actually courageous people like him who make it possible for people like me to do what we do,” she said.

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