Citywide gay Democratic club goes with Council speaker, fiery attorney and lesbian lawmaker
The Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, the citywide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political club, in a June 29 meeting at the LGBT Community Center endorsed City Council Speaker Gifford Miller for his party’s mayoral nomination in September to face Republican incumbent Michael Bloomberg in November.
In the other vigorously contested races, the club narrowly chose civil rights attorney Norman Siegel in his second race for public advocate over incumbent Betsy Gotbaum, and Lower East City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez in her race to become the first lesbian Manhattan borough president. The borough president’s contest has ten candidates, including Brian Ellner, a gay attorney who is a former community school board president.
Dirk McCall, the president of Stonewall who presided over the lengthy club debate among more than 100 members about the merits of candidates in several dozen races, said that while all the candidates for the Democratic mayoral nomination are good and pro-gay, noting that each of the four supports same-sex marriage, Miller “set a new standard of fighting for our community” in the City Council.
The speaker has steered legislation through the Council protecting transgender rights and recognizing same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships from other jurisdictions. Over Bloomberg’s objections, the Council also passed laws requiring contractors to treat the domestic partners of their employees equally with their spouses and combating bullying in schools, including harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The mayor is in court challenging the first and refuses to implement the second, calling both measures “illegal.”
Miller has also pledged to drop Bloomberg’s appeal of a February court order directing the city clerk to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. The speaker said he would begin marrying same-sex couples on January 1, his first day as mayor if elected.
Asked whether Miller was a viable candidate given his standing at seven percent in the Democratic field in the latest New York Times poll, McCall noted that Sen. Charles Schumer was “in single digits” at this stage of his 1998 primary race against Geraldine Ferraro and Mark Green, who were competing for the chance to take on incumbent Republican Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. The Times poll put Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president at 34 percent, followed by Manhattan Borough Pres. C. Virginia Fields at 20 percent and Congressman Anthony Weiner, who represents portions of Brooklyn and Queens at 12 percent. The poll has Bloomberg besting Ferrer 48 to 35 percent and defeating the other Democratic challengers by wider margins. That gap is expected to narrow markedly when the Democratic alternative is reduced to one.
Stonewall will almost surely back the Democratic nominee in the fall against the mayor, having been distributing “Dump Bloomberg” buttons for weeks now.
In the closest contest of the night, Norman Siegel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union who is representing same-sex couples in one of the New York state cases seeking the right to marry, prevailed by four votes over Betsy Gotbaum in his quest to replace her as public advocate. Siegel was on hand at the club for the entire evening. In their contest four years ago, Gotbaum had charged that Siegel was too confrontational to serve the city effectively, though some Stonewall members last week grumbled that she has, in contrast, maintained too low a profile and not offered any counterbalance to the Republican mayor.
The club uses an “instant run-off” system of voting where members rank the candidates they favor in order of choice. Candidates with the fewest number of first-place votes are eliminated and their ballots then count toward their second choice if they have indicated one. The process continues until someone achieves a majority. In the public advocates race that included other candidates as well, Siegel won on the second round.
“You have to outlast your opponents,” Siegel said. “I’m excited and honored.” He pledged to appoint a deputy public advocate for equality. Siegel has staked out a visible role in the wake of the gay bashing of Dwan Prince in Brooklyn early last month, helping to call attention to the case. Two suspects have been arrested so far in the police investigation.
Stonewall endorsed all other incumbents who sought their endorsement, including City Comptroller Bill Thompson.
In the wide-open race for Manhattan borough president, 80 percent of the votes went to the two openly gay candidates, with Lopez beating Ellner by 74 to 59 votes.
“It’s time to empower one of our own,” said McCall, adding that “Ellner has a bright political future.”
Lopez’s success in securing funding for the LGBT Community Center and programs for people with HIV/AIDS was cited by many members promoting her candidacy. First elected to the City Council in 1997, she is the first out lesbian Latina elected official in the United States.
Despite his loss, Ellner said his tally at the club “exceeded all of our expectations,” adding that he didn’t have any chance of winning “insider clubs” with his outsider candidacy.
The club also chose longtime Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau over challenger Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former judge.
Stonewall made endorsements in all five boroughs. In addition to endorsing 30 incumbents in the 51-member City Council, the club also endorsed six candidates vying for seats vacated by councilmembers forced out by term limits—Rosie Mendez, a lesbian seeking to replace Lopez in the second district on the Lower East Side; Dan Garodnick aiming for Eva Moskowitz’s District 4 seat on the East Side; Jessica Lappin running for Gifford Miller’s District 5 seat, also on the East Side; Joyce Johnson seeking the uptown District 8 seat held since 1997 by Philip Reed, a gay man; Inez Dickens aiming for Bill Perkins District 9 Harlem seat; and James Vacca running for Madeline Provenzano’s open seat in the Bronx’s District 13.
Stonewall also made two judicial endorsements—Eve Rachel Markewich for the Manhattan Surrogate Court and Norma Jennings, a lesbian running for Civil Court in Brooklyn.
In Manhattan Democratic district leader races, the club is supporting Brad Hoylman, the former president of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, and Keen Berger, for the male and female slots in the 66th Assembly District and Anthony Feliciano and Katrina Monzon in the 74th Assembly District.