No Senate Let-up, Say Espa, Dems

Diane J. Savino

June 05, 2008

Gay City News 

Email to a friendPost a CommentPrinter-friendlyMany LGBT rights advocates are convinced that key goals such as marriage equality and transgender rights will not become law unless the Democrats succeed in gaining the two seats in the November elections that would end years of Republican control of the State Senate. So a June 2 New York Times story suggesting that there is an "informal agreement" between Governor David Paterson and Senator Joe Bruno, the GOP majority leader, to sideline the new chief executive from the fall campaign might be expected to raise hackles.

Not to worry, said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), the state's LGBT lobby.

"After all, it was Governor Paterson who as the Senate minority leader put the multi-year plan in place for the Democrats to retake the Senate," he said. "It is Governor Paterson who understands that some of his most important goals are blocked by a Republican Senate. It is in the governor's interest to see a leadership change."

Van Capelle's point about Paterson's earlier work as the minority leader in increasing the Democratic caucus in the Senate was echoed by others - including out gay Senator Tom Duane of Chelsea, and his colleague Diane Savino, who represents portions of Staten Island and Brooklyn, and is one of three senators working with the New York Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) to coordinate the fall campaign efforts.

Both senators noted that the Democrats made steady gains during Paterson's four-year tenure as minority leader from 2002 until his election as lieutenant governor in 2006.

"He is not confrontational," Savino said of the governor. "He'a always been that way. As minority leader, he was congenial when appropriate with Bruno and still picked up seats in each election. He understands that you don't need to be at war in public to be at war politically."

All of the comments about Paterson, in fact, betrayed a certain relief that the hard-knuckle tactics used by former Governor Eliot Spitzer no longer poisoned the atmosphere in Albany.

"I'm not concerned that he is not seen as aggressive as Eliot Spitzer," Van Capelle said, and then noting that the Legislature remains in session through June, added, "It is refreshing to see that we have a governor who understands that there is a legislative season and a political season."

"You govern in as bipartisan a way as you can and then in November you fight as hard as you can," said Duane.

These observers also agreed that early assessments that Paterson was not the money-raiser Spitzer was were also misplaced.

"In Albany politics, whoever is the governor can raise money," said Doug Forand, a DSCC spokesman. Forand said that his organization has no concerns about the financial vitality of the state party.

"Eliot was very focused publicly on these Senate races. David is not taking that posture," he said. "That's fine. The state party is focused. The governor is not going to go tit for tat with Bruno on each of these Senate races. But the political apparatus is there."

Forand said that the DSCC continues to focus on between six and eight Republican seats as first-tier targets in November, a number that has remained relatively constant over the last year. The recent announcement by longtime Republican Senator Mary Lou Rath, of upstate Erie County, that she is retiring caused the Democratic committee to upgrade its assessment of the chances for that seat.

Forand argued that the Syracuse-area race that the Times article reported was never a prime target.

Among those seats that the Democrats are gunning for are those held by Serphin Maltese and Frank Padavan in Queens, Caesar Trunzo in Suffolk County on Long Island, and Joseph Robach in the Rochester area.

Neither the governor's office nor any of several Democratic Senate hopefuls returned calls seeking comment.