By Paul Schindler
September 24, 2009
In the wake of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s comments pegging the chances of gay marriage moving in Albany this fall at “zero, zero,” and charging that his Democratic opponent in the November 3 election is “afraid to go near any of these issues,” Senator Thomas K. Duane and City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., have struck back hard.
“Once again Mike Bloomberg is talking out of both sides of his mouth,” Thompson’s campaign argued in an email to Gay City News. “The fact of the matter is Mike will stand up in press conferences and talk the talk but at the end of the day he never walks the walk. Mike Bloomberg has consistently supported the Republican Party and its anti-gay marriage agenda.”
Duane, an out gay Chelsea Democrat who is leading the efforts to win Senate approval for Governor David A. Paterson’s marriage equality bill, already passed by the Assembly, was more specific in his critique of Bloomberg.
“As far as I know, the mayor hasn’t been in on any discussions with Senate Democrats or with Senate Republicans on strategy for getting marriage passed,” he told Gay City News on September 24. “There have been people involved with his administration that I’ve talked with and others may have spoken to, but I don’t know of the mayor personally speaking to anyone.”
Duane said he continues to believe that the marriage equality bill has “an excellent chance” to move quickly. “I remain confident it will get done this fall,” he said.
Duane and Thompson were responding to comments Bloomberg made in a September 17 interview with Gay City News published online on September 20.
Duane challenged a central tenet of the mayor’s appeal to LGBT voters — that his strong financial backing of the State Senate Republicans, whose campaigns he has supported to the tune of as much as $2 million in the past two election cycles, allows him the leverage to round up GOP votes in favor of gay marriage.
Advocates across the board acknowledge that some Republicans will be needed to win approval in a closely divided 32-30 Senate in which Democrats have control by the smallest of margins.
“His offer to come testify is the easiest political commitment to make, but the time for hearings is past,” Duane said. “I held hearings on the bill years ago. I can’t say he’s expended much political capital on this.”
In casting doubt on the mayor’s commitment to the issue, Duane recalled that Bloomberg appealed a Manhattan district judge’s 2005 pro-marriage equality ruling, at the same time he first voiced support for the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed.
In his comments last week, Bloomberg said he “suspect[s]” Republican Senators Frank Padavan of Queens and Martin Golden of Brooklyn, who have aggressively fought movement toward gay marriage in the past, would vote yes “if it came down to it.”
Asked about the prospects of changing the minds of these two Republicans, Duane said, “I have everybody on my gettable list, however those two particular senators are not on anybody’s top priorities list.”
Bryan Gorman, Padavan’s director of public affairs, said that the mayor has not had any conversations with the senator about the marriage equality issue. A call requesting comment from Golden’s office about any discussions he has had with Bloomberg was not returned as of press time.
Thompson was responding to a different argument raised by the mayor — that the comptroller is avoiding discussion of his support for gay marriage as he focuses instead on pulling out his base in the African-American and other people of color communities. Several times during the September 17 interview, Bloomberg pointed to what he said is the social conservatism of the black and Latino communities.
The statement from the comptroller’s campaign distinguished Thompson’s record from the mayor’s by emphasizing his support for more comprehensive AIDS education, including classroom condom demonstrations, and his advocacy for two bills passed over Bloomberg’s veto, but never implemented — one that would require contractors doing significant business with the city to offer their gay employees the same partner rights given to married couples, and another establishing anti-bullying policies in city schools protecting specific groups, including gay, lesbian, and transgendered students. (Last year, the Bloomberg administration rolled out its own program to combat harassment in the schools.)
The Thompson campaign also noted the comptroller’s success, as head of the city employee pension funds, in forcing 75 companies in which New York invests to adopt workplace fairness policies encompassing sexual orientation and gender identity, an effort for which he received the Champion Award from Out and Equal Workplace Advocates, an LGBT non-profit.
Duane’s optimism on the prospects for enacting the marriage bill this year was echoed by other advocates.
“We don’t agree with Mayor Bloomberg’s statement that marriage equality does not have a chance of coming up for a vote this fall,” Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, the LGBT community’s lead lobbying group in Albany, told Gay City News in an email message. “The mayor is focused on New York City and his race for re-election, and not on the details involved in moving the marriage bill forward in Albany. We know from the work that we do daily on this issue that marriage equality is still very much in play in 2009.”
Van Capelle’s comments included a hint of pique at the mayor for talking down marriage equality’s prospects at a critical juncture in the legislative process.
“The mayor’s statements were disappointing,” he wrote. “Nobody ever thinks we will win and in the end we always do.”
Duane sounded less concerned about the impact of Bloomberg’s words.
“Regardless of what the mayor says, we will move forward full steam ahead and his comments won’t change that,” the senator said.
Christine Quinn, the out lesbian speaker of the City Council, who has traveled to Albany several times this year to lobby senators on marriage equality, told Gay City News, “I disagree with the mayor. I do believe that there is a real potential and a very real potential in the near future.”
Quinn was cautious, however, about making a specific prediction of favorable Senate action this year.
“If I knew exactly when” the measure would move, “I would probably know who was going to win the trifecta at Belmont,” she said, but added, “I don’t see any reason to think that there is not potential to have this vote.”
Quinn said she recently met with John Sampson, the Brooklyn Democrat who now heads up the majority caucus in the Senate.
“He was overall very supportive of the issue,” she said. “Obviously in the position he’s in, he’s counting votes.”
Asked whether Bloomberg offering a negative assessment concerned her, Quinn said, “People have to answer questions honestly."