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Council Leads on Some Civil Rights Issues, Finesses Others

Civil rights was at the top of the agenda at the City Council's last meetingbefore the summer recess, but while several long-debated major pieces of legislation were passed, the impasse over how protesters at the Republican National Convention in late August will be accommodated was not resolved.

Equal Benefits

By a vote of 41-4-3, the Council overrode Mayor Bloomberg's veto of Council Member Christine Quinn's (D-Chelsea) Equal Benefits Billthat requires city contractors to provide the same benefits to the domestic partners of their employees as they provide their spouses. Mayor Bloomberg promptly said that he would "probably" go to court to block implementation of the bill, though he supported it as a candidate in 2001. Now the mayor says using the procurement process to "advance social policy" is illegal and bad practice for the city. Quinn called the mayor "hypocritical," since he has signed other bills requiring such things of some contractors as paying a living wage.

Quinn's bill had more than enough votes to pass back in 2002 when Miller first became Speaker, but the mayor's evolution from support to qualified support to opposition to the threat of legal challenge forced Quinn and other advocates for the bill to have to work hard for a veto-proof majority. The bill was also redrafted as carefully as possibly to help it withstand lawsuits from the mayor and conservative religious opposition that emerged late in the game.


Councilmember Alan Gerson's (D-Lower Manhattan) Dignity for All Schools Act, an anti-bullying measure that creates policies and procedures in the schools to combat the problem, passed by a vote of 45-3-0, but the mayor has not said if he will sign it. The Council and the Department of Education were unable to come to agreement on a program that might have avoided the need for legislation.

This bill, too, has enough votes to pass more than three years ago when the mayor did not have control over the schools. But it was resisted by the chair of the Education Committee, Council Member Eva Moskowitz, who pursued other priorities. She ultimately supported the bill in its final form.

Racial Profiling

Without dissent, the Council also passed Council Member Philip Reed's (D-Manhattan Valley/East Harlem) billto prohibit the use of racial or ethnic profiling by law enforcement officers. It is also known as the "stop and frisk act." Its operative clause: "Officers are also reminded that the use of characteristics such as religion, age, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation as the determinative factor for taking police action is prohibited."

Same-Sex Marriage Resolutions

Some council members congratulated themselves at this meeting for doing more work in a day than the State Legislature has gotten done all year. For all this action, however, there remain many bills and resolutions that enjoy broad sponsorship that have not yet had hearings.

Council leaders made a great display in March supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry. But even with the United States Senate poised to vote on amendment to the United States constitution limiting marriage to man-woman couples in mid-July, the council has no plans to act on their resolutions to oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment, oppose state interference with same-sex couples seeking to marry, or recognize the "fundamental rights of same-sex partners by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in NYC."

Right To Protest

Indignant City Council members and civil libertarians attacked Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Police Department at a press conference June 28 at City Hall for failing to grant a single permit to any of the myriad groups that have applied to demonstrate during the Republican National Convention at the end of August.

Two days later, the police department finally issued the first two permits to groups seeking to protest the Republicans. Planned Parenthood will march across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall Park on the Saturday before the convention. And the National Abortion Rights Action League got a permit for a rally in Union Square for Tuesday of convention week.

But the largest action is expected to occur on Sunday, August 29, the day before the convention when United for Peace and Justice, which organized the big anti-war marches last year, will protest United States involvement in Iraq. As with past conventions in New York (all Democratic), the protesters want to exercise their right to march within sight and sound of Madison Square Garden, and have their rally on the Great Lawn of Central Park. (See arguments for and against the use of the lawn.) United for Peace and Justice is still being denied the chance to march near Madison Square Garden or to hold a rally in Central Park.

What is the City Council's reaction? The council passed a strongly-worded resolution denouncing the police department. But it has stalled on legislation proposed by Councilmember David Yassky that would require the police, among other things, to explain permit denials, "holding the city accountable for its decisions to limit speech."

It is likely that, as in past tangles with the Giuliani administration, the New York Civil Liberties will go to federal court to secure the right to protest.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.
















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