Gotham Gazette

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Democratic Mayoral Candidate Forum: Gay and Lesbian Issues


• Gifford Miller: The Right Choices for the City's Future

• C. Virginia Fields: A Mayor Needs to Listen

• Fernando Ferrer: Human Rights for All

On April 6, 2005, the four Democratic candidates for mayor - Gifford Miller, C. Virginia Fields, Fernando Ferrer, and Anthony Weiner - spoke at the Greater Voices mayoral forum, organized by several gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups in the city. The following is an edited transcript of the candidate’s opening remarks and a sample of some of the questions from the audience.

Anthony Weiner: Democrats with a Big and a Small "D"

I have a history of fighting for civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered New Yorkers. When I was running for Congress in 1998, long before the issue of gay marriage was particularly hot, and at that time civil unions was the big issue being contested, I endorsed gay marriage.

It was at the Lambda endorsement meeting that I did. Within 48 hours, there was a meeting of the largest Orthodox [Jewish] organization in New York. One of my opponents was an icon of the civil rights movement - Noach Dear. I didn’t say what type of an icon, just that he was iconic. Somehow he had a tape recording of my remarks, which he had reproduced and distributed on the tables at the dinner. There was speculation at the time that this might be the ruin of my campaign.

You have to understand a little about the district I represent. They are great people from Brooklyn and Queens in communities of Flatbush, the Rockaways, Rego Park and the like. There was a great deal of speculation that in the conservative, Orthodox [Jewish], and Catholic community - that maybe support of gay marriage would be the undoing of a very close campaign.

I would argue that I did not get elected in spite of that support, but because of it. I began a discussion about basic human dignity and basic rights of all New Yorkers. I engaged in a discussion with people who to this day strongly disagree with me about why we in the Jewish community should always be conscious and careful not to deny rights to anyone.

I also started a career where I have been able to win overwhelming majorities in the same district that Mike Bloomberg is getting a Republican primary from his right. Let me repeat that. I won 70 percent of the vote this year in the district where Mike Bloomberg is being challenged for not being conservative enough.

Why is this important? It is important because one of the things we need to do is recognize that we need to speak truth to all corners of the city. The next evolution of the debate about equal rights for all and true civil rights for all is going to be to take those people who think that someone having the right to marry who they love is an apocalyptic change for our country and teach them otherwise.

This is the most important way that Mike Bloomberg let us down. When Mike Bloomberg took the law firm of the city of New York and challenged the lower court ruling on gay marriage, he took the power of city and all of us and put it behind challenging that decision - and it was bad.

It was bad for another reason. It denied us a moment of political victory. It denied the moment for me to go to my constituents in conservative part of Queens and say, “look the sky hasn’t fallen, you don’t have chaos in the streets, you don’t have anarchy.”

He denied us a moment to engage in a debate and to say for this moment in time gay marriage is legal in New York. And it hasn’t taken away anyone else’s rights. By him challenging that decision and announcing almost overnight that he was going to do so, not only did he put the full legal weight of the city against us, but also he denied us those precious few weeks or months of political victory.

That is window into the type of mayor Mike Bloomberg is and a window into how I would be different.

People make the argument: Does it really matter whether Mike Bloomberg is a Republican who acts like a Democrat or a Democrat who postures as a Republican? They say there is no conservative or liberal or Democratic or Republican way to collect the garbage.

I tell you that there is an enormous difference whether there is a Democrat or Republican running the show.

One example, imagine for a moment that we had the Republican convention here in town. The mayor of the city of New York had the opportunity to speak at that convention. Imagine if he would have said, “My Republican friends, welcome to New York. Welcome to this great city. Welcome to this great diversity. Enjoy yourself while you are here.” But while he had this moment in the sun, imagine if he had also said, “The way that you are treating people who are different than the Republican Party is an outrage. The way that you are dividing one community against another is an outrage. The way you are stigmatizing people because they fell in love with a person of their own gender is an outrage.” It would have taken that issue and elevated it overnight to the front page of the New York Times.

This notion that you get more with sugar than with vinegar is sometimes true. But it hasn’t been the truth in this case.

It is more than what you say; it is also the process that you believe in. We as democrats with small “d” and big “D” believe that there is a way to govern. Do any of us believe that if we had a truly open process and democracy was followed and we sat down with the most creative people on the planet - New Yorkers, the most creative land use theorists, the most creative engineers, the most creative open space thinkers -we would have come up with a stadium for the West Side of Manhattan? Not in a thousand years.

When we were revamping the education system, if we had said let’s bring in some teachers, parents, and had the audacity to ask other elected officials about their experiences, would we have the kinds of problems we have in education today? It is more than just process for process sake. The outcomes you get when you practice democratic with a small “d” and a capital “D” are simply better.

When the mayor proposed selling the West Side railyards, he said let’s get $100 million. He said, “Let’s not get any other bids. I made a deal with a fellow billionaire, that’s it.” Well even the modified open process that the MTA followed netted us an extra $300 to $400 million. How does the mayor justify that? How does he explain why he was willing to give away $400 million of our money?

This notion that he is a brilliant businessman above reproach and he is incapable of making a bad decision - I have to tell you there is more “pay to play” in this administration than any administration in recent memory. It doesn’t come in the form of campaign contributions, which are disclosed within minutes. They come through contributions to the Olympic 2012 committee. They come over dinner parties with crystal chandeliers on the East Side of Manhattan. Those are rooms we never get into, and that is going to change when I become mayor.

We are going to have a different kind of dialogue in this city. We are going to disagree, we are going to fight - we always do. But that isn’t going to be what determines whether or not we proceed in this city.

If you agree with me that we need a true spirit of democratic reform in this city, where are you going to get it?

I would argue that you get it from me - someone who is not beholden to the big developers for his campaign contributions; someone that doesn’t come from the womb of the traditional Democratic machine; someone who has truly been elected as an independent Democratic. I wasn’t supported by the Brooklyn Democratic party when I ran for City Council, I was outspent three to one, and I won. When I ran for Congress, I was opposed by the Queens Democratic Party and the Brooklyn Democratic Party, I was outspent three to one, and I won.

The reason is I engage people in the discussion of ideas and ideals. I do it everyday. I don’t think of myself as a politician who is going to advance himself - although if that happens it’s a nice benefit - but I think of the families in my district. I think of them when they sit at the breakfast table and they think about the school they are going to drop their kid off at and how the experienced teachers are giving way to a less experience crew. I think of them as they go to the subway and hope that this is the one in three days that it is actually going to work. When they are on lunch break and they look at their coworkers and realize how impossible it is to find housing in this city unless you are very wealthy. And the moment they have a health care crisis that can lead them into bankruptcy. These are the things I think about and why I work so hard. We need to start fighting for our city again.

Too often we as Democrats come into these knife fights with library books. This Mike Bloomberg has another thing coming with me. I am going to hit him with so many rights he is going to be begging for a left. I am going to be in his face every single day.

QUESTION: Recently there have been several high profile gay bashing incidents in the city. As mayor, what would you do to reduce those situations and what would you do when they do happen?

Weiner: For too long in this city, we have had mayors who have treated the fundamental rights of gay people as a political issue. Bloomberg has done it. Giuliani certainly did it. There is too much measuring of our reactions based on who might be offended or put off by the things we say. Any increase in crime is bad, and there has been an increase in these types of crimes. I have never heard the mayor talk about it. I never hear the police commissioner talk about it.

We need to elevate these crimes out of the nuisance category. We have to educate a police force that is frankly made up of very young officers who often come from backgrounds different from the communities they patrol and we have to make sure they get it.

That means bringing people to roll call and explaining what it’s like to be a gay man in this city. And treat these as hot spot issues as any other crime. I’m not convinced they do that. We worship at the alter of the seven index crimes FBI crimes and what has gone up or down, but to an individual person who is a victim, it is terrible.

It really strikes at the fabric of our city is when there is a blow struck against somebody because of the community they represent and no one knows that better than a Jewish New Yorker. When there is an anti-Semitic attack, we all react. When there is a gay bashing attack, frankly all New Yorkers should be outraged.

Q: I am from Staten Island, a very conservative community and a Republican stronghold. We are hoping to have a gay pride parade in June and we doubt that our Republican borough president or any of the elected officials - Democrat or Republican - will march with us. What would you do as mayor would to convince and encourage your Democratic colleagues to embrace the concept of human rights for everyone in the LGBT community?

Weiner: One thing I would do is make it kosher for all of my Democratic colleges by doing it myself. I don’t persuade Orthodox people in my district that I am right and they are wrong, but I try. More important, I go to them and explain to them that I am not going to talk past them on the issue, I am going to engage them. Sooner or later they are going to live in a New York City where gay marriage is not only legal, it is common, and they don’t even notice. It is just a matter of when that realization sets in. I honestly think one of the obligations of all of us in public life is to lead.

Don’t believe the hype. I am going to win in Staten Island. I am going to go out there and talk to them about the fact that Wal-Mart is offensive to the values of all New Yorkers. I am going to explain to those labor households that the way they got so comfortable in suburbia is because we supported the labor movement in this city and in this country. I am going to talk to them about how their president has left them behind. I am going to explain to them how they are less safe because of the cuts of the Bush administration. I am going to go right at them.

I don’t buy for a moment that it is going to be a Republican stronghold in the city of New York. I am going to win Staten Island, and some of that may be cause my name is Anthony, but that’s another story.

Q: I am the child of two Holocaust survivors. Ten years ago, the city spent $800,000 to build a holocaust memorial in Sheepshead Bay. Although it is dedicated to all of the victims, there were ten stones that were supposed to be inscribed to memorialize the homosexuals who died during the Nazi era. You happen to be listed on the board of directors of the group that has made that decision. If you are mayor can you get them inscribed? And what can you do in the meantime?

Weiner: I was a city councilman when it was created - all of the elected officials in the area are listed [on the board of directors]. And when this controversy first arose, I insisted upon the original plan. When it came up again, I believe I sent a letter again. I will ask the mayor. And I will ask that my name be taken off unless they do it forthwith.

Other Candidates Speeches

• Gifford Miller: The Right Choices for the City's Future

• C. Virginia Fields: A Mayor Needs to Listen

• Fernando Ferrer: Human Rights for All

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