Monday, March 14, 2011

New York Marriage Equality: Where Are They Now?

I promised several posts ago to get further into what the situation currently is in New York for the hopes of marriage equality. New York state politics is bizarre in a highly dysfunctional way, so it's not always easy to keep track of what's going on. Luckily, we can skip right past the Governor, a staunch supporter of marriage rights for same-sex couples, and the Assembly, which has passed similar legislation in the past with large majorities and would do so again. One “feature” of the New York legislature seems to be that as unpopular as it is, incumbents overwhelmingly get reelected.

The Senate is where the difficulty is. While the Assembly has historically been Democrat-dominated, the Senate was in Republican control from 1965–2008. In 2008, the Democrats took control with 32 out of 62 members. Now, the way the New York legislature works is that the leaders of each chamber pretty much control everything. And, in June 2009, a couple of the Democrats, Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate, backed the election of a Republican to the presidency of the Senate. After a month or so of weirdness, the original Senate President, Malcolm Smith, was back in the job.

All this was going on at the same time as the debate over a marriage equality bill, which ended up getting pushed back to December. For whatever reason, this bill was something that got a vote that went like the way normal legislatures work, rather than the Senate President just getting his way, in the New York style. Although it seemed unlikely to pass, advocates including then-Governor David Paterson pushed to get a vote on the record. The result was 24 Senators in favor of marriage equality and 38 opposed. Which was a bit worse than expected, but at least we knew where everyone stood.

Looking at that result, all 30 Republicans opposed the bill. Not really any surprises there, although supposedly there were a few who would have signed on had the vote been close. Whoever they are, they're still keeping quiet about it, at least publicly. There were eight Democrats that also voted against the bill. These are the ones I'd like to focus on here. Let's take a look:
  1. Joe Addabo of the 15th District in Queens is still in office. There are reports, or at least hints, that he may currently be undecided on the issue, so if you're a constituent, contact him here and let him know what you think.
  2. Darrel Aubertine of the 48th District including Oswego and Watertown was defeated by Republican Patty Ritchie in November, 2010. She doesn't seem to be a supporter of marriage equality, but the Tea Party types seem to think she's too moderate, so maybe there's hope. She can be reached here.
  3. Ruben Diaz, Sr. of the 32nd District in the Bronx is probably the fiercest opponent of marriage equality in the Senate. A Pentecostal minister, whose son is currently the Bronx Borough President, I'm figuring we can write off any chance of him changing his mind or being voted out.
  4. Shirley Huntley of the 10th District in Queens easily won her primary against pro-equality challenger Lynn Nunes. Not too much to hope for here, although her opposition seems to have mellowed. If you're a constituent, get in touch with her here.
  5. Carl Kruger of the 27th District in Brooklyn is the one inspiring me to write this all. He's still in office, but just the other day turned himself in to federal authorities over charges that he's accepted over $1 million in bribes. Money that was apparently then laundered by Kruger's boyfriend, who's family he lived with in a mansion (which looks exactly like something a Mafia boss would own, because that's what it was originally) outside his district. So, his seat's probably up for grabs pretty soon, as all his colleagues are shocked, shocked at corruption in the New York Legislature.
  6. Hiram Monserrate of the 13th District in Queens managed to get himself kicked out of the Senate a while ago. Perhaps the Democrats were just looking for an excuse after the leadership struggle I talked about above, but his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges for an incident where he slashed his girlfriend's face and dragged her through a building lobby (complete with video) pretty much sealed his fate. His seat was won by marriage equality supporter José Peralta.
  7. George Onorato of the 12th District in Queens retired, and his seat was won by marriage equality supporter Michael Gianaris.
  8. Bill Stachowski of the 58th District in Buffalo and to the south was defeated in the primary by marriage equality supporter Timothy Kennedy.
So, that puts the eight equality opponents in the Democratic party at one expulsion, one primary loss, one retirement, one general election loss, and one facing federal charges, with three remaining.

Of the 24 Democrats that supported marriage equality, five are no longer around. Two of those resulted in no change: Pedro Espada, who was primaried out by the Democratic establishment and replaced with equality supporter Gustavo Rivera, and Eric Schneiderman, who's now the Attorney General, and was replaced by Adriano Espaillat. Then there are the three who lost to Republicans (2010 was a good year for Republicans): a couple Long Islanders, Brian Foley and Craig Johnson lost to Lee Zeldin and Jack Martins, respectively, while in Buffalo Antoine Thompson managed to be too much of a corrupt hack even for the New York Senate and was replaced by Mark Grisanti. Of the three newcomers, Zeldin is definitely opposed to marriage equality, Martins probably is, but I can't find anything on the record to say so (maybe a constituent could contact him and ask), and Mark Grisanti has met with LGBT activists since Lady Gaga called him out, but seems to be unwilling to go farther than civil unions (or maybe he needs more convincing).

Lastly, there are the Republicans who lost. I'm just going to not concern myself with the three that were replaced with other Republicans aside from noting that I can't find any statement from Buffalo-area newcomer Pat Gallivan on the record. He can be contacted here. On the plus side, Tom Morahan of the 38th District in Rockland and Orange Counties was replaced by equality supporter David Carlucci, and Frank Padavan of the 11th District in Queens was replaced by equality supporter Tony Avella.

This is getting pretty long, so I'll try to sum it all up quickly. To pass the Senate, we need 32 votes. Of the 24 votes we got last time, all Democrats, 21 are still there or have been replaced with supporters (there are four Democrats who have split off as Independents recently, but that shouldn't affect anything here). Of the eight Democrats who voted against us last time, three have been replaced with supporters, and one is facing federal charges that could see him replaced before his term is up (not to mention that we all know he's gay now, so supporting anti-gay causes isn't going to help him hide that any longer). And of the 30 Republicans that voted against us, two have been replaced with supporters. That still leaves us at 26–36, meaning we've got to get six opponents to flip.

This is a tough task, but not impossible. Republican Jim Alesi, of the 55th District in Rochester, is now saying that he was “backed into a corner” the last time (I suppose he'd have voted yes if nobody ever called for a vote) and that “you never know where you can find votes in this town.” If you're a Rochester area person, let him know that you want one of those votes to be him. As he hints, and as I've read in several places, there are expected to be a few votes that might come out of the woodwork if the gap gets sufficiently small. In any event, even after the Republican wave of 2010, we are at least two votes closer, and the Democratic caucus (including the four Independents, who were elected as Democrats) has gone from 24–8 to 26–4, increasing pressure on the holdouts there.

Another advantage this time around is having a governor who's actually able to help out some. David Paterson's commitment to the cause can't be faulted, but by the time this came to a vote he was pretty much an ineffective laughingstock. This time, we've got Andrew Cuomo, who recently won decisively over crazy person Carl Paladino, and has a good bit of personal popularity. Cuomo recently met with several of the leading gay rights organizations in New York, as well as legislative leaders on the issue, to work out a strategy. And, while personally an opponent, Senate President Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, has promised the Log Cabin Republicans that he will bring the measure to a vote (remember, in New York, the Senate President pretty much determines what gets voted on all by himself). He can be contacted here to encourage him to keep that promise.

Remember, we can get nowhere without the help of wonderful organizations like the following:
Empire State Pride Agenda
Marriage Equality New York
Equality Matters
HRC New York

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