Political Games

Bloomberg Wants Gay Marriage. Too Bad

NYC Transit Woes

Even though New York’s state senators simply don’t think the time is right to make a move toward gay marriage, Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he’s ready to roll out his own red carpet to insist the legislation gets passed. Again. Too bad he’s got no pull.

Bloomberg has been telling Albany for years that he wants equal rights instituted, but his calls fall on deaf ears. Last night at the annual dinner for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City, he reiterated his stance: “We see that the tide is turning, that support is mounting … Make no mistake, the time will come … and we will pass this bill.”

It’s a worthy effort, but right now it’s just lip service, since the legislators responsible for making this happen won’t touch the issue. How come?

In a word: politics.

In 2008, New York’s Democratic state senators promised that if they won control of the Senate, they would legalize gay marriage. They lied — but it’s not as simple as that.

One excuse some senators are using for not taking up the measure is the upcoming election for Gov. David Paterson. Appointed to the post after Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned, Paterson must run in the 2010 election, which means convincing upstate (and generally more conservative) voters that he’s their man. Senators fear legalizing gay marriage could harm Paterson’s chances of currying good favor with upsate. Except that’s a leaky argument: Paterson has repeatedly gone on record as a gay rights advocate, calling for full gay marriage equality. If senators legalized gay marriage, it wouldn’t be a signal that Paterson is too liberal; rather, that he’s a man who gets shit done in Albany.

State of State

So here’s the real reason New York doesn’t have gay marriage rights: Our elected leaders (yes, the Democratic ones) used the issue as currency in a power grab.

It all had to do with the Democratic party’s choice of make Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens their leader in the senate, a first for Democrats in 40 years of New York politics. Except the “Gang of Three” — Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, Sen. Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx, and brand new Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. (pictured L-R) — warned they would withhold their vote to elevate Smith to majority leader unless they got something in return. Namely, power, in the form of committee leadership positions. In December, they finally reached an agreement:

Several people involved with the negotiations said that, under the agreement, Democrats would separate the jobs of Senate president pro tempore and Senate majority leader, which have traditionally been held by the same person.

Mr. Smith would be elected president pro tempore, a constitutional office that makes him the chamber’s leader. Mr. Espada would be elected to what would be the subordinate post of majority leader and appointed vice chairman of the Rules Committee, which must approve all legislation that goes through the Senate. The agreement makes Mr. Espada arguably the most influential Hispanic elected official in New York.

And while that agreement briefly fell through, all sides came to the table to finally appoint Smith as majority leader. But what concession did Smith make to the Gang of Three? To keep a vote on gay marriage off the table, as specifically demanded by Sen. Diaz, who doesn’t want it.

And there you have it. Bloomberg can talk at length about the need for equal rights in New York, but it won’t accomplish anything. That’s because our elected officials traded equal rights for power plays, and we’re the ones who suffer.