Post-Spitzer Gay Politics

Governor Eliot Spitzer’s resignation rocked Albany this week. And, as we’ve mentioned, gay rights organizations have been busy congratulating incoming Governor David Paterson, a longtime ally.

Certainly Paterson will work closely with gay rights organizations, but how does a gay non-profit really cope with such a massive political shift, especially after endorsing Eliot Spitzer’s gubernatorial campaign? That’s but one of the questions our editor posed to Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda.

As one of New York’s largest, most influential gay rights groups, the Pride Agenda had a very intimate relationship with Spitzer, but those days are over.

So, where does the non-profit go from here? What makes Paterson so great? How can we define a gay ally? And what does Van Capelle think of Spitzer now?

Find out, after the jump…

Andrew Belonsky: What was your first reaction when you heard about the Spitzer scandal?

Alan Van Capelle: My first reaction? One was complete disbelief and then I felt as dejected as Ralphie probably felt when he didn’t get his bb gun – totally lost and completely disappointed. A lot of us, after twelve years of George Pataki, had enormous expectations for this administration and suddenly the world as we knew it had changed.

AB: Did you think it would end with his resignation? Did you guys start planning ahead?

AC: Oh, yes. As we were hearing what was going on and he came out that afternoon to apologize for his failing, I said, “Well, what do we know about David Paterson? Let’s collect all the information we have so we can figure out how we want to talk about our long-time friend.” We were disappointed, but there was no other way for this to end other than resignation.

AB: Did you personally want Spitzer to resign? Do you think he should have stepped down?

AC: I actually think he should have resigned a day earlier, but, yeah, absolutely. You can’t hold yourself up as the pinnacle of morality and then do what he did. It’s complete hypocrisy. And what I think is really sad is that there’s an entire generation of young New Yorkers who were inspired by him and what he was doing – he was going to be a Governor who was going to clean up Albany. The downside of the scandal is that a lot of people will say, “See, this is exactly what happens with politicians and we shouldn’t be in government”. I think, frankly, that’s the wrong attitude to take, but I don’t blame them.

AB: It’s interesting what you said about how when Spitzer went in, everybody anticipated it was going to be a huge change. I wrote this week about how Spitzer went into office with a lot of enemies. Did you really think when he went into office that he would be an effective leader?

AC: Absolutely. In terms of courage, this man, less than a hundred days after taking the oath of office, introduced a gay marriage equality bill and became the first governor in the country to do it. Twenty-some odd days after taking the oath, this Governor delivered record funding for our community. So, here was this guy who – as angry and disappointed as I am, I don’t think any gay person anywhere in New York can feel let down by any of the deliverables he produced for our community. I think he did an enormous amount in a very short period of time. As a New Yorker, I’m totally disappointed in him, but as an LGBT person who spends a lot of time in Albany, I think we got our money’s worth and our time and efforts worth in endorsing him. He really delivered for our community.

AB: Well, I mean, when you say he “delivered” – people always say “This person has been so effective, they’ve been a good ally”. To say someone “delivered” can be a bit misleading.

AC: Do I think people say there are elected officials that are friends of our community that haven’t earned that title? Absolutely. Let’s face it, in 1988, David Mixner raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Mike Dukakis. He didn’t want to accept the money, because he didn’t want to take it from a gay organization. In 1992, the community raised over a million dollars for Bill Clinton and they took the money and since that time, our community has been nothing more than an ATM machine for politicians who do nothing for our community. But, because they attend a rally or attend a function, suddenly we’re giving our votes and our cash away and getting nothing in return.

Somehow people say, “They’re friends of our community because they came to our dinner or spoke to our crowd”. There’s also, “Well, they’re a friend of our community because they voted on a bill, but they didn’t sponsor it and these are our friends”. I think we’ve lowered the bar for what friends are, but even if we raised the bar ten times where it should have been, the fact that Spitzer became the first governor in the country to introduce marriage equality legislation absolutely means something.

AB: I’m not trying to say that his administration was worthless or that his introduction doesn’t count for anything, but there’s a big distinction between introducing legislation and getting legislation passed. What I said in my piece, which is why I think Paterson may be more effective, is that Spitzer went into Albany with all those enemies and people did not want to cooperate with him and Paterson would be more effective at changing people’s minds. That’s more important than introducing legislation that you know will ultimately fail.

AC: Well, I would say that Spitzer didn’t go into Albany with “all these enemies”. He had enemies on Wall Street, but he won a record election with 65% of the vote and was really popular in his first few months in office. He made enemies while he was in Albany because of mistakes that he made, but he certainly didn’t start that way. We would never have gotten a vote in the Assembly for marriage equality had the Governor not made this a program bill and a priority for his administration. Had Governor Spitzer not introduced marriage equality bill, we wouldn’t have had a bill in the Assembly, a bill that had the weight of the executive behind it, we wouldn’t have had a vote and wouldn’t be 2/3 of the way to winning 1,324 rights in New York. I know people who personally voted for the bill because Governor Spitzer sent it out as a program bill. I know that for a fact, because before the bill was introduced, we had 35 on the record supporters for marriage equality and when we introduced the bill, we suddenly picked up more sponsors.