The Battle to Paint NY Marriage ‘Advocate’ Allen Roskoff as a Seedy Checkbook Activist

On Tuesday Greg Palmer, the editor-in-chief of Citizen NYC, and Ryan J. Davis, his co-editor, both emailed us to promote an article Palmer wrote (and Davis is quoted in) about the power grab at Empire State Pride Agenda, where Brian Ellner’s almost-certain appointment as executive director was derailed in the 11th hour by critics of his ties to Mayor Bloomberg (whose administration Ellner serves in). In his place, Ross Levi, a veteran of ESPA, was quickly ushered into the post. To explain how Ellner’s job application was exterminated, Palmer’s piece focused on Allen Roskoff (pictured, top), the head of something called Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, which “has no website, donates to no candidates, files no documentation with the state, and doesn’t operate a PAC,” the article stated. So why did Palmer suddenly pull the entire piece offline?

In a “Note To Our Readers,” Palmer (pictured, below) says, “In light of a communique from an attorney representing the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club which disputes specific pieces of our news analysis published yesterday, I have removed this article from the site as we evaluate the individual points identified in the letter. I stand by the analysis presented in my piece, and believe one of the core values of a free society is a press corps free from intimidation and coercion. That said, I take disputes of fact seriously and will update you as soon as they have been properly evaluated.”

But the Internet doesn’t delete anything. The piece is still available via Google Cache, and there’s a screenshot of the article available online. And that’s how you can see why Roskoff’s camp would have such a problem with it: It’s full of complaints and blatant criticisms that brand Roskoff not as a well-meaning gay activist, but a whiny money-hungry quote machine. Palmer wrote of Roskoff’s Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club:

And yet despite operating under a veil of secrecy in which it files no campaign finance disclosure or tax documents that we could obtain, the club raises money voraciously, and hosts high-profile fundraisers featuring LGBT allies like Hal Sparks.

“I never saw any money going out, only coming in. Allen held fundraisers often. He billed candidates. Never was I made aware of where any of it was going,” said Ryan Davis, a co-editor of this blog [Citizen NYC] and former member of the Jim Owles Club’s board of directors.

We contacted Mr. Roskoff about this article, but he clammed up when we asked specifically about the legal and financial structure of the Jim Owles Club, though he did offer the prospect of a general phone interview. Conducted from his beach house, of course.

Might Roskoff — interviewed by this website in 2008 — be upset with the way he’s portrayed in New York’s on-going failed battle for marriage equality? You can be sure of it.

Roskoff is important not because of his vocal opposition to Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn, and other politicians like Brian Ellner, but because his name is mentioned in relation to almost every setback to marriage equality over at least the past ten years. [Ed: See here.]

Because of Roskoff’s long memory and history of bullying, we could find few sources to speak on the record about either the man or the club he runs. But one anonymous source summed up Roskoff’s role in city politics thusly:

“Roskoff only gets coverage when he’s fighting against something or someone; he’s totally ignored otherwise, and the man craves attention,” said the source.

[…] “Allen’s version of liberalism lives in the stone age. He’s a fundamentalist in the worst way,” said Ryan Davis.

But the heaviest charge levied against Roskoff is his willingness to trade political and media support for cold hard cash. A vocal critic of Bloomberg and failed ESPA head Ellner, Palmer reported financial motives might be in play.

Despite Roskoff’s constant refrain of purity of motives and adherence to a strict liberal ideology, he has taken more than $50,000 in consulting fees from politicians throughout the city, according to campaign finance records.

What do the politicians get in return? Apparently very little, unless you count silence.

The fees are widely considered to be hush money, as some of the politicians who pay are the very same people who Roskoff would likely otherwise be criticizing. If you pay the toll, Roskoff keeps quiet; if you don’t, he paints you as an opponent of the gay community, even if you’re also gay.

That’s quite a serious charge to allege. But is there truth?

We obtained a list of all campaign and PAC disbursements to Mr. Roskoff over the past ten years. The names on the list are telling – some are the very same moderates he excoriates in his so-called “activism.”

Three names are conspicuously absent from Roskoff’s payoff list, despite their consistent support for marriage equality and gay rights in general. Michael Bloomberg, Christine Quinn, and you guessed it, Brian Ellner.

What we heard over and over again from our sources – which we worked for a month to diversify – was that Allen Roskoff talks a big game, but at the end of the day cares only about his checkbook and his ego.

Which might be true, but wouldn’t necessarily make him unique among “veteran” gay activists — of which there are untold numbers of hard working honest people, and a few handfuls of career opportunists. It’s clear which category Palmer wanted to put him in, and makes me wonder, Is personal animosity at all embedded in this report?

UPDATE: Palmer issues an apology for some factual inaccuracies in his original report:

Specifically, I said that the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club was not a registered political action committee and made further statements stemming from that factual inaccuracy.

I’ve since been corrected, so it’s my responsibility to set the record straight. The Jim Owles Club has informed me that it is a registered political entity in the City of New York. Though it stays relatively private, it properly discloses its financial activity, including fundraising and expenditures, to the City. Further, it does support some candidates via endorsements and ads, as well as stage protests and promote nightlife in the city.