Barrett: Who Screwed Up Gay Marriage in New York? All Signs Point to His Majesty the Mayor (Updated)


Does anyone remember that the Democrats came within 500 votes last year of having a 33 to 29 majority in the New York State Senate, a margin that would have averted the current chaos and maybe even led to passage of the gay marriage bill?

It took three months for the Board of Elections to certify that State Senator Frank Padavan, a Queens Republican, had actually defeated Democrat Jim Gennaro in the closest election in the state. Gennaro, who is currently running for re-election to the city council, refused to talk to the Voice about his “previous campaign,” said his spokesman, and is focused instead on “the future.”

But his campaign spokesman in 2008, Shams Tarek, who now works for the Democrats in the senate, had no difficulty figuring out who played the decisive role in Gennaro’s loss, giving the Democrats a perilous 32-30 majority:

Mike Bloomberg, Padavan’s biggest booster. And here’s why you can thank the mayor for being at the center of the Albany implosion and, by extension, for there being little hope for gay marriage legislation in the near future…

Tarek said “the mayor was very popular in the district” and “the fact that he came in and campaigned” was a big help to Padavan, adding that “the mayor’s money” was also a factor in the race. (Tarek called after this post went up and reminded us that in an initial interview he did say that “any number of factors could have made a difference” in the outcome of the race, and that he wasn’t saying that Bloomberg’s multi-faceted help to Padavan was the single decisive cause for Gennaro’s defeat). In 2007, Padavan’s spokesman John Googas told reporters that Bloomberg’s help was key: “To have somebody that popular strongly endorsing your candidacy is crucial in a contested race,” said Googas.

Bloomberg gave $1.2 million to the New York State Independence Party’s housekeeping account last year — a donation that wasn’t reported until a 2009 filing by the party. Housekeeping accounts are supposed to pay for staff salaries, voter registration and party building. But Newsday reported that “the bulk” of Bloomberg’s unprecedented donation “went to radio and television ads and direct mailings” for Republican and Independence Party candidates in four key senate races, including Padavan’s. The mayor also donated $700,000 to the Senate Republicans, another funnel to Padavan’s campaign. The next biggest donor to state campaigns last year gave a mere $200,000, making Mayor Mike the largest financier, by far, of the bi-partisan legislative calamity in Albany (though he almost exclusively bankrolled Republicans).

If Gennaro were in the senate, renegade Democrats Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada would be one vote shy of shifting control of the senate to Republicans, as they tried to do on Monday. Proponents of gay marriage would also be one vote closer to victory — since Padavan is an opponent of gay marriage who had already voted against extending nondiscrimination laws to gays before Bloomberg’s endorsement, and Gennaro is such a strong supporter of gay marriage he recently signed a letter to U.S. Census officials berating them for not counting same-sex married couples. Asked recently about Senator Tom Duane’s prediction that marriage bill could pass this session, a smug Padavan said: “He’s dreaming.”

Bloomberg went so far as to name a city school campus after Padavan last spring, in apparent violation of school system rules that bar naming a public school after a living person. Chancellor Joel Klein called it a “unique situation” and tried to distinguish naming a school after Padavan and naming a multi-school campus after him, a distinction that critics called “ridiculous.” Tarek called the naming of this massive facility after Padavan at the start of the re-election campaign “a practically illegal abuse of public space that was completely sanctioned by the mayor.”

The remarkable media honeymoon for Bloomberg rarely holds him accountable for the political choices he’s made, allowing him to position himself in the re-election campaign as a major champion of the gay marriage bill, even appearing at a pro-marriage rally. In fact, when he last ran in 2005, he announced his support for gay marriage at the same moment that he decided to appeal a ruling by a Manhattan Supreme Court judge that would have permitted it. Bloomberg’s appeal blocked any marriages from going forward. The city’s brief cited “this country’s history and tradition” as the basis for overturning the lower court ruling, contending there was “a rational basis for the present statutory scheme’s limitation of marriage to one male and one female”. Bloomberg’s Democratic opponent, Fernando Ferrer, and the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, which argued the case, blasted the mayor at the time, upset particularly about Bloomberg’s lawyers invoking procreation as a rationale for maintaining the marital status quo.

Research Credit: Johanna Barr, Tom Feeney Jr., Lucy Jordan, Jane C. Timm