by T.J. Raphael
Last week Wayne Barrett criticized newly elected Comptroller John Liu for his appointment of Deputy Comptroller Simcha Felder, a city councilman who had refused to support human rights and gay equality bills that Liu himself has supported.
Felder, for example, ducked two council votes for Christine Quinn because she’s a lesbian (he’s an Orthodox Jew).
The Voice reached out to leaders and activists in the gay community asking them for their thoughts on Felder’s appointment. Some, like Council Members Rosie Mendez and James Van Bramer, State Assembly Members Deborah Glick and Daniel O’Donnell, declined to comment after numerous calls for a statement. Quinn herself has also not commented on Felder’s non-vote.
Council Member Daniel Dromm was more forthcoming, saying that gay leaders were choosing not to be critical. “I hope for growth, but I don’t condemn people outright,” he says.
The councilman also pointed out that the new comptroller himself was the grand marshal at the Queens Gay Pride Parade and that the Queens gay community is “very comfortable with John Liu.” Dromm also called attention to the gay community’s support for Liu when he first ran an election in 1997 and their continuing support in this past election.
State Senator Thomas Duane believes that Felder will evolve in his stance once he occupies an office that spans outside the streets of his Brooklyn district.
“When Mr. Felder begins working in a citywide office he will realize that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people must have equal treatment as mandated by New York City law and regulation,” Duane said in a prepared statement. “Comptroller Liu has been a friend and ally to the LGBT community and I am confident his office will continue to align with and fight for equality.”
Other gay activists and supporters of John Liu, on the other hand, were not so hopeful.
“I’m disappointed in John Liu, who was heavily supported by the LGBT community and who we loved and campaigned for… He has shaken my hand and taken my money and I’m happy that he’s won, I think he’s the best man for the job. However, I trusted that he would make well rounded decisions in his appointments and so far he hasn’t done that.” said Cathy Marino-Thomas, communications director for Marriage Equality NY.
Marino-Thomas was also concerned because of the nature of Felder’s stance. “The very idea that no one objected to this really concerns me. It’s not that he doesn’t support marriage equality, it’s why. This country has to insist that elected officials base their decisions on constitutional law” and not religion.
When looking back at past votes some members of the gay community were more disturbed with Felder’s actions than the legal questions it presented.
“It’s totally sycophantic to highlight disapproval by pointedly skipping a vote; he’s just another politician without the courage of his own convictions, assuming he has any,” says Troy Masters, Associate Publisher and Co-Founder of Gay City News.
Others are relieved that Felder will be moved into a position where he cannot vote on gay equality issues.
“It’s kind of good to move him to an administrative position where he can do less harm,” says gay journalist and occasional Voice contributor Steve Weinstein. “It’s really a shame that the ultra orthodox Jewish community really doesn’t see the point that when one group is discriminated against all groups are discriminated against.”