News & Politics

Empire State Pride Agenda’s Silence on Simcha Felder Suddenly Makes (Unfortunate) Sense


By T.J. Raphael

When the Voice contacted the Empire State Pride Agenda in mid January seeking a comment on Comptroller John Liu’s announcement that he would name anti-gay City Councilman Simcha Felder to a top spot in his office, there was reason to expect a response. The ESPA is one of the most active gay lobby groups in the state and campaigned against Felder in the past when he ran unsuccessfully for a Brooklyn state senate seat. But more than five attempts for comment provoked no response.

It didn’t take long to figure out why.

ESPA Executive Director Alan van Capelle, who has been a loud voice and strong supporter of gay equality issues, was just hired by Liu to work side by side with Felder. Both were named deputy comptrollers in the new administration, with van Capelle in charge of “external affairs,” overseeing public policy, intergovernmental, media and community relations carried out by the office while Felder will oversee accountancy and budgets.

Repeated calls to van Capelle have gone unanswered, so we weren’t able to ask how he feels about joining a man his organization has worked so hard to criticize.

At least he’s getting a raise. According to the attorney general’s most recent annual filings for charitable organizations van Capelle was receiving a salary of over $130,000 from the Pride Agenda. He will now be paid $179,000 by the comptroller’s office.

ESPA urged voters to support Kevin Parker over Felder for the 2008 state senate primary. The group under van Capelle pointed out that it is Felder “who is against marriage equality and has voted a number of times against pro-LGBT legislation in New York City, including a bill protecting transgender people from discrimination,” the endorsement said.

The gay civil rights legislation Felder opposed included bills recognizing domestic partnerships obtained outside the city and extending benefits to same-sex couples. Felder also ran out of a vote for gay City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in 2006; he cited “religious reasons” (he is an Orthodox Jew) for not supporting her or taking any stance. According to the Urban Justice Institute Felder has one of the worst human rights records in the entire city council.

Numerous gay rights organizations, publications and elected officials spoke openly to the Voice about their dissatisfaction with Felder’s appointment, all while the ESPA stayed silent. Some responses were harsher than others: Troy Masters, associate publisher and co-founder of Gay City News, says Felder “lacks the courage of his own convictions” for opposing Quinn because of her sexuality and then dodging the vote.

“I have admired John Liu since I first met him more than a decade ago. I am excited at the opportunity to work alongside him and his exceptional leadership team,” van Capelle said in a prepared statement from the comptroller’s office.

The Pride Agenda issued a statement Wednesday regarding van Capelle’s departure; they praised him for all he has done for the gay community. They did not acknowledge that he would be working with Mr. Felder.

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