New Group Targets NY State Senators Who Voted Down Marriage Equality

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Feb 25, 2010

New York former State Senator Hiram Monserrate stands at a crossroads that puts him both at odds with the courts and with a new, well-financed political action committee (PAC) that seeks to unseat lawmakers who voted against marriage equality last December.

Monserrate's profile is especially high at the moment following his expulsion from the New York State Senate for ethical violations--specifically, an assault Monserrate carried out against Karla Giraldo in 2008. In an attack that was captured on security video, the then-senator dragged Giraldo down a corridor, leaving her with a deep facial laceration. A felony conviction would have meant automatic dismissal from the Senate, but Monserrate was only charged with a misdemeanor offense in the case. However, the Senate took a vote on the issue to decide whether or not to expel him, and Monserrate's former lawmaker peers ejected him from the State Senate with a vote of 53 to 8, making Monserrate the first New York State Senator to be expelled in nearly a century.

Monserrate had sought to have the expulsion voided by the courts, only to be rebuffed by the United States District Court in Manhattan, reported the New York Times on Feb. 19.

It takes a lot to be expelled from the New York Senate, but it also takes a lot to do what Monserrate is planning next: he's going to run in the special election meant to replace him, in hopes that he will be chosen by voters to fill the seat from which he was just removed.

Enter Fight Back New York, a new group financed, in part, by The Gill Action Fund, established by Denver, Colorado-based billionaire businessman Tim Gill, who contributes money to GLBT political causes. The new group invites equality-minded New Yorkers to "get even" instead of stewing about the results of a Senate vote late last year on a bill that would have extended marriage equality to the state's gay and lesbian families. In the vote, legislators who had previously vowed their support deserted the cause of marriage equality and cast their votes against the bill; Monserrate was one such lawmaker, and the LGBT community may be willing to contribute to the new group to see that Monserrate pays.

"Hiram Monserrate is one of the 38 State Senators who voted no on the marriage equality bill on December 2, 2009," reads text at the Web site of Empire State Pride Agenda, a New York-based GLBT equality organization. "Not only did he vote no, but he broke his previous commitment to support marriage equality when it came to the Senate floor for a vote," the text continues.

"Monserrate was convicted last year of assaulting his girlfriend, which led to his recent expulsion from the State Senate. But now he's running to try to get back into the Senate," the text adds. "Our candidate in the March 16 Special Election is popular Assemblymember Jose Peralta, who has consistently voted in favor of marriage equality, transgender civil rights and other important LGBT issues." The site goes on to encourage readers to donate, declaring, "This is our first chance to replace an anti-LGBT Senator with a strong, pro-LGBT Senator. Every dollar that you contribute will go to making sure this shameful legislator does not return to the State Senate.

"If you're mad about the December 2 marriage vote, now is the time to get even," the text reads. "Join us in taking out Hiram Monserrate and electing Jose Peralta."

Model for Change?

"Politicians who deny gays and lesbians basic equality should be thrown out of office, starting with convicted criminal Hiram Monserrate," the Gill Action Fund's Bill Smith said. Smith is acting as an adviser to Fight Back New York, reported a separate New York Times article from Feb. 24. The new group is set to mail out fliers to voters that show frames from security video capturing Monserrate's assault against Giraldo, accompanied by text reading, ""He brutally assaulted a woman and tried to cover up his crime. Now he has the nerve to run again. Many of us have voted for Hiram before. But we cannot vote for him again."

The article notes that the Gill Action Fund helped Democrats pick up two Senate seats in the 2008 elections, and reports that the new PAC has not yet determined which senators it will support and which it will seek to replace in the coming elections.

The 38-24 vote that dealt defeat for New York marriage equality came in the wake of a Proposition 8-style ballot referendum in Maine that saw voters rescind marriage equality there. The measure had been approved three times in the New York Assembly, but a Senate vote was delayed interminably, with Gov. David Paterson recalling the Senate time and again for special sessions to sort out not only the marriage question, but also budgetary matters. Although New York honors marriages between spouses of the same gender that are granted in other jurisdictions, the state does not as yet grant marriage equality locally to its gay and lesbian residents.

The defeat stung. A Dec. 2, 2009 EDGE article included quotes from equality supporters among New York's politicians. Said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who is heterosexual and who supported the measure when he was an Assemblyman, "Only the State Senate could snatch defeat from the jaws of pride and progress. Millions of New Yorkers, regardless of their sexual orientation, looked to Albany today hoping our state would once again take its place at the forefront of America's long struggle for human rights.

"Instead," Stringer continued, "we were treated again to the last minute disappointment that has become all too familiar from the State Senate."

For frustrated GLBT equality advocates, the new PAC's focus and mission is a welcome change of pace. Gay Web news source Queerty, in a Feb. 25 article, asked readers to "Imagine If HRC Followed Tim Gill's Strategy To Oust Anti-Gay Lawmakers," and praised the new group as "a model for what the nation's self-professed largest LGBT organization should be doing."

"Think about how impressive this is," the Queerty article added. "Independent gay activists--who, let's be clear, have the financial means--unhappy with politicians whom vote against their civil rights and endorse discrimination will specifically target these officials in hopes they never see another day in office. Might the Human Rights Campaign, which tells us it's fighting for our rights at the federal level, take a hint?

"With an annual budget in the tens of millions," the Queerty article added, "HRC has the power to go after senators and congressional representatives with a fair warning: voting against equality, or inaction, will make you eligible for a seven-figure campaign to unseat you from office. They need only make an example out of a few lawmakers--politically entrenched veteran lawmakers are the best choices--before others realize HRC (and its donors) is not fucking around, and hey, lip service just isn't good enough anymore."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • BB, 2010-02-25 16:37:51

    One thing you can never say about New York politics is that it’s boring. Now the New York Times is on a crusade to get rid of gay-friendly governor Patterson, who otherwise is perfectly liberal enough for the NYT, but they at the Grey Lady want to create a dynasty out of the Cuomo family, and Patterson is in the way. It’s very difficult for single issue voters, espeically gays, to operate effectively in a state where the hatreds are so complex, so deep, and the duplicity and corruption to endemic. The trouble the NYT is brewing up is so convulsive gay themed issues will take a distant rear seat in the bus. Too much far too important (read: MONEY) at stake for such a marginal issue as gay marriage.

  • , 2010-02-25 21:43:42

    Oh dear. I agree with BB!

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