Resource Logo
Wall Street Journal

Quinn Faces Resistance: Gay Groups Have Endorsed Her, but Loud Faction Opposes City Council Speaker




 

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn would make history if elected as New York's first openly gay mayor, but some of her most vocal critics are themselves gay and transgender voters, a group with increasingly fragmented interests after the legalization of same-sex marriage and decline of HIV/AIDS cases.

Ms. Quinn has been enthusiastically endorsed by several influential gay-rights groups, but a smaller faction of activists and celebrities are ardently working against her. Among them are Jim Fouratt, a participant in the Stonewall riots, actors Alan Cumming and Cynthia Nixon and some residents of Chelsea and Greenwich Village—Ms. Quinn's district and neighborhoods at the heart of gay New York.

The sentiment was on display at a fundraiser Sunday night for Ms. Quinn's mayoral rival, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, called "LGBT for BDB"—using the acronym for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Ms. Nixon, writer Tony Kushner and others attended.

"Thirty years ago, the idea of an openly LGBT mayor might have been a significant consideration for me," said Pauline Park, a transgender activist in Queens who has organized a social media campaign against the speaker. "But, today, whatever symbolic victory there still might be in electing a gay mayor will have very little impact on real LGBT people in this city."

In an interview Monday evening, Ms. Quinn said her sexual orientation and gender is less of a concern for voters than her stands on issues. (She also would be the city's first woman mayor.)

"New York is a very diverse place, and there's a lot of people with a lot of strong feelings," Ms. Quinn said. "I think people will vote for the candidate they think will do the best job."

Public polls generally don't break out the opinions of gay voters. Kenneth Sherrill, a Hunter College political science professor who studies the habits of gay voters, said the historic nature of her campaign would ultimately resonate with gay voters.

Among those supporting Ms. Quinn's candidacy are New York gay-rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the Empire State Pride Agenda. Nathan Schaefer, the executive director of the Pride Agenda, praised Ms. Quinn's work advocating for same-sex marriage and sex education, as well as her support for a transgender non-discrimination law. The speaker, he said, "has the best track record of delivering results and success for the LGBT community."

The persistent opposition to Ms. Quinn's candidacy may have as much to do with her 14-year tenure representing Chelsea and Greenwich Village, where she has made decisions that have pleased or upset many voters, gay or not. She has also positioned herself somewhat to the right of her Democratic rivals and has developed an alliance with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Mr. Sherrill said LGBT voters are among the most liberal in the country.

"The opposition in the gay community to Quinn comes partly from a group of progressive activists who are somewhat on the left of the Democratic Party, and who find her insufficiently progressive on a wide number of issues," Mr. Sherrill said. Gay voters, he added, "are not and never have been single-issue voters."

Some New York gays and lesbians said they have noticed a further splintering since same-sex marriage was legalized in 2011. Also sapping a degree of urgency from traditional LGBT causes is a marked decline in HIV diagnoses, according to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Asked Monday what issues facing gay New Yorkers are most urgent, Ms. Quinn cited transgender rights, youth homelessness and bullying.

Her opponents cite intensely local issues as their reasons.

Ms. Nixon, the "Sex and the City" star, said she prefers Mr. de Blasio for his public-school policies, including his support for taxing the rich to expand programs. Mr. Fouratt, a Greenwich Village resident, said Ms. Quinn has supported development that has rapidly gentrified parts of the city and made it harder for gay artists to live in New York.

Ms. Quinn took issue with these assessments, noting in particular that she was concerned about low-income artists. She pointed to her work as a tenant advocate, helping tenants obtain the right to sue landlords.

Mr. Fouratt's neighbor, Carol Demech, was upset that Ms. Quinn didn't fight harder against the closure of St. Vincent's Hospital, the only medical center in Greenwich Village. She said it was a blow for the neighborhood's HIV-positive residents.

Ms. Quinn said she and her staff worked as hard as possible to save St. Vincent's, a notion supported by some local groups.

Mr. Cumming said he might have felt differently about Ms. Quinn's candidacy before same-sex marriage was legalized in New York in July 2011. Now, he said he isn't as focused on one issue, and he wanted "to shake up gay people who think that someone being gay is a reason to vote for them."

"Houston has a gay mayor," he said. "It's not so revolutionary."

Ms. Quinn maintains a deep well of support in the city's gay community, said Jimmy Van Bramer, one of four openly gay members of City Council. She rose into politics as an aide to former City Council member and state Sen. Thomas Duane, an openly gay elected official.

Mr. Van Bramer, who hasn't endorsed Ms. Quinn, said her election would be a "monumental achievement."

"Few things change hearts and minds like introducing millions of people to an openly lesbian mayor," Mr. Van Bramer said. "It would send a signal to every 16-year-old struggling with sexual orientation."

David Mixner, a New York writer and gay activist, said he supports Ms. Quinn for a variety of reasons, including her advocacy of gun control, her work to reduce inner-city violence and her push for more city park land.

"She's fighter for human rights," Mr. Mixner said.

For some, the squabbling is itself a sign of progress.

Denis O'Hare, a New York television actor who supports Mr. de Blasio, said he is looking for a candidate "good on a number of issues." "I'm definitely a gay person," he said. "But more than anything I'm a progressive. That's a luxury I have in 2013."

Write to Mike Vilenksy at mike.vilensky@wsj.com



 


Copyright © 2013 -Wall Street Journal, Publisher. All rights reserved to The Wall Street Journal Reproduction of this article (other than one copy for personal reference) must be cleared through the WSJ Permissions Desk.

Information in this article was accurate in May 13, 2013. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.