New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered what the New York Times called “uncharacteristically forceful and sweeping speech” urging the New York Senate to vote to pass marriage equality yesterday afternoon at Cooper Union.
You know, sometimes it's easy to forget our curmudgeonly, wisecracking mayor is capable of stirring speeches like this. It seems to come out when he expects better of New York than what he's seeing. Which is, I suppose, exactly the kind of thing you want to get a mayor fired up.
It was a beautiful and inspiring speech.
But more than that, it was a smart and knowing speech. It was filled with historical context, of both the gay rights movement and the broader movement of Civil Rights expansion in America. It was a clever speech, seamlessly weaving in economic talking points. And it was an empathic speech, where he spoke earnestly of his love and respect for his family and his staff.
It was a speech clearly tailored very thoughtful for a New York audience. There were the obligatory reference to the 1969 Stonewall Riots. But even better, the mayor contextualizes what actually brought about the riots themselves, a part of history that is often glossed over. He tells what life was like for gay New Yorkers in 1969:
For men and women of that era, an era many of us remember well, being in a gay relationship meant living in fear:
“Fear of police harassment.
“Fear of public humiliation
“Fear of workplace discrimination.
“Fear of physical violence.
“Today, in some places, those fears still linger.
True, Stonewall still lives in many parts of the country.
It was particularly canny for the Mayor to craft his message to appeal to New Yorkers' pride as a force for leadership in the nation. “We're #7! We're #7! We're #7!” hasn't exactly been the slogan of the Big Apple. But that's the place we're at now. Isn't it time to seize the day?
“So why should New York now lead on marriage equality? Because we have always led the charge for freedom – and we have always led by example. No place in the world is more committed to freedom of expression – religious, artistic, political, social, personal – than New York City. And no place in the world is more welcoming of all people, no matter what their ethnicity or orientation.
“That has always been what sets us apart. In our city, there is no shame in being true to yourself. There is only pride. We take you as you are – and we let you be who you wish to be. That is the essence of New York City.
“That is what makes us a safe haven for people of every background and orientation… and a magnet for talented and creative people. It’s the reason why we are the economic engine for the country and the greatest city in the world.
“But it’s up to us to keep it that way. As other states recognize the rights of same-sex couples to marry, we cannot stand by and watch. To do so would be to betray our civic values and history – and it would harm our competitive edge in the global economy. This is an issue of democratic principles – but make no mistake, it carries economic consequences.
“We are the freest city in the freest country in the world – but freedom is not frozen in time.
The New York he describes is the one I hoped I'd find when I left the midwest. And I did.
Mayor Bloomberg with his neice, Rachel Tiven, the executive director
of Immigration Equality, an LGBT org. ©Edward Reed/Mayor's Office
Much speculation has surrounded the Mayor's activism on this issue. He addresses it:
“There’s a reason I’m so passionate about this issue – and so determined to push for change. I see the pain the status quo causes – and I cannot defend it. When I meet a New Yorker who is gay, when I speak with friends and members of my staff who are gay, or when I look into the eyes of my niece, Rachel, I cannot tell them that their government is correct in denying them the right to marry. I cannot tell them that marriage is not for them. I cannot tell them that a civil union is good enough.
“In our democracy, near equality is no equality. Government either treats everyone the same, or it doesn’t. And right now, it doesn’t.
His rhetorical force is potent. Let's hope he put it to good use when he traveled to Albany to have a chat with his Republican friends in the Senate on the issue last week. The Times Union reported after his meeting with Bloomberg, Putnam County freshman Republican Greg Ball said, “Right now, I'm an absolute maybe.”
Bloomberg's purse strings may be even more convincing than his speeches. The Mayor gave $900,000 to New York Republican State Party last year the New York Capitol News reports. He has pledged to throw his support behind marriage equality supportive Republicans.
Meanwhile, Elsewhere Across The Aisle…
arty challenger spurred on specifically by her marriage equality vote. She actually credits her “Yes” vote with providing her with a bump:
The outpouring of support and appreciation I received was overwhelming. It came from my constituents and from advocates committed to standing behind those who support the freedom to marry.
That community of support made a difference. The moral and financial support, strategic advice and counseling and dedicated commitment by volunteers proved too much for those who campaigned against me because of my vote.
I did not lose my election because of my stand. Neither has any of the 72 Republican legislators who have voted for the freedom to marry.
“I support that now. Really, in politics, in life, with legislation, timing is everything,” Bruno said. “It really comes down, in my mind, to equal rights for everyone.”
“I support it, I think the time has come, and I think that people have a right for their own expression,” he continued.
Bruno also had kind words for Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo's leadership on the issue. Dicker needled Bruno for previously referring to homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle.”
“I’ve always regretted it because you and others have stuffed it down my throat every chance you got.”
To The Phones! Battleground: Queens
Meanwhile, way down at the grassroots level, the New Yorkers United For Marriage phone bank hosted about 35 callers Thursday night. They've set up shop at the SEIU offices in Times Square (thank you, Unions!) and managed to successfully connect almost 300 voters with their Senators to leave messages of support. It's a pretty sophisticated auto-dial system they have set up. At the debrief volunteers reported how friendly and supportive the people they spoke to were. A few reported hearing genuine displays of anger that Albany or Senate Majority Leader Skelos has been dragging their feet on the issue and couldn't just get it done.
Queens Assembly man Francisco Moya dropped by to work the phones himself and give a pep talk to volunteers. Moya said he answered to a “higher power” (his Catholic mother who told him marriage equality was an issue of social justice).
Another Queens elected came by, New York City Council Man Daniel Dromm (seen with NYUM volunteers). He said he genuinely believed renegade Democratic Senators Joseph Addabbo and Shirley Huntley could be moved to flip from “no” to “yes.” He also said he wasn't one to make threats, but he did bring up how unpleasant primaries fights are. New York Democrats have seen a few over this issue. And if they fail to unite, he thought they'd see more.
Whether this vote passes or fails, we're winning.
Even if we lose this battle, we can see the end of the war from here.
Here in New York, the debate has shifted across party lines. The Democrats are mostly shored up. The no voters are hanging their heads in shame and facing primaries, and their colleagues aren't giving them cover. They are “old guard” holdouts and they are fast being replaced with Democrats who support—and vote—for full equality for their LGBT constituents.
Here in the New York, it's across the aisle in the Republican camp where they are now having the debate about what is right and what is not, and having testy exchanges. The Republican heretics who support marriage equality are beginning to outnumber the Democrats who don't.
We are winning.
Daily: Monday through Thursday
Location: SEIU 1199
330 W 42nd St, 7th Floor New York, NY 10036
You can RSVP here, but they appeared to have the capacity to accomodate walk-ins as well.