Friday, June 22, 2007

NYC Mayor Bloomberg's Party Switch Intrigues Gay Politicos

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg provided gay politicos with their story de la semaine as he announced his defection from the Republican Party. The mayor -- and oft-speculated 2008 presidential candidate -- surprised few insiders with his announcement. He regularly bucked the GOP and clashed with President George W. Bush on numerous occasions. Gay Republicans downplayed the announcement about which this blogger wrote for EDGE yesterday. They will almost certainly have to re-evaluate their support of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over the next few months as he continues to move to the right. Let the political shell game continue!

The fallout from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s very public defection from the Republican Party on Tuesday, June 19, continues to unfold, with some possibly important repercussions to the LGBT electorate. Speculation as to whether the gay-friendly mayor will enter the 2008 presidential campaign has gone into overdrive. Most pundits agree Bloomberg’s announcement came as no surprise but they, along with some observers, say his decision amounts to a bombshell for gay Republicans.

Log Cabin Republican Executive Director Patrick Sammon told EDGE he was disappointed--but not surprised--by Bloomberg’s decision. Sammon downplayed the impact the billionaire’s move would have on how his organization would work within the Republican Party. "We certainly think he’s been a strong leader for New York and we wish him the best of luck as he leads the city," he said. "Mayor Bloomberg is a strong ally for gay and lesbian people."

Log Cabin Republicans routinely courted Bloomberg’s support after he declared himself a Republican in 2001. The former Democrat repeatedly bucked President George W. Bush and the GOP with his opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment. Log Cabin Republicans also vigorously endorsed Bloomberg’s 2005 re-election campaign. Then-Executive Director Patrick Guerriero cited the new York mayor’s support of pension and domestic partner benefits for same-sex partners of city employees when he made the endorsement.

Guerriero also cited Bloomberg’s overall record during his first term in office.

"Mike Bloomberg has delivered more jobs, less crime, accountability for our schools and a culture of respect for all New Yorkers," he stated. "These are core Republican issues and the reason why the New York City Chapter is proud to be working to re-elect Mike Bloomberg this fall."

Current New York City Council Speaker (and probable 2009 mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea] joined a chorus of other Democrats and gay activists who blasted Bloomberg’s decision to appeal state Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan’s 2005 ruling that found New York State’s Domestic Relations Law unconstitutional.

Quinn also blasted the mayor after he fled a lawsuit to block the Equal Benefits Law, which would have mandated that any company doing business with the city anywhere in the country in excess of $100,000 annually had to provide its’ employees’ same-sex partners the same benefits as employee’s legal spouses. The bill, which passed with a huge majority of the City Council, could have a galvanizing effect on domestic-partner agreements nationwide, given the city’s clout and huge budget.

Despite these inconsistencies, WNYC-FM Radio Host Brian Lehrer said Bloomberg’s defection may hurt gay Republicans efforts to moderate their party. "When one of the voices that gays and other Republican moderates have within the party [leaves the party], the Republican Party is in effect a lost cause for pursuing those issues," said the pundit. "It weakens the cause."

Democratic political strategist Dorie Clark agreed. "I would hate to be the head of Log Cabin Republicans right now," she said, adding that Bloomberg "is socially progressive and fiscally conservative, which is a dying breed among Republicans." Gay Republicans who may have wanted to support a possible Bloomberg candidacy face a difficult choice in the months leading up to the first presidential caucuses and primaries, according to Clark.

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has garnered support from gay Republicans; but he, along with U.S. Sen. John McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and the other major GOP candidates have expressed their opposition to marriage for same-sex couples, the federal Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" as they court their party’s socially conservative base.

Lehrer sees gay Republicans shying away from Giuliani due to his recent overtures to the right. "I don’t think Giuliani would be a reliable defender or promoter of gay rights because he is taking a different tack than Bloomberg," he said. "Gay Republicans need another candidate [or] politician to look to for support."

Clark said Bloomberg’s announcement shows social conservatives continue to dominate the GOP. "The main way Mayor Bloomberg’s leaving the Republican Party affects the presidential field is it showed the GOP has taken a sharp turn rightwards," she said. "Moderates no longer feel welcome."

Melissa Sklarz, the transgendered former president of Gay & Lesbian Independent Democrats, a New York political club, told EDGE Bloomberg never did not have much impact in the Republican Party. Sklarz added, however, voters may gravitate towards his mayoral record if he seeks the White House. "He has accomplishments, good and bad, that will appeal to people," she said. "He has accomplishments to back up his campaign."

New York City gay political activist Dirk McCall believes Bloomberg will, in fact, announce a candidacy but that it would make little difference within the national GOP. "Bloomberg has always been different from other Republican leaders," McCall said. "All the Republicans are standing against us for the most part; it doesn’t really change the calculus."

Sammon agreed that Bloomberg’s departure remains a possible harbinger of his future aspirations. "The impact is only to the effect that here’s a guy who has half a billion dollars to spend on a campaign," Sammon concluded. "Obviously that could impact the whole race."

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