Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008: A look back

What a year it was! With less than 48 hours until 2009, the annual tradition of looking back upon the year that was is in full swing. The economy, President-elect Barack Obama's historic election and continued violence in the Middle East, Pakistan and other countries around the world are three of the myriad of stories that dominated headlines in 2008. Below is a look back.

Barack Obama

President-elect Barack Obama's historic election on Nov. 4 represents a monumental shift in American politics. More than 50 percent of Americans voted for the former community organizer under the increasingly dyer economic situation, an extremely unpopular incumbent president and growing disillusionment. Obama's election presents a stark rejection of Bush Republicanism and a growing call for change among those who have grown increasingly tired of the status quo. Obama takes office in less than a month. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to keep the promises he made on the campaign trail. It remains clear, however, Obama has the wind at his back as he prepares to enter the White House in 2008.

Economic Crisis

The only 2008 story that could possibly overshadow Obama's meteoric rise to the White House is the expanding economic crisis. The other shoe dropped with Lehman Brother's collapse in September. Detroit and Wall Street have fallen to their knees (with some embarrassing and frankly infuriating revelations along the way) as they seek bailouts from skeptical Washington lawmakers. President Bush appeared to abandon his free-market principles as the writing on the wall became increasingly clear. Unemployment has increased and consumer confidence continues to plummet.

New York remains one of the crisis' epicenters. Officials have estimated up to 200,000 people will lose their jobs. Both the city and state are facing severe budget shortfalls because of Wall Street's implosion--all in all there is a sense a dark cloud with precious few silver linings will continue to hover over Gotham in the new year.

Proposition 8

November 4 was an arguable watershed moment in American history, but this day ended bittersweet for LGBT activists with Proposition 8's passage in California. The amendment, which passed with 52 percent of the vote, came less than six months after marriage for same-sex couples became legal in the Golden State.

Outraged LGBT activists, citizens and their supporters immediately began to speculate as to why Prop 8 passed. They pointed fingers to the black voters, the Mormon Church and eventually those who organized a largely ineffective and arguably incompetent campaign. And this anger manifested itself into widespread protests across the country in what some have dubbed Stonewall 2.0.

The immediate anti-Prop 8 fervor has appeared to dissipate somewhat, but it remains clear marriage for same-sex couples will continue to garner headlines in 2009. New Jersey and New York are among the states in which lawmakers are expected to debate the issue. The California Supreme Court is also slated to rule on lawsuits challenging Prop 8 in the coming year.

Sarah Palin

Politics is often about personalities, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin generated more reaction than anyone else possibly outside of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. This apparent political neophyte, with her Tina Fey-esque looks and apparently picture perfect family, seemingly appeared out of nowhere to become Sen. John McCain's vice presidential nominee. The late night jokes about her pregnant daughter Bristol, her frame less glasses, her Alaskan accent and other aspects of her life came almost as fast as one can mutter 'You betcha.'

In all seriousness, Palin's veep nomination represented an extremely cynical attempt to energize the Republican Party's socially conservative base that remained lukewarm at best to McCain's campaign. It worked to an extent, but Palin unfortunately became a political laughing stock among moderate voters, pundits and even some Republicans.

Final Thoughts

Heath Ledger's tragic death in January, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's spectacular downfall in March, controversy over National Parks Service rangers issuing citations in Fire Island's infamous Meatrack in June and José Sucuzhañay's senseless death in Bushwick earlier this month are among the myriad of stories I covered in 2008. Some of the more memorable moments of the year include Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese's decision to include me in his Fire Island Pines fundraising pitch, a media trip to Key West in October, covering Obama's election in Times Square and discussing control of the New York State Senate on the Brian Lehrer Show.

2008 is certainly a year that will go down in the history books. It was an extremely turbulent year that brought hardship to millions of people. 2008 also brought hope to others who had decided the status quo was no longer an acceptable option. And it is with that optimistic tone I wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous 2009.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Israel launches more airstrikes against Gaza

I have returned to the blog after nearly a week away for Christmas, but the news of continued Israeli air strikes against Hamas strongholds in the Gaza Strip remain front page news.

The Israel Defense Forces began its campaign on Saturday in response to continued rocket attacks against cities and towns near the Gaza Strip. The territory's main university, Hamas security compounds and tunnels used to smuggle weapons and other products from Egypt are among the places Israeli airplanes bombed. The Gaza blitz has killed more than an estimated 300 people and injured more than 1,400. Retaliatory rockets launched into Israel have killed two Israelis and wounded several others. And the IDF is reportedly planning a possible ground offensive into Gaza.

The Arab League joined Spain and other countries in their condemnation of the Israeli campaign. France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United Nations have called upon both sides to return to the cease fire that ended Dec. 20. The United States blamed Hamas for its continued rocket attacks into Israel.

The arguably disproportionate air strikes in Gaza are certainly a cause for concern for the sheer fact more than 50 Palestinian civilians have been killed. The campaign also perpetuates a cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians for decades that will not abate if both sides continue to fail to show restraint on behalf of their own citizens. The scenes that continue to emerge from Gaza are disturbing. They will almost certainly continue if both sides fail to pull back from the latest precipice on which they currently find themselves.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Milk"'s prophetic lessons

I've been in Boston and New Hampshire the last few days ahead of Christmas, but one of the highlights of the trip remains the fact I finally saw "Milk."

The movie remains one of the most brilliantly made films I have seen in a long-time, but the arguably prophetic lessons it provides to activists within the movement for LGBT rights provide an extremely powerful road map they should follow. One of the main themes with which I walked away is the necessity to explicitly include LGBT people in any campaign to secure their rights or to fight against any efforts to curtail them.

"Milk"'s release coincides with the continued aftermath of the bitter passage of Proposition 8 in California and the ineffective and frankly incompetent campaign that failed to defeat it. Activists and others within the movement continue to point fingers, soul search and look forward to pending efforts to reverse Prop 8's passage, but these figures must follow the example Harvey Milk set in his activism that helped defeat Proposition 6 by an overwhelming margin in the Golden State in 1978. To neglect the very constituents they profess to serve is disingenuous and arguably indicative of their own internalized homophobia.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A snow falls in Brooklyn

With the turmoil of the last few months showing little sign of abatement, it is arguably necessary to step back, take a deep breath and enjoy the season. I loathe snow (for anyone who doesn't know me very well), but I confess the snow that has fallen on the city in the last few days left a beautiful and festive carpet of white. Below are a few shots from Bushwick and Manhattan taken over the last few days.

Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick [Dec. 19, 2008]

Not a day to hang out in the park [Dec. 19, 2008]

A sign of warmer times [Dec. 19, 2008]

A dusting of snow on West 13th Street in Manhattan [Dec. 16, 2008]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama sparks controversy over inaugural invocation choice

With preparations for President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration well underway, the incoming commander-in-chief has ignited controversy over his selection of the Rev. Rick Warren to deliver his inaugural invocation.

Activists and organizations within the movement for LGBT rights immediately denounced Obama's decision to include the controversial minister in his inauguration. Warren, who founded Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., backed Proposition 8 in California. He has also made controversial and arguably inflammatory statements that, among other things, attempted to link marriage for gays and lesbians to incest and pedophilia.

Obama clearly the arguable good will of the majority of Americans--including those who identify as LGBT--at his back as he prepares to take office. He also campaigned on an intoxicating message of change and hope that certainly resonated with the majority of LGBT Americans who had become disillusioned over the last eight years, but Warren's selection to deliver the inaugural invocation amounts to an arguable slap in the face to those who put their faith with Obama that he would truly listen to LGBT concerns and requests. Obama is arguably adhering to the advice of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] and other party leaders who have urged for his administration to govern from the middle. Warren's selection is perhaps a politically motivated attempt to achieve this ideal, but a clear case can also be made rights for LGBT Americans, which Warren appears to oppose, have become a moderate issue.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Update on José Sucuzhañay

As fallout from José Sucuzhañay's death continues to unfold, the New York Police Department continues to search for the four men who brutally beat the Ecuadorian immigrant on a Bushwick street corner early Dec. 7 as he and his brother walked home.

The New York Times today published an editorial titled "A Lynching in Brooklyn" that echoes the public outrage New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and a myriad of others have expressed since news of the attack broke. Roughly 500 people marched Sunday in Bushwick to pay tribute to Sucuzhañay and to demand justice.

Sucuzhañay's death has obviously sparked widespread condemnation and outrage across the city, but let's hope this outpouring translates into some sort of concrete action to ensure these crimes become a thing of the past in our city and in our country.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bushwick pays tribute to José Sucuzhañay

Less than 24 hours after news of José Sucuzhañay's death broke, people from across the city gathered in Bushwick to pay tribute to the Ecuadorian immigrant and to demand an end to hate and bias-motivated hate crimes. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea], City Councilwoman Diana Reyna [D-Bushwick], Congressman Anthony Weiner, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Chelsea], New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson and representatives from various Ecuadorian, LGBT and Latino advocacy organizations were among those who gathered at Grove Street and Myrtle Avenue. And several hundred people subsequently marched to hold vigil on the corner where four men in an SUV viciously beat Sucuzhañay with a baseball bat and bottles early on Dec. 7.

Hundreds of people marched through the streets of Bushwick on Dec. 14 to pay tribute to José Sucuzhañay and to demand an end to hate and bias crimes.

Make the Road New York co-executive director Ana Maria Archila urges New Yorkers to come together against hate crimes.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea]

Joselo Lucero, whose brother Marcelo was killed last month allegedly by a group of Long Island teenagers, was among those who took part in the Bushwick vigil.

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez

Gays and Lesbians of Bushwick Empowered were among the groups that marched down Myrtle Avenue

Hundreds of people attend a vigil for José Sucuzhañay on Kossuth Place.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Groups to hold vigil in tribute of Bushwick hate crime victim

As law enforcement officials continue to search for the men who allegedly left a Bushwick man brain dead in what they describe as an anti-gay and anti-Latino hate crime early Sunday morning, the Anti-Violence Project, Make the Road New York and a coalition of other community and activist groups have organized a march and vigil on Sunday, Dec. 14.

The vigil will take place at Make the Road's park on the corner of Grove Street and Myrtle Avenue in Bushwick at 2 p.m. Marchers will then proceed to Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place--the corner where police say a group of four men viciously beat Jose Sucuzhanay with a baseball bat and bottles and kicked him while his brother ran for help.

In the meantime, the NYPD is offering a $27,000 reward to anyone who provides information that will assist it in the apprehension of those responsible. And New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joined City Councilmember Diana Reyna [D-Bushwick] and officers at the Myrtle Avenue subway station this morning to hand flyers about the attack to strap hangers. [Photos courtesy of Eunic Ortiz]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

WNYC's Brian Lehrer discusses future of marriage in Albany

The reported deal between presumptive New York State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and the so-called dissident "Gang of Three" to not introduce marriage legislation in exchange for their support would be nothing more than another example of political wheeling and dealing in Albany if it proves to be true. That said, it has certainly put the long-time supporter of marriage for same-sex couples in an extremely difficult position.

WNYC host Brian Lehrer moderated a segment on his show yesterday titled "The News from Albany" with the New York Daily News' Albany bureau chief Ken Lovett, El Diario opinion page editor Erica Gonzalez and myself. Attached is a link to the entire segment.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bushwick hate crime victim dies

The news of the death of the man brutally attacked on a Bushwick street early Sunday morning while he and his brother walked home left my roommate and I agasp and frankly furious inside our Jefferson Street apartment this morning. Authorities have identified the 31-year-old Ecuadorian man as Jose Sucuzhanay. And the New York Times reported he died at Elmhurst Hospital as a result of extensive brain damage and skull fractures.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, City Councilmember Diana Reyna [D-Bushwick] and legions of other elected officials, clergy, activists and community organizations have expressed shock and anger over the attack as I reported yesterday on EDGE New York.

Four men in an SUV attacked Jose Sucuzhany, 31, at Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place early Dec. 7 as he and his brother walked home "arm-and-arm" from a local bar.

This attack hits particularly close to home since my apartment is roughly 10 blocks from where it took place. I feel largely comfortable as a openly gay man living in Bushwick, but this utterly tragic attack provides New Yorkers a stark reminder we are not immune from homophobia and hatred. And Sucuzhany's tragic death mandates a collective response to ensure an end to hate-based violence.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Brooklyn hate crime leaves man in critical condition

Hate crimes of any kind are among the most difficult stories on which to report, and their proximity to one's home makes them that much more difficult to cover.

Such is the case with the attack on an Ecuadorian man on Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place early yesterday morning that left him in critical condition at Elmhurst Hospital. The New York Police Department and local politicians reported four men attacked the man with a baseball bat and bottles and kicked him as he walked home with his brother after a night out. The New York Times reported the two men were "arm-in-arm" in order to support each other as they walked down the street. The newspaper echoed New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn who said the men's attackers used anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs during the assault.

Attached is the story I just posted to EDGE New York.

A 31-year-old Ecuadorian man remains in critical condition at Elmhurst Hospital after four men allegedly attacked him and his brother with baseball bats and bottles near their Bushwick home early Sunday morning in what police are investigating as a anti-gay and anti-Latino hate crime.

The New York Police Department did not immediately return request for comment, but New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told reporters at a City Hall press conference today four men in an SUV attacked the brothers on the corner of Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place as they walked home. A law enforcement official told the New York Times the men were walking "arm-in-arm" to support each other after a night of drinking. The paper further reported one of the men broke a bottle over the head of the 31-year-old man before his accomplishes beat him with a baseball bat and kicked him while his brother ran for help.

The attackers, who remain at-large, reportedly used anti-LGBT and anti-Latino slurs during the assault.

"Those who perpetrated this crime must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Quinn said.

City Councilmember Diana Reyna [D-Bushwick] joined Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Chelsea], City Councilmember Letitia James [Working Families-Fort Greene], state Assemblymember Carmen Arroyo [D-Bronx], New York City Anti-Violence Project executive director Sharon Stapel and other elected officials, clergy and representatives of various Ecuadorian and Latino advocacy and community organizations at the press conference. Reyna echoed Quinn’s outrage.

"It is unfathomable and horrible we have to deal with issues of hatred that are destroying our society," she said.

Located in Northeast Brooklyn along the L, J, M, and Z trains, Bushwick is home to a significant Latino-Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorians and other recent immigrants from Central and South America-population. The neighborhood has begun to gentrify in recent years due to a lower crime rate, its proximity to Manhattan and an abundance of converted warehouse lofts, new condos and other relatively affordable housing stock.

This attack comes a month after a group of seven Long Island teenagers allegedly attacked Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue. Local authorities have charged Jeffrey Conroy with second-degree murder as a hate crime for allegedly fatally stabbing Lucero in the chest on Nov. 8. They also charged him and his alleged co-conspirators with hate crime and conspiracy counts.

Karina Claudio, an organizer for Gays & Lesbians of Bushwick Empowered, told EDGE her group and the Audre Lorde Project plan to organize a vigil in the coming days. She added she feels anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT sentiments remain all too common.

"We deal with both in our organization," Claudio said. "We are very concerned about what happened."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Democratic Senate leadership reportedly strikes marriage from legislative agenda

Politics is an all too cynical exercise here in New York and across the country. It often comes down to a series of politically advantageous compromises. And presumptive New York State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith's decision to not introduce legislation to extend marriage to gay and lesbian couples in order to win over a handful of dissident Democrats who had said they would oppose his election reflects this reality.

I posted a story on EDGE New York earlier this afternoon that examines the decision more closely. It's safe to say activists will almost certainly have a lot to say about this reported decision.

An agreement reached between state Sen. Malcolm Smith [D-St. Albans] and a handful of dissident Democrats over his presumptive election as Senate Majority Leader has reportedly pushed marriage for same-sex couples off next year’s legislative agenda.

Businessman Thomas Golisano and Congressman Gregory Meeks convened a meeting between Smith, state Sens. Ruben Diaz, Sr., [D-Bronx] and Carl Kruger [D-Brooklyn] and Senator-elect Pedro Espada, Jr., [D-Bronx]-dubbed the "Gang of Three" by local media-in Manhattan on Thursday. Governor David Paterson also attended a portion of the three-hour meeting.

The New York Times reported Espada would become vice chair of the powerful Rules Committee, which decides which legislation will be introduced in the Senate.

"The meeting held today involved rules changes proposed by [Sen.] Smith which will result in Senate reform and the election of Malcolm Smith as [Senate Majority] Leader," Smith spokesperson Hank Sheinkopf said in a statement.

He did not say whether marriage was discussed during the meeting, but the Daily News reported Smith will not introduce a marriage bill. The newspaper added he would announce the legislation does not have sufficient support to pass in the Senate.

A Smith staffer who asked to remain anonymous declined to disclose to EDGE whether the announcement would provide political cover for the agreement the presumptive Senate Majority Leader reached with Diaz, Espada and Kruger to not introduce the bill. Democrats control both legislative houses and the governor’s office for the first time since the Great Depression. The Assembly passed a marriage bill in June 2007. And local activists remain confident the Senate will vote on the issue next year.

"We are still awaiting the final details of the announced state Senate leadership deal," Empire State Pride Agenda executive director Alan Van Capelle said in a statement released shortly after news of the agreement broke. "We would expect that any rumors that marriage equality was somehow a part of this deal are just that-rumors."

Smith has repeatedly expressed his support for marriage for same-sex couples. Marriage Equality New York executive director Cathy Marino-Thomas added she feels this position has not changed.

"We are awaiting confirmation from [Sen.] Smith that his promise to bring marriage equality to the Senate floor for a vote once there is confirmation that this bill as the votes to pass is a fact," she said. "In the meantime, we must continue to work to bring the New York State Senators to our side of this issue."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

RIP Mary Myers Cole

Mary Myers Cole, first on right, poses with other Fire Island Pines women at Sip n' Twirl in May.

Fire Island remains one of the most beautiful places in the world (literally) and those who live on the narrow barrier beach remain some of the most memorable and generous people I have had the pleasure to met. And on this vein, I was saddened to learn last night Mary Myers Cole recently passed away.

She and her late husband Sylvan were involved with the Fire Island Pines Arts Project and a number of other community organizations in the Pines. Mary was known for her bold fashion sense and for her love of the Pines and especially its residents. And this admiration came through during an interview for the Fire Island News earlier this year about former Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association second vice president of operations Ron McKenna's sudden death in July 2007 and the passing of his partner, Perry Hamilton, a few months later.

"Ron McKenna was the angel of the Pines, and Perry was the angel behind the angel in so many ways," she said.

I have no doubt many Pines residents share the same sentiment about Mary as they mourn her passing. Rest in peace Mary!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Post-Thanksgiving Reflections

I'm back to Brooklyn after five days with my family and friends in New Hampshire and Boston, but the world honestly seems a bit different this mild December morning.

The images from the Mumbai terrorist attacks on Wednesday night served as an all too stark reminder this scourge remains an all too real threat to people around the world. Jdimytai Damour's tragic death at a Long Island Wal-Mart on Friday morning highlights the unfortunate effects frenzied American consumerism can have. And the economic crisis continues to unfold.

There remains much for which we can be grateful this holiday season. I am personally thankful for my health and for the fact I have a warm place to sleep at night. I remain blessed to have friends and family who love and support me. And I am happy I live in New York. These things continue to provide comfort in an ever-changing and often cruel world.