Brad Hoylman for State Senate

Brad Hoylman's commitment to community leadership qualifies him for the State Senate.

GAY CITY NEWS ENDORSEMENT | After 14 years of Democrat Tom Duane’s service as the State Senate’s only out gay member, voters in what is now designated the 27th District find themselves deciding September 13 who next will represent a major swath of Manhattan from the Village and Lower East Side up the West Side.

Duane, of course, has been a leader on LGBT and AIDS issues in Albany; during his tenure, New York enacted a hate crimes law, a gay civil rights statute, school anti-bullying protections for categories including sexual orientation and gender expression, and, last year, marriage equality. Maintaining an out LGBT voice at the table in the State Senate is an important consideration in choosing among the candidates, but our endorsement of Brad Hoylman, the only gay contender in the Democratic primary that will decide the race, is not based on that factor alone.

In the 11 years since Hoylman, who is 46, made his first run for office in a hard-fought 2001 City Council primary in Lower Manhattan, he has played a high profile leadership role on the West Side. As the three-time chair of Community Board 2, he has successfully pushed for two new public schools, supported historic preservation, and helped build consensus for an AIDS Memorial in a new park planned near the former St. Vincent’s Hospital campus and for renovation of Washington Square Park.

His civic engagement has also included work with anti-poverty and tenants’ rights organizations, on the board at the Empire State Pride Agenda, and as president of the Gay & Lesbian Independent Democrats.

Hoylman’s opponents charge he was essentially hand-picked by Duane and other West Side Democrats and point out that his employer of 12 years, the Partnership for New York City, a business-friendly non-profit group where he served most recently as general counsel, often champions policy positions at odds with the progressive profile he now presents to voters. These are fair issues to debate. Duane threw in the towel late in lead-up to the primary process and virtually endorsed Hoylman at his retirement press conference; Hoylman acknowledged the two discussed the incumbent’s likely departure weeks in advance of that. It’s not surprising that voters would like to see a genuine choice in what is the first primary contest for the State Senate seat in decades.

Hoylman’s opponents, however –– Ritz Bar and Lounge owner Tom Greco and educator Tanika Inlaw –– have not made the case that their community engagement and command of local and state issues have prepared them sufficiently for the seat they are seeking. In their August 20 debate at the LGBT Community Center, the two made valid arguments about the importance of political independence, but failed to thread the needle by explaining how their outsider status would inform their efforts in Albany. Legislative newcomers unprepared to hit the ground running on day one have little chance of posing a credible challenge to the better-organized political status quo.

It’s also important to note that Hoylman has demonstrated his own record of independence. The Partnership for New York City this past spring balked at supporting the living wage bill that that will establish a minimum compensation package for employees of companies receiving city subsidies; Hoylman supported the measure. He also publicly disagreed with Lower Manhattan’s most powerful Democrat, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, over the recently approved NYU expansion plan, and has stated his support for a paid sick leave bill that Quinn continues to resist.

The fact of Hoylman being gay was not determinative in this endorsement, but neither was it incidental. Hoylman and his longtime partner, David Sigal, have a 21-month-old daughter who was carried by a California surrogate. As the first gay parent in the New York State Legislature, he would be uniquely qualified to lead the charge on ending the odd anomaly of New York being one of only four states to bar surrogacy altogether. He is also well-situated to bring thoughtful attention to the need for passage of the long stymied Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, for identification of revenue streams to support housing and services for homeless youth, and for enactment of the rent relief for HIV/ AIDS Services Administration clients living in private housing for which Duane fought so hard over the past half-dozen years.

Gay City News recommends a vote for Brad Hoylman on Thursday, September 13.