Citywide GOP Candidates Now Softer on Gays

GOP comptroller candidate Michel Faulkner (center, behind the poster) at a 2011 rally against marriage equality held at City Hall. | GAY CITY NEWS

At the end of a brief video posted on Michel Faulkner’s campaign website, the candidate for New York City comptroller says that he is the one who will unite the city.

“New York City can and must get back on track, but to do that we have to have principled leadership,” the 60-year-old Republican said in the video. “As a respected religious leader in New York City for more than 30 years, I have the unique ability to connect with all New Yorkers regardless of their political affiliation, ethnic background, religious or sexual orientation.”

Including “sexual orientation” in the video, which pops up automatically when a viewer first lands on his site, is unremarkable except that Faulkner has been a consistent opponent of same-sex marriage, a position he maintains though he concedes that it is the law of the land.

In races for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, a modulated tone on LGBTQ rights

“The LGBTQ community is an important part of New York City, and the individuals are important to my life,” he told Gay City News. “You’ve got to look farther than the one issue of same-sex marriage.”

Faulkner, who is also running on the Conservative Party ballot line against Democratic incumbent Scott Stringer, is not alone among Republican candidates for New York City offices in making public comments that could resonate with LGBTQ voters.

In an October 18 tweet, JC Polanco, who is running to become the city’s public advocate against Democratic incumbent Letitia James, commented on a Time magazine article on Roy Moore, a Republican candidate for the US Senate in Alabama who has a lengthy anti-LGBTQ record.

“Moore is unfit for office. Period,” Polanco wrote. “A senate seat is not worth the involvement with someone who has these views.”

In 1986, religious leaders, including senior members of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the Salvation Army, Orthodox Jews, and Democrat Peter Vallone, then the speaker of the City Council, gathered on the steps of City Hall to oppose legislation that added sexual orientation as a protected class to the city’s anti-discrimination law. They used language that would make Roy Moore blush.

JC Polanco, the Republican candidate for public advocate, tweeted a denunciation of Roy Moore, the anti-LGBTQ Republican US Senate candidate in Alabama. | POLANCOFORNYC.COM

Ten years later, as Republican Rudy Giuliani was gearing up to run for a second term as mayor, he told members of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, “I believe that marriage should remain between a man and a woman. I’ve always felt that way.”

In his second term, Giuliani went on to quietly expand the benefits and rights available to domestic partners who had registered with the city. Most of those additional benefits were available only to city employees.

When Michael Bloomberg, also a Republican, succeeded Giuliani in 2002, he declined to take a position on marriage until 2005 when he announced that his administration would challenge a state court ruling that required the city clerk to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Bloomberg announced his support for same-sex marriage at the same time that he said he would fight the ruling. In 2006, the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, held that the State Constitution did not require clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Marriage was won in the State Legislature in 2011.

In 2017, Republicans running for citywide offices feel it necessary to make what are at least nominally pro-LGBTQ comments and to put a lot of distance between themselves and someone like Moore. When Gay City News mentioned Polanco’s tweet on the Alabama Republican, Faulkner said of Moore, “I find that appalling and it’s unacceptable. I would never, ever, ever want to be associated with anything that man would say.”

While there probably remain enclaves in the city where LGBTQ-bashing will help a candidate, it appears that bashers won’t fly in New York City at least in citywide races.

“In terms of citywide elections, they are no longer in the mainstream,” said Ken Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. “The Republicans have realized they can’t win with somebody who says outrageous things.”

Neither Faulkner nor Polanco, who did not respond to requests for comment, are likely to win their races. With less than two weeks until the election, Campaign Finance Board records show that Faulkner has no money while Democrat Stringer has just over $1.5 million. Democrat James has just over $1 million to Polanco’s $7,700.

Republican mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis, seen here in Gay City News’ offices, has recanted her former opposition to same-sex marriage, but still opposed a statewide transgender rights bill. | JORDAN RATHKOPF

Both candidates are effectively running against Mayor Bill de Blasio and charging that Stringer and James have not been sufficiently aggressive in checking what they charge are de Blasio’s excesses and flaws. With a loss looming, they are not saying “outrageous things” that could bring attention to their campaigns or motivate their base voters.

The candidate who is actually on the ballot opposing the mayor — on both the Republican and Conservative lines — Nicole Malliotakis, felt compelled to change her position this year on same-sex marriage, which she voted against in the State Assembly in 2011, though she remains strident in her opposition to a state transgender rights bill, despite the fact that similar protections have been afforded under city law since 2002.

“I think entry into the laundry list is progress,” Sherrill said, referring to “the list of all groups against whom we should not discriminate or be prejudiced against… At this point, the New York City Republican Party, perhaps even Staten Island, has come to the conclusion that it is good politics for them not to be bad on the issue.”