While his support on the left was already eroding, some LGBTQ people who previously backed Mayor Bill de Blasio or who at least have not been overly critical of his administration are now openly challenging his handling of protests responding to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“For most of his administration, Mayor Bill de Blasio has remained in a gray area on police and public relations,” Nicholas Tamborra, the vice president of the Lambda Independent Democrats (LID), an LGBTQ political club in Brooklyn, wrote in an email. “In a critical time of vicious income inequality and racial disparity, he has shown New York City he is not an ally to progressives. Real New Yorkers take firm stances on tough issues…And it’s high time the Mayor decides whether or not he’s in favor of the NYPD’s aggression or people’s dignity.”
LID endorsed City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an out lesbian who represented Chelsea, in the 2013 Democratic primary for mayor. The club endorsed de Blasio in the general election that year and again in 2017 when he ran for a second term in City Hall.
While he has generally not clashed with LGBTQ progressives during his now roughly seven years in office, he has also not been praised by them despite advancing some causes that LGBTQ progressives would approve of.
The mayor launched Pre-K for All and he has made progress on addressing homelessness in the city, though he has by no means solved that problem. He substantially reduced the police stop and frisk practice in the city from nearly 700,000 in 2011 under Michael Bloomberg to 13,459 in 2019, according to data compiled by the New York Civil Liberties Union. And de Blasio endorsed the Plan to End AIDS, and the city is spending not insignificant amounts of money on that effort to significantly reduce new HIV infections.
“There isn’t a mayor in my lifetime who cannot point to something that I would approve of,” said Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club. “He misuses his office, most of what he does are stunts.”
There have been complaints from progressives about de Blasio since the start of his mayoralty. Some of his choices for senior positions in his administration were seen as “establishment,” Roskoff said in 2013, or “retreads,” Pauline Park, now the board president of the Queens Pride House, said then.
Selecting William Bratton, a champion of more intrusive policing, as his first police commissioner was criticized by proponents of police reform and others on the left. In 2016, the mayor brought his wife, Chirlane McCray, and Bratton to a vigil near the Stonewall Inn for the 49 people murdered by a gunman in a Florida LGBTQ nightclub. When Bratton spoke, the heckling and booing were so loud that his comments could not be heard.
In 2014, de Blasio denied a request from some activists who wanted city employees who march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which then banned LGBTQ groups, to be barred from wearing their uniforms. The organizers of that parade have since ended their ban on LGBTQ groups.
In 2019 and 2020, de Blasio was perceived as not advancing a progressive agenda and the criticisms, while still limited, grew louder. While critics will concede he has made some gains, they also say those gains are not sufficient.
“He’s not a decisive leader,” said Jon Winkleman, a longtime Democratic Party activist. “As much as he talks about bold change and uses bold rhetoric in his campaigns, you don’t see bold policies.”
It took the NYPD response to the George Floyd protests, which has grown more aggressive through the evenings of June 3 and June 4, for progressives to emerge as some of the loudest de Blasio critics.
Some former and current members of his administration have objected to his handling of the protests, and protestors are chanting “De Blasio Resign” during marches. At a June 4 rally in Brooklyn that was held as a memorial for Floyd took place in Minneapolis, de Blasio was booed and heckled throughout the 90-second speech he gave. The NYPD actions during the New York City protests suggest that anything de Blasio has done on police reform has not produced change.
“He ran on a platform of police reform and betrayed that promise from day one,” Park told Gay City News. “As soon as he got into office, he became a mouthpiece for the NYPD.”
The city’s shifting positions on the in-person protests have not been helpful. The NYPD had varying reactions to such protests after public gatherings were banned due to COVID-19. Sometimes they were ignored, sometimes a few organizers were given a summons, and arrests were made a few times.
After the Reclaim Pride Coalition (RPC) held an in-person press conference on May 3 to object to Samaritan’s Purse, a right-wing, evangelical group, being allowed to operate a field hospital in Central Park, de Blasio called in-person protests “idiotic.” When the Floyd protests with thousands of people began, he endorsed them. When the city’s 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew began on June 2, de Blasio alternately indicated that peaceful protests are allowed after 8 p.m. and that people should stay home after 8 p.m.
On June 4, the Coalition laid down a defiant marker when it announced it would hold an in-person Queer Liberation March for Black Lives and Against Police Brutality on June 28 to mark the 50th anniversary of the first march that commemorated the 1969 Stonewall riots seen as marking the start of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
“This moment, the principles of the 1970 march, and the RPC founding mission demand it,” the Coalition said in a press release. “Black Americans and their children have suffered disproportionate abuse at the hands of America’s white supremacist power structure.”
The Coalition produced a march and rally last year that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1969 riots. Those events drew tens of thousands of participants. The Pride March and related events that are produced by Heritage of Pride have already been canceled.
The mayor has consistently defended the NYPD’s actions during the Floyd protests saying officers have acted with “restraint” and that the curfew has produced an “overwhelmingly peaceful city” with an end to looting. Dermot Shea, the police commissioner, said there have been “very few serious injuries” among protestors during a June 5 press conference.
“I think that people were willing to let things slide for a while,” Park said. “I don’t know any progressive activists, including LGBT activists, who still think that Bill de Blasio is progressive or effective in pursuing a progressive agenda.”
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