Marty Algaze, who had a long and successful career in New York Democratic politics and fought to advance the interests of the LGBTQ community, died suddenly on August 27, shocking friends and colleagues who had known him for decades. He was 72.
“He was just so damn committed,” said Steve Ashkinazy, who knew Algaze since the early 80s when both were active in the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats (GLID), an LGBTQ political club. “He was involved in politics, but it was really the cause that was important to him…Marty was really devoted to the LGBT community and the advancement of our rights.”
Algaze is best known for co-founding the Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC (SDNYC) in 1986. SDNYC was formed by ex-GLID members who became disillusioned by that club’s internal politics. Algaze, Ashkinazy, Lew Todd, Tom Smith, and others created SDNYC as a citywide organization as opposed to the borough or neighborhood focus of most political clubs in New York City. As the club grew, so did its influence in elections, and its endorsements were sought by candidates for city, state, and federal offices. That experience also meant that Algaze was well versed in policy making and governance.
“I’m devasted by the death of Marty Algaze,” City Councilmember Gale Brewer, who represents Manhattan’s West Side from West 54th Street to Cathedral Parkway, wrote in a newsletter to her constituents. “I first met him in the 1980s, when he was active in the tenant’s rights movement. But he was everywhere, also active on his W. 72nd Street block, in Community Free Democrats and then West Side Democrats, co-founded the Stonewall Democrats, and a longtime member of the NY County Democratic Committee. He knew politics, he knew government policy — he provided leadership in the State Assembly, State Senate, and Mayor’s offices — and he generously shared what he knew with friends and colleagues.”
Members of these clubs work for candidates and recruit volunteers for their campaigns. Members can also win city and state jobs when those campaigns are successful. Algaze worked for a long list of state and local Democratic office holders and city and state agencies during his career. News clips and other documents show him effectively representing those officials and agencies not just in news stories, but also at meetings with city and state officials, LGBTQ community groups, and with the community at large.
He also worked at GMHC, an HIV services organization, for a time. In a 2002 book titled “The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization,” right winger Pat Buchanan disparaged the LGBTQ community, as he often did during his career. Speaking for GMHC, Algaze said, “Pat Buchanan has the right to his own ideas, no matter how ignorant, uninformed, or bigoted those ideas might be.”
In a departure from his longstanding allegiance to the Democratic Party, Algaze also worked for Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, serving under Fran Reiter, one of Giuliani’s deputy mayors. That necessarily meant that he sometimes had to defend positions that he did not necessarily support.
In 1994, Stonewall 25, the group that was organizing the events commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots, sought to have two marches that would converge in Central Park for a rally. The Giuliani administration refused to allow that and Algaze was quoted in the LGBTQ press, saying, “It will cost the city twice as much money for police overtime. The city cannot afford to do that.”
In a 1996 article in the New York Times, Algaze defended the removal of homeless people in an encampment on the West Side piers so that work could begin on the West Side highway, saying, “This has been a well-planned, compassionate way to move people.” That same article quoted Sylvia Rivera, an early activist in the LGBTQ movement who was living in that encampment, saying, “These guys, they might just look like dirty homeless people to you, but to me, they were my family.”
Reiter told Gay City News that Algaze was “fun, smart, dedicated, and a political realist…He knew about compromise, he knew what it took to get good things done.”
In this regard, Algaze embodied SDNYC. While some in the LGBTQ community have called the club conservative, it is more accurate to say that the club is practical. In 1997, SDNYC endorsed Giuliani in his successful campaign for a second term for mayor. In a deal with the Empire State Pride Agenda, then the state’s largest LGBTQ lobbying group, Giuliani agreed that if elected to a second term, his administration would make domestic partners, who could be same sex or opposite sex couples, equal to married couples under city law.
Those who knew him best recalled that Algaze was a good friend who had a wicked sense of humor, but he was always careful about measuring his audience.
“Marty had a good sense of where he needed to be serious, where he could be silly, and where he could be inappropriate,” Ashkinazy said.
Stanley Shor, a friend who first met Algaze in 1986, had a career in the city’s Department of Buildings and hired Algaze after he left the Giuliani administration.
“He was always loyal, always a loyal friend,” Shor said. “When he worked for me, he was always excellent. He was very talented and smart…I think he was very proud of what he did at Stonewall.”
Algaze was born and raised in Brooklyn’s Marine Park neighborhood. He was one of two sons of Selma and David Algaze, who predeceased him. Marty is survived by his brother Stuart, his sister-in-law Glenda, and two nephews, Kyle and Joshua. He attended Pace University from 1969 to 1973 and intended to become an actor. Ashkinazy told Gay City News that he enjoyed some success on Broadway as a dancer. But his real love and career became politics.
“He loved what he was doing, politics, Stonewall,” Reiter said. “In that sense he was lucky because he got to do what he loved.”
A memorial service for Algaze will take place at 10 a.m. on Sept. 8 at the LGBT Community Center at 208 W. 13th St. in Manhattan.