Key Gay Defeats in Primary

On a primary election day in which most of the marquee races were run-aways, Ken Diamondstone of Brooklyn was turned back in his bid to become the state Senate’s second out gay member. And Larry Moss, also gay and a longtime Lower Manhattan state committeeman who led in putting New York’s Democratic Party on record in favor of marriage equality and against the war in Iraq, lost in his bid to retain his post.

In other key races, Sean Patrick Maloney, a former top White House aide to President Bill Clinton, polled just under 10 percent in a three-way race that Andrew Cuomo, the former governor’s son who also served Clinton as housing secretary, won easily with nearly 53 percent of the vote.

In a hotly contested race to succeed Brooklyn Congressman Major Owens—in which all four Democrats were in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples—Yvette Clarke, a Caribbean-American city councilwoman, won with a five-point edge over Councilman David Yassky, the contest’s only white candidate, in a district represented by blacks since the late Shirley Chisholm was first elected in 1968. The 11th Congressional District includes portions of Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope but has its greatest number of voters in Flatbush, Crown Heights, and East New York.

Brooklyn’s Lambda Independent Democrats, a gay club, endorsed Chris Owens, the incumbent’s son, in the race, but both the Stonewall Democrats of New York City and the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club supported Clarke.

Diamondstone’s challenge to Connor, a 28-year Albany veteran, came in the 25th Senate District that encompasses the East Village, most of Lower Manhattan below Houston, and Brooklyn neighborhoods along the East River from Williamsburg south to Carroll Gardens. The challenger made political reform a key theme, charging Connor with ethical lapses including the use of a car paid for with campaign funds.

Diamondstone, however, was forced to back down after mistakenly charging that the incumbent had voted against a health care measure aimed at helping middle class New Yorkers; Connor’s Senate colleagues joined him at a City Hall denouncing the false allegation.

In his victory speech at Opaline in the East Village Tuesday evening, Connor remained angry at what he described as his opponent’s negative campaign.

“We were easily outspent four or five to one,” the senator said. “It’s hard to respond to charges that are false but are repeated over and over again in 14 or 15 mailers.”

Diamondstone, reached by phone Wednesday morning, said, “I am proud of the campaign we ran… I did my best to tell the truth. If the truth is negative, so be it.”

Diamondstone won the endorsement of his home club, Lambda in Brooklyn, but failed to win the support of Stonewall or Jim Owles. Connor was clearly the establishment favorite, with the support of all the City Council and Assembly members from his district, including Speaker Christine Quinn, Assemblywoman Glick, and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, as well as Senate colleague Tom Duane—all of them gay or lesbian.

The contest proved expensive for Diamondstone, who estimated his campaign spent about $500,000, $150,000 of it raised from contributors, but the remainder donated or loaned from himself and his partner. Connor, an election lawyer, started his fundraising late, believing he would be able to knock the challenger off the ballot for having missed last year’s deadline for moving several blocks into the district. Marty Algaze, a gay man who headed up Connor’s campaign, estimated that the incumbent spent about $200,000.

Diamondstone, who lost by more than 10 points, has the Working Families Party endorsement and in August told Gay City News he would contest the seat in November on that line if necessary. The morning after the election he sounded more uncertain, saying he would have to talk to officials at Working Families to see if there is a budget to continue his challenge.

Dan Cantor, the party’s executive director, told Gay City News flatly that Working Families would not support Diamondstone financially in November.

“It’s too expensive,” he said.

In the State Committee race, Moss pointed to his achievements as a key player, since 1990, in the Reform Caucus that he said has initiated most of the critical policy stands taken by the New York Democratic Party. Arthur Schwartz, a former Democratic district leader who defeated Moss, said the incumbent, even on issues where he was outspoken—such as gay marriage and the Iraq War—had made no meaningful progress beyond getting resolutions passed. Schwartz also charged that Moss spent no time working with Democratic activists in the district, which covers the Lower Manhattan neighborhoods represented by Glick in the Assembly.

Moss had emphasized his role as one of only six or seven openly gay or lesbian state committee members out of roughly 450, and enjoyed the support of Quinn, Duane, Mendez, and his fellow committee member, Rachel Lavine, who is a lesbian. His staunchest supporter, however, was Glick, who in the wake of his defeat told The Villager that Schwartz had bought the election with “misleading advertising.” The assemblywoman dubbed Schwartz “Bloomberg II.”

In the state attorney general’s race, Cuomo sailed to victory with the support of major gay and lesbian elected officials including Quinn, Duane, Glick, and Mendez, as well as Democratic Party Vice Chair Emily Giske, an openly lesbian lobbyist. The Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, a club where the Lower Manhattan gay elected officials have long wielded significant influence, also endorsed Cuomo.

Maloney gained wide gay support as well—from the Empire State Pride Agenda, the Stonewall Democrats, Brooklyn’s Lambda, the Out People of Color Political Action Club, and Karen Burstein, an out lesbian who was the 1994 Democratic attorney general nominee. (See page 10 for an editor’s commentary on a controversial Maloney flyer that surfaced on Primary Day.)

Green, a longtime LGBT rights supporter who had enjoyed strong gay support in prior races, won the nod of two smaller clubs—Jim Owles and the gay Democrats in Queens. The 2001 Democratic mayoral nominee, Green was held to less than a third of the vote and announced his retirement from elective politics.

Several other primary races are also of particular interest to LGBT voters. In Queens, state Senator John Sabini narrowly survived a challenge from City Councilman Hiram Monserrate in the 13th Senate District in Jackson Heights and Corona. Both men are strong LGBT rights advocates, but last week a column in El Diario/ La Prensa said that Monserrate had cultivated the support of Reverend Ruben Diaz, Sr., a state senator who has repeatedly clashed with the gay community, but had insisted that the Bronx Pentecostal minister keep his efforts quiet. At the time, Monserrate did not return a Gay City New call seeking comment.

In Lower Manhattan’s 74th Assembly District, Brian Kavanagh upset incumbent Sylvia Friedman, who had only taken office in March after the retirement of Democrat Steven Sanders. In Brooklyn’s state Senate District 21, encompassing Borough Park and Bay Ridge, incumbent Kevin Parker handily held off a challenge from Noach Dear, a fierce opponent of gay rights in his years on the City Council. In Queens Senate District 10 in Jamaica and Ozone Park, incumbent Ada Smith narrowly lost to Shirley Huntley. Early last year, Smith, an African-American, was cleared of charges she had called staffer Wayne Mahlke “white trash” and fired him for being gay. More recently, allegations surfaced that the senator threw coffee in a staffer’s face.