Mayor practices stump speech with gay marriage, AIDS spending references
On Tuesday, June 21, in Carl Schurz Park, the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political group, endorsed the re-election bid of Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a press conference in which the mayor tried out a stump speech that he is likely to hone and repeat as November approaches.
Praising the mayor as a vigorous advocate of gay rights, Patrick Guerreiro, Log Cabin’s national president, introduced Bloomberg as one of the “first elected officials of either political party to support marriage equality for gay and lesbian families” and pledged Log Cabin’s assistance in the mayoral campaign.
Speaking to reporters before hosting his annual Gracie Mansion salute to the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, Bloomberg, before the picturesque backdrop of the East River, thanked the Log Cabin Republicans and said, “I am proud of everything our administration has done to improve equality, create opportunity and celebrate diversity.”
Bloomberg, who has repeatedly said that he personally supports same-sex marriage, declared that he has been “unwilling to take unlawful measures to achieve worthy goals,” a reference to his February decision to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples seeking to wed, after a state court judge ruled that the state’s constitution allowed for them. The administration appealed that ruling and the matter is now pending in an intermediate appellate court, before, ostensibly, being resolved by the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest bench, an eventuality Bloomberg expects. “If the state’s highest court determines that same-sex marriage is not permitted, I will go with you to the State Legislature and work hard to get the law changed,” said Bloomberg to the gathering of reporters and gay Republicans.
As part of the high-wire political maneuvering that the same-sex marriage debate has caused for the mayor of a city populated by hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians, Bloomberg has authorized the city to recognize the same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere—such as in Canada or Massachusetts—of those spouses in the city who apply for certain benefits. Those benefits are mostly matters of public employment, such as the pensions and health care coverage of municipal employees’ partners.
Guerreiro’s appearance alongside Bloomberg on Tuesday signified the importance that Log Cabin Republicans have placed on helping the mayor defeat his prospective Democratic opponent.
New York is one of the few states where the Log Cabin members can expect a genuine invitation from GOP office seekers to lend support in a re-election fight. In last year’s presidential contest, amidst the divisive national debate unleashed after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, Log Cabin declined to endorse Pres. George W. Bush after the Republican began to actively push for the passage of a constitutional amendment that seeks to outlaw same-sex marriage.
Earlier this month, when the GOP state committee voted to give Log Cabin a seat on the executive committee, in keeping with Gov. George Pataki’s “big tent” approach to gay and lesbian voters, State Sen. Serphin Maltese, the Queens chairman, accused the group of disloyalty to Bush, but was overruled by party leaders.
The group has been outspoken in its support of same-sex marriage and its opposition to the various federal and state laws and amendments recently enacted that outlaw gay marriage.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Bloomberg touted his administration’s achievements in lowering crime, bolstering the city’s post-September 11 economy, improving the city’s public schools and fostering a tolerance of diversity. Concluding his address, Bloomberg did not take questions from the press and strode the short distance to Gracie Mansion, where attendees for the gay pride event were already lining up.
Bloomberg’s remarks also included a reference to the administration’s allocation of “millions of dollars in additional funding for communities of color HIV-prevention efforts, this year and every year.”
On Wednesday, Stu Loeser, a Bloomberg campaign official, said that the remark was a reference to a December allocation of $5 million in “base-lined” funds, meaning dollars annually earmarked within the city’s operating budget, to the “department of health’s general budget.” Later in the afternoon, after a series of telephone calls and e-mail messages seeking clarification of the allocation, a department of health spokeswoman, Sandra Mullin, confirmed that the funds were base-lined. When asked, however, how the city had specifically allocated the money—to community-based groups or for health department administrative costs—in fiscal year 2005, which ends on June 30, Mullin asked for time to obtain an answer and call back.
In a later e-mail message, Mullin wrote that the $5 million is intended for fiscal year 2006 and that RFPs, or requests for proposals, from the city to community-based AIDS services organizations are “to go out next month,” meaning in July, an apparent delay in what is often a time-consuming process of selecting contractors for city funds.
The $5 million is a fraction of the city’s nearly $170 million budget for AIDS AIDS services, which includes everything from HIV testing to providing life-saving medications. However, because it comes from the city’s operating budget, health officials have discretion to spend the money as they deem necessary, free of the regulatory strictures imposed on, for example, the expenditure of Ryan White federal funds, which comprise $122 of the city’s AIDS budget.
Housing Works, a large AIDS service provider that regularly contracts with the city, stands to potentially earn a portion of the $5 million. (The organization recently won a $5 million federal legal settlement in a free speech lawsuit it had filed against the Giuliani administration, with whose officials the organization frequently clashed.) Terri Smith-Caronia, the organization’s director of city public policy, said that the confusion about the $5 million allocation raises serious questions. “Baseline money would come out in March, not July,” said Smith-Caronia, who said that politics, not health-care priorities, seemed to be at the root of the allocation conundrum.
At the same time, Smith-Caronia praised Bloomberg for his pragmatic leadership in fighting AIDS. “Eighty percent of the city’s HIV-positive population is made up of people of color,” she said, so the administration’s collaboration with minority-led community-based organizations is essential. “I give him an A on the syringe exchange program,” said Smith-Caronia, adding that the administration’s involvement in assuaging Queens residents, concerned about the program’s location in their neighborhoods, was instrumental in helping to lower the HIV infection rate among injecting drug users. “I give him an A on being willing to step forward and say this is what needs to be done” in providing rapid testing of Riker’s Island inmates, said Smith-Caronia. At the same time, added the policy expert, “Bloomberg is myopic” because he does not understand that “just giving someone the cocktail of medicines—which can have very debilitating side effects—is not the total solution of the problem to AIDS sufferers who have other very pressing needs caused by the disease.”
On Tuesday, to signal his commitment to his marriage pledge, Bloomberg’s office notified the Empire State Pride Agenda, the statewide gay lobby, that the administration had facilitated the approval by the City University of New York of health benefits for a gay Queens College employee’s partner whom he married in Canada in May.
The Forest Hills residents—Robert Pisano, the college employee, and his spouse, John Thomsen—were already registered as domestic partners, but, as Pisano related in a telephone conversation, when Thomsen lost his job last year and was without health care coverage, college officials told Pisano that Thomsen would need to wait until November for coverage. Fearing for his spouse’s welfare, said Pisano, the two decided to get married and petition City Hall for help.
Early in June, Anthony Crowell, special counsel to Bloomberg, forwarded a corporation counsel opinion to a CUNY vice chancellor supporting the gay men’s application. The CUNY system is not under city governance, but the city does have some funding oversight over the system’s community colleges, which does not include Queens College.
Apparently, because of their domestic partnership status, CUNY had already decided to grant Thomsen benefits, for which Crowell expressed gratitude in the letter to the CUNY official.
“Oh, yes, I am pleased,” said Pisano, adding, “Mr. Crowell was calling me every other day” with updates, he said.
According to Rita Rodin, a CUNY spokeswoman, Pisano and Thomsen are the first gay married couple to apply for such benefits.