Mayor Adams and the Parable of the “Simple Book of Matches”

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Christopher Lynn.
Andy Humm

Some recent posts by the veritable Stonewall Democratic Club and former Speaker Christine Quinn have prompted me to reply not simply as a member of the LGBTQ community but as a long-time activist who has the scars to prove it. I must note that I was a candidate for City Council in 1999 against others including Christine Quinn, and both a founding member of the Stonewall Democratic Club and former president. One advantage of being seasoned is that years spent in the trenches provides a perspective in the interpretation of current events. Not so much like Burke, “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” but more like Proust, in search of lost time.

Let us revisit history and in particular the time period of May 2010 in Albany. The New York Court of Appeals had decided in favor of Mayor Michael Bloomberg against our community that same-sex marriage was illegal in New York State. That right must originate with legislation. The Assembly responded with alacrity and enacted this right, but the Senate was a different story. Despite heroic efforts by many, it died in the State Senate. Our legal options were to marry in Connecticut. But other rights, such as stepparents’ adoption, were far from certain. My adoption of my husband’s biological child stalled. It took seven years and was only after Governor Cuomo pushed through the 2011 law that the Court approved it.

At the Empire State Pride Agenda Annual dinner in May 2010, the keynote speeches were uneventful except for a brilliant presentation by then-State Senator and now Mayor Eric Adams. I had known him since his stint as the head of 100 Black Men in Law Enforcement because his attorney, Kenneth Ramseur, was mine as well. He was well known by then as a forceful, charismatic, fearless legislator. His speech that night was astounding. I urge everyone to listen to it. Sensing the lugubrious mood of the crowd, Senator Adams used the occasion to tell a story about his actions to help a stalled motorist one night on the Belt Parkway. The motorist was on the side of the arterial, unable to move. He needed a boost because his battery was dead. Inside his car was his wife and young child. Adams, always the cop, rushed to get his jumper cables, and together the two men sought to attach the cables. But it was pitch black. They relied upon a simple book of matches for light. Not all the matches lit. Some were duds. Some blew out immediately. Thankfully there were sufficient matches which burned long enough that their cumulative efforts allowed sufficient illumination and the correct attachment of the cables. Adams told the crowd that they needed to be like the matches who burned brightly and illuminated the night, even though their tenure was brief. Life is also brief. Resolve to be like those who used their time here to burn brightly, and let the next ones take up the task. Ignore the duds or the ones which blow out quickly. Don’t get distracted by them. How brilliant.

Our mayor is running our city, accepting total responsibility. He has appointed many to assist his task. I can assure you, having been appointed by a former mayor to run two city agencies, that appointees are not put there to exercise their own independent judgments about policy. They are instructed to follow the policy which he sets. Period. Given that, how can any fair-minded person believe that this Mayor is “not acting like a friend to the LBTGQ community?” Who cares what these appointees think about marriage equality, or anything else? Do you believe for one moment that the state senator who stood with us, so brilliantly, when we lost the battle in 2010, would entertain for a second any hurtful or hateful behavior of any appointees? Is it possible that any of his appointees will exercise independent judgment or any matter of policy which negatively impacts us? Really? Are these critiques fair to this man?

Ask yourself what kind of a match are you? Are you one who blows out quickly or a dud? Or are you a match which uses their allotted brief time here to light the dark, leaving the next to pick up the challenge? Or are you the match which sets fire to everything which you dislike or who “doesn’t act like a friend?” Can we as a community accept the challenge articulated by the mayor to ignore the duds, and instead commit our brief lights to illuminate?

Christopher Lynn is the former legal counsel for the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights and former attorney for Dignity NY and ACT UP. He is a former president of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City and former vice president of Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats.

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