Melissa Sklarz to Lead Stonewall Dems

Melissa Sklarz to Lead Stonewall DemsMelissa Sklarz, a leader on transgender issues in the city and state as well as a Democratic activist on the national scene, was elected president of the Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC on February 22.

According to the club, it is the city’s largest LGBT political group, and Sklarz, who has served as a vice president there for the past three years, is the first transgender individual to lead it.

“I am honored to have been voted as president of the Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC,” Sklarz said in a written release. “Our work over the next year will include an appeal to younger liberals and progressives who want to see change on all levels of government, and to ensure New York does all it can to re-elect Barack Obama as president.”

In 2008, Sklarz was a co-chair of Obama Pride NYC, the LGBT group working for the president’s election here. She also served on the board of the National Stonewall Democrats for eight years, the last two as co-chair.

In New York, Sklarz worked with the Paterson administration to shape a 2010 executive order protecting the rights of transgender state employees. The former governor’s action came as the Legislature continued to block passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), an amendment to human rights law protecting transgender New Yorkers generally. Sklarz’s election at Stonewall portends a strong push by the club to get that job done.

The first transgender delegate from New York to a Democratic National Convention in 2004, she served on Manhattan’s Community Board 2 for six years and is a past president of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats.

With New York among Obama’s safest bets in 2012, Sklarz said the club would focus its presidential campaign efforts on volunteering in swing states –– particularly Pennsylvania, where the vote-rich Philadelphia metropolitan area is just over an hour away. The club would also work, she said, on efforts to defeat two freshman Republican congressmen –– Michael Grimm, who represents Staten Island and portions of Brooklyn, and Bob Turner, whose district straddles Brooklyn and Queens.

The candidacy of Matt Alexander, the out gay mayor of upstate Wappingers Falls, to challenge first-term GOP Congresswoman Nan Hayworth, is also on her radar, Sklarz said.

Democrats are hoping to regain control of the State Senate, and Sklarz said the first order of business is electing City Councilman Lew Fidler to hold the party’s seat in the Brooklyn district long represented by Carl Kruger, who resigned when convicted on corruption charges. The special election to replace Kruger is March 20.

She said the club would jump into any Democratic campaign to defeat longtime GOP incumbent State Senators Marty Golden of Brooklyn and Andrew Lanza of Staten Island, but conceded that there would not be any viable primary challenge to Bronx Democratic Senator Ruben Diaz, a fiery foe of LGBT rights.

Sklarz’s election is a break of sorts from recent tradition at Stonewall, where the leadership has coalesced around successful new candidates for president. Joe Hagelmann, who served for the past two years as president, had intended to seek reelection, but dropped out of the race when Sklarz informed him in January she intended to challenge him.

At that point, Fredy Kaplan, the club’s other vice president, jumped into the contest, and though Sklarz said she did not know the final vote tally, it was close, according to several sources.

Over the past year, Stonewall took a leading role in pushing for a living wage bill to guarantee a minimum wage and benefits package –– totaling $11.50 in the final version agreed to by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn –– for employees of businesses receiving city subsidies and tax breaks.

The club, after holding a forum on the issue, embraced the living wage campaign months before Quinn endorsed the concept; she signed on after extended negotiations about how tenants of businesses receiving subsidies would be treated under the law. Kaplan was a leader in Stonewall’s advocacy of the issue, and Sklarz told Gay City News she came on board after giving the issue “a lot of thought.”

Sklarz is a longtime ally of the Council speaker, whose mayoral campaign will certainly look to lock up the club’s endorsement next year to demonstrate the loyalty of her political base, but the new Stonewall president said Quinn’s team made no effort to persuade her to make her run. Sklarz’s term is for one year, ending in early 2013.