Ross Levi Responds to His Ouster

In a written statement released on March 6, Ross Levi, the former executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda ousted the evening before in a telephone meeting of the organization’s lobbying/ political action and educational foundation boards (first reported in Gay City News), sounded a determinedly upbeat tone, emphasizing his accomplishments in a dozen years with ESPA, just under two of them at the helm.

“From the Hate Crimes Law and SONDA [Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act], to the Dignity for All Students Act and marriage equality, and with over 60 other governmental achievements in between, I am extremely proud of my 12-year tenure with the Pride Agenda, and the work I did as Executive Director,” he wrote. “I am pleased that because of the successes I helped the organization achieve in 2011, including record-setting special events and fundraising income that well exceeded our budget, the Pride Agenda has the capacity to continue serving as the strong statewide LGBT organization that New York needs. I am hopeful about its future successes, and look forward to pursuing the next chapter of my professional life.”

Though ESPA’s top board leaders, Louis Bradbury and Marla Hassner, hours after Levi’s dismissal, declined to discuss the reasons for that decision, saying “The Pride Agenda does not comment on personnel matters,” two other board members, who were involved in the telephone meeting at which the firing was approved but requested anonymity, told Gay City News that dissatisfaction with the group’s fundraising was an important factor in the deliberations.

Levi attached a biography to his written statement underscoring what he accomplished at ESPA, where he served as legislative counsel from 2000 until 2003, director of public policy and governmental affairs from 2004 to 2006, and director of public policy and education from 2007 to 2010.

He was named executive director on May 22, 2010 as the permanent replacement for Alan Van Capelle, who resigned in the wake of the unsuccessful State Senate marriage equality vote in December 2009, when advocates fell short by a startling 38-24 vote. Announcement of his selection came one day after the sudden withdrawal of the expected hire, Brian Ellner, who later joined the Human Rights Campaign as that group’s marriage equality director in New York State.

“Ross was involved in every state governmental victory ever achieved by the Pride Agenda, including most recently New York’s marriage equality law, which doubled the number of Americans able to marry the person they love,” read the biography, which in addition to marriage equality, SONDA, and the Hate Crimes Law, listed, among his accomplishments “making the state’s 9/11 relief inclusive of same-sex couples; guaranteeing domestic partners hospital visitation, legal authority over a loved one’s bodily remains, access to Family Court and medical decision making authority; and securing over $50 million of funding for LGBT health and human services.”

Hassner acknowledged Levi’s role in the group’s victories since 2000 in her comments to Gay City News, saying he “has had a lasting positive impact on LGBT people across New York State.”

Levi’s biography continued, “Ross was also part of the passage of many other state and local ordinances, regulations and Executive Orders affecting New York’s LGBT community, including the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in state employment.”

Enactment of a statewide transgender rights law, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), has been bottled up in the State Senate for years.

Before joining ESPA, Levi was the legislative director for Brooklyn State Senator Nellie Santiago, a Democrat. While working toward his 1997 law degree from Brooklyn Law School, he interned with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Office of Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, Judge David G. Trager of the Eastern District of New York, and the Civil Rights Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.

Levi served on the board of the New York Civil Liberties Union Capital Region Chapter and was a member of the transition teams for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Levi said he would make no further comment at this time, but might be prepared to do so in the near future.