If there were any lingering doubts that the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City would back Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren for president, the loud cheers that erupted during her surrogate’s speech on January 22 drowned them out.
The pro-Warren mood in the room was palpable during the club’s 2020 presidential endorsement meeting, which gave the senator a boost in LGBTQ support in New York City less than two weeks before voters start caucusing in Iowa to kick off the Democratic primary season.
The club’s endorsement of Warren came during a busy week of presidential endorsements for New York City’s LGBTQ political clubs: The Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club voted to support Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on January 21, and the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn will endorse a candidate on January 23.
In total, surrogates spoke on behalf of seven presidential candidates — Warren, Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, out gay former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Bloomberg was the only candidate represented at the meeting who did not submit a response to the club’s questionnaire. Billionaire Tom Steyer responded to the questionnaire but did not send a surrogate to the meeting.
Nelini Stamp, a Warren surrogate who serves as strategy director for the Working Families Party, used her speech to touch on her candidate’s LGBTQ platform and to stress that the campaign is responsive to the concerns of queer Americans. She also said the candidate is “open” to decriminalizing sex work.
“What I love about her is she sits down and listens to activists,” Stamp said. “When her LGBTQ plan came out, people did criticize it and she called the people on her phone to get input and she modified her plan.”
Stamp fielded questions from the audience, including one about Warren’s willingness to compromise on issues like healthcare after she backed down from her pledge to support single-payer Medicare for All as an immediate priority.
Stamp defended Warren, saying that the candidate is “dealing with realities of the situation that we have” and that she appreciates that her candidate has back-up plans.
Brooklyn City Councilmember Rafael Espinal spoke on behalf of the Sanders campaign and was joined by fellow Councilmember Helen Rosenthal of Manhattan, who did not speak at the meeting but has endorsed the Vermont senator. Espinal pointed to Sanders’ long track record of supporting LGBTQ rights, citing his work as mayor of Burlington and his votes against the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in 1993 and the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. He also argued that Medicare for All would be important for LGBTQ Americans who are living with HIV/ AIDS and others who are in need of medication and healthcare services.
Questions for the Sanders campaign included one about how he would be able to push his progressive policies through Congress. Espinal responded by noting that Sanders is championing causes like Medicare for All that have become far more popular in recent years among Americans. That strong public support, in Espinal’s view, would increase the likelihood that federal lawmakers would vote in favor of the policies.
Some other candidates’ surrogates were bombarded with questions about their respective campaigns. Christopher Gonzalez, a longtime staffer of Michael Bloomberg who attended as a surrogate for the former New York City mayor’s presidential campaign, opened up by describing Bloomberg as a “pragmatic and thoughtful executive” and explaining that the campaign is preparing to roll out a “robust” platform on LGBTQ issues.
But the questions came — and they came aggressively. Gonzalez was asked about Bloomberg being late to support marriage equality (after appealing a 2005 ruling in its favor by a Manhattan judge), his squashing of the Occupy Wall Street movement by ousting protestors from Zuccotti Park in 2011, and his police department’s role in arresting roughly 1,800 protestors at the GOP convention in New York City in 2004. Most of those charges were later dropped.
Gonzalez was reluctant to offer direct responses to Bloomberg’s record on same-sex marriage, saying only that the candidate’s “comprehensive” plan would “hopefully address those concerns.” He declined to comment on the questions about Occupy Wall Street and the 2004 GOP convention.
Asa Pace, a non-binary individual who represented the Buttigieg campaign, read from the statement their candidate submitted as part of his questionnaire before explaining why they believe the former South Bend mayor is dedicated to addressing the broad range of issues facing the community. When Pace was asked why Buttigieg has not drawn support from diverse communities, they cast blame on the media and argued that news outlets have “put a label” on him “that he has a black problem.”
“It’s like they don’t care,” Pace said. “It’s all they want to talk about.”
Biden surrogate Henry R. Muñoz III said he worked “behind the scenes” with the former vice president on marriage equality and recalled Biden telling him that same-sex marriage “is only a step.” He praised Biden for participating in Stonewall 50 festivities, elaborated on his platform on queer issues, and highlighted the importance of defeating President Donald Trump — even if it is a different candidate than Biden.
Stonewall board member Taylor Shubert represented Klobuchar and drew applause when he said the Minnesota senator “has pledged to get rid of Betsy DeVos,” Trump’s controversial education secretary. Shubert touted his candidate’s record and platform on LGBTQ issues and explained that she is a “unifier” who, as president, would be “changing the culture and changing the tone of our politics, and that includes educating other people about people’s gender identities.”
Carson Tueller, a policy advisor for the Yang campaign, argued that his candidate is the only one in the race addressing the issues that led to Trump’s victory in 2016 and lauded Yang’s universal basic income plan.
Stonewall members who spoke to Gay City News after the meeting heaped praise on Warren as the candidate they believe is best suited to take on Trump.
“She has a track record of helping working people,” said John Simonian of Woodside, Queens. “I think she comes across more forcefully than other candidates. She articulates a vision people can unite behind.”
Zak Hoss, who lives in Brooklyn, said he originally supported California Senator Kamala Harris before she dropped out of the race. He recently narrowed his choices to Warren and Sanders, and said that ultimately Warren won him over.
“I want her as my president because I want a woman,” he said. “I came personally from India, where we believe in women. I think she is the most qualified at the moment.”
In a written release, the Jim Owles Club explained its endorsement saying, “We believe Sanders is keeping with our progressive ideals and represents the greatest hope for true change that we have seen in decades.”