Why I support Randy Mastro for corporation counsel

Randy Mastro.
Randy Mastro.
Ben Brachfeld

I have been an advocate for human rights around the world for the past four decades and even wrote my law school thesis on gay people and the freedom to marry. As founder and president of Freedom to Marry, I led the victorious decades-long campaign to win marriage for same-sex couples in the United States, and prior to that, worked at Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund helming its Marriage Project and National Freedom to Marry Coalition. And I am a New Yorker.

So when I learned that Mayor Adams wants to nominate Randy Mastro to become the City’s Corporation Counsel, heading its 800-lawyer Law Department, I was thrilled. After all, Randy has been a partner and supporter in that decades-long campaign. But since then, some on the City Council responsible for confirming the nomination have expressed reservations, without ever having met him, that he served in the Giuliani administration. I was and am, to put it mildly, no admirer of Giuliani or his administration, but I do enthusiastically support Randy Mastro, whom I have known for more than four decades — including when he was deputy mayor doing groundbreaking work to expand the rights of same-sex couples. Here’s why: 

Randy and I met in college. But we first really worked together in the early 1990s as young lawyers on a mission—to win the freedom to marry for same-sex couples throughout the United States. By then, Randy was a junior partner at Gibson Dunn, and I was working at Lambda Legal. At that early stage in our campaign, national LGBT legal groups such as Lambda Legal were assessing which states presented the best opportunities for securing the freedom to marry — as well as opportunities for smaller building-block advances such as civil union or domestic partnership. Randy oversaw teams of Gibson Dunn lawyers helping us at Lambda Legal pro bono assess whether to bring an early test case in New Jersey — we ultimately decided to hold off there until later — and to research the law in Hawaii and Vermont, which were the states that delivered our first significant stepping-stones toward winning nationwide. The foundational research and prep Randy and his team did were instrumental in preparing Lambda Legal to move forward in those states, as well as critical New Jersey litigation a few years down the road as our strategy advanced. 

In 1994, Randy joined the Giuliani administration — ultimately serving as New York City’s deputy mayor — taking his considerable legal skills and energy to city government. Even in what was (again, to put it mildly) a challenging city administration, Randy remained committed to progress for same-sex couples and used his public role to help us make gains. Just before departing as deputy mayor in mid-1998, he shepherded through the City Council the most sweeping domestic partnership law in the country at the time, expanding on a settlement we had won in the Gay Teachers case I litigated during the Dinkins administration, providing couples, including same-sex couples, the same city-level protections as married couples. As The New York Times reported at the time, even before legislation was proposed, Randy had “already quietly begun to change the rules and regulations of city agencies to insure equal treatment for registered domestic partners.” In its editorial endorsement, entitled “Equality for Domestic Partners,” The New York Times proclaimed that the administration “has offered enlightened legislation to make registered domestic partners, whether heterosexual or homosexual, equal to married spouses under all New York City government rules and policies. . . . It stands to become one of the finer legacies of this administration.”

Such a step forward in NYC, at an early point in our campaign (years before we had won the freedom to marry in any state), helped propel our cause and, of course, also made a concrete difference in the lives of New Yorkers. It mattered, too, that passage of the legislation was accomplished in a Republican administration, enabling us to keep making the case that ending exclusion and discrimination need not be partisan. Without doubt, it was Randy’s perseverance and skill that made it possible. 

Upon returning to Gibson Dunn, Randy renewed his pro bono legal work advocating for gay rights and same-sex couples, and we had another opportunity to team up. When I argued the Boy Scouts of America v. Dale case in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a young man and lifelong scout thrown out simply because he is gay, Randy was there to support our cause pro bono. He deftly assembled several school boards around the country (including the NYC Board of Education) and filed an amicus brief advocating that the Boy Scouts’ discrimination against James Dale was illegal and violated the conditions under which the Boy Scouts were permitted to use public school properties. Randy was so committed that he even wrote a law review article on the case, taking the opportunity as well to argue for the right of same-sex couples to marry under New Jersey law. Again, this was at a time when our cause remained highly controversial, years before we first succeeded in getting same-sex couples married, years before we got the Scouts to change their discriminatory policy.

Down the road, as the freedom to marry strategy advanced, Randy was also part of Gibson Dunn’s management when the firm brought a challenge that led to the overturning of Prop 8, the 2008 California measure that stripped away the freedom to marry from couples in that state. The California litigation added more points to the board (and, of course, made an enormous difference in many people’s lives), fueling the momentum for our campaign and strategy, which led to nationwide victory in 2015.

In other words, Randy was there early, consistently, creatively, and helpfully, on the frontlines of the work to end discrimination against gay people and same-sex couples for over three decades, often under difficult circumstances (political and otherwise). I have not always agreed with Randy or some of the positions he has defended, but have always found Randy to be smart, effective, and open to different perspectives and needs — a person of integrity committed to good government and real results.

Randy remains committed to the work we have done together and the work still needed. He made significant contributions to it, and I am proud of him for his help, skill, and heartfelt commitment. Our movement’s progress so far, as well as the urgent work still at hand, depends on enlisting partners who care and bring their talents and passion, in various positions, to the cause. Randy has been one of those partners, and I am happy to support him now. He would be a very effective corporation counsel, an honest advisor, and an important and valuable engine of accomplishment for our City.

 * Evan Wolfson founded and led Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage for same-sex couples. He now advises and assists other causes and countries seeking to adapt the elements of success to diverse important goals.