On Wednesday I wrote about a meeting taking place last night at the LGBT Community Services Center and hosted by Latino Gay Men of New York, one of the oldest Latino gay organizations in the country. The topic was city politics and the invited guests were members of the Out People of Color Political Action Club (OutPOCPAC) - of which I am a proud member - and former Manhattan Borough President candidates Margarita Lopez and Brian Ellner. OutPOCPAC was the first LGBT political club to endorse Fernando Ferrer during the primaries; both Brian and Margarita had recently announced that they were endorsing current Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
Considering the amount of flak that has been directed at both Margarita and Brian for endorsing a Mayor who has appealed a decision granting marriage rights to same-sex couples in New York; vetoed the Equal Benefits Bill which would require that businesses with a budget of $100,000 and above provide insurance to same-sex partners of their employees if they also do for heterosexual couples; and vetoed the Dignity for All Students Act, which would require schools to monitor harrassment against youth who are or appear to be gay, I was a little skeptical that either of them would accept the invitation.
So give Margarita credit for showing up: During almost an hour, she spoke about the mayoral race, her Bloomberg endorsement, her relationship with Ferrer, her thoughts on proposition 1 and proposition 2 and recent news of an ongoing battle between Margarita and the Campaign Finance Board. Alas, it was off the record and I cannot give details of the conversation.
What I will say is that members of the group, though respectful, were not necessarily receptive to the reasons she gave for endorsing Bloomberg.
I do know that - as this is the last City Council term for Margarita - we are losing a progressive representative who staunchly fought for the improvement of the Lower East Side, which she represented; who sought and got increaced funding for HIV prevention services; who was instrumental in quickly mobilizing the city council to approve emergency funds for crystal meth use awareness and prevention for gay men in this city; and stood up to other members in the city council who did not move quickly to censure the sexual misconduct of one of its members.
Personally, I was grateful for her support in the work I have done on the issue of marriage rights for same-sex couples. On March 4th, 2004, as news of the Massachussetts decision allowing same-sex couples to marry began to have a national impact, Margarita joined us for a Latinos Against a Constitutional Amendment press conference at City Hall. Aware that some Latino political leaders might be weary of advocating for the issue, we were asking them to support marriage rights or, if they were not able to, at least to denounce President Bush's intent to push an amendment to the constitution (I believe it was the first Latino specific response in the country). Well, Margarita not only vouchered for the right to marry but pushed powerful New York State Assemblymember Peter Rivera from the Bronx (chair of the statewide legislative Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force) to also take a stand in favor of same-sex marriage.
I still remember how she took over the press conference and announced that she would be seeking a City Council appointment as a "marriage officer" that same day and, if granted, pledged to start officiating weddings. Then she proceeded to lead speakers, on-lookers and press to the City Council offices where nobody knew what do do with her request.
So, while I know that certain friends are hurt and surprised that Margarita might have endorsed Mike Bloomberg, it is hard for me to feel angry with her when she got such a raw deal during her failed campaign for Manhattan Borough President and when her work as a City Council member will leave lasting benefits for the community in general.
The one thing I regreted last night is that, although she did take some hard questions from group members and responded just as candidly, she did not stay to hear the other side argue their reasons to support Fernando Ferrer.