N.Y. State Senator Loses Big to Pro-Gay Opponent Tarred as Tool of Rich Gays
In what’s seen as a victory for GLBT equality advocates, disgraced former New York state senator Hiram Monserrate lost his March 16 bid to win a special election that would have returned him to the seat he lost when the state senate voted to expel him.
Monserrate became the first New York state senator in eight decades to be expelled in the aftermath of a domestic violence incident involving his former girlfriend. The expulsion triggered the special election, which Monserrate hoped would install him once more among state lawmakers. However, the election became more about civil rights than Monserrate’s behavior when a new political action committee dedicated to removing lawmakers who initially pledged to support marriage equality--and then voted against it--made Monserrate its first target.
Monserrate had voiced support for a bill that would have extended marriage rights to New York’s gay and lesbian families. But when, after many delays, and after being passed three times by the New York State Assembly, the bill finally came, the Senate voted the measure down. A number of no votes came from state senators who had pledged their support, including Monserrate.
When a new group, Fight Back New York, made the special election the first political campaign in its program of replacing lawmakers who had turned on marriage equality, Monserrate became more firmly anti-equality, aligning himself with local anti-gay pastors and campaigning on the issue of marriage for gays and lesbians. The sexuality of his opponent, the openly gay Assemblyman José R. Peralta, also became a campaign issue, with Monserrate calling Peralta the "puppet of rich gay fanatics."
But Monserrate’s campaign netted him only a few thousand votes, with Peralta cruising to victory in the March 16 election, reported The New York Times that same day.
Peralta was upbeat, telling supporters, ""Tonight we put an end to dysfunction" in a state government that has long been plagued with drama, discord, and scandal. Peralta, the article said, had institutional support from the local Democratic Party.
But the support Peralta received from Fight Back New York cannot be discounted. "Hiram Monserrate is one of the 38 State Senators who voted no on the marriage equality bill on December 2, 2009," text at the Web site of Empire State Pride Agenda, a New York-based GLBT equality organization, informed readers. "Not only did he vote no, but he broke his previous commitment to support marriage equality when it came to the Senate floor for a vote," the text continued.
"Monserrate was convicted last year of assaulting his girlfriend, which led to his recent expulsion from the State Senate. But now he’s running to try to get back into the Senate," the text added. "Our candidate in the March 16 Special Election is popular Assembly member Jose Peralta, who has consistently voted in favor of marriage equality, transgender civil rights and other important LGBT issues." The site went on to encourage readers to donate, declaring, "This is our first chance to replace an anti-LGBT Senator with a strong, pro-LGBT Senator. Every dollar that you contribute will go to making sure this shameful legislator does not return to the State Senate.
"Politicians who deny gays and lesbians basic equality should be thrown out of office, starting with convicted criminal Hiram Monserrate," said the Gill Action Fund’s Bill Smith, who is acting as an adviser to Fight Back New York, according to a New York Times article from Feb. 24.
At its web site, Fight Back New York declared, "Victory: One down, seven to go." Text posted on March 16 at the site went on to read, "Tonight we celebrate the defeat of Hiram Monserrate and the election of pro-equality Senator-elect Jose Peralta. Since we launched three weeks ago, Fight Back New York has been about you--you and hundreds of thousands of people across New York and the country who are tired of seeing LGBT New Yorkers treated like second-class citizens by the 38 State Senators who voted against marriage equality." Added the text, "This victory is yours."
At a grassroots level, too, sentiment against Monserrate was strong. A group of New Yorkers crashed Monserrate’s Christmas party last Dec. 22, to chants of, "Hiram thinks marriage consists of one man, one woman and a broken bottle." A leafleting campaign followed, with flyers reading ""Hiram Monserrate: Help me celebrate my first year anniversary of girlfriend slashing," and "I proudly voted to deny civil marriage rights to my gay (LGBT) constituents" being left on parked cars.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.