Saturday, October 31, 2009
Victor, Oscar, Thomas, Edward!
This Tuesday is Election Day in America, and those four guys in the title of this post spell VOTE, which is exactly what you need to do. Voting is one of the most important things you do as an American citizen, and voting is still the most powerful expression of your voice in the affairs of our government. Last year, voters made history in electing Barack Obama to the Presidency, amid the greatest voter turnout of the past 50 years. We in the LGBT community are now seeing benefits from that election, as just a few days ago, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Act into law, granting federal hate-crimes protections to gays and lesbians. Obama became the first President to sign legislation specifically for the LGBT community, because YOU, the voter, put him in the White House to do it.
It's worth remembering that President Obama began his political career at the local level, as a Chicago community organizer. This bears out the oft-repeated (and little-noted) maxim that all politics are local. City Councilmen become State Senators, State Senators become Governors and Congressmen, Governors and Congressmen go on to become Presidents and high Cabinet officials. It all starts at the local level, which is why those seemingly "boring" local elections are of critical importance. The LGBT community in particular is dependent on local elections, especially in New York City, where four LGBT candidates are in the running for City Council seats. I will focus on the NYC election here, but wherever you live, it's always important to vote every year. Elect the candidate of your choice, as is your right.
New Yorkers are voting for most of the major Citywide offices, as well as City Council seats in Districts 1 through 18, or one-third of the Council. Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R-UES) is running for a third term, something only Mayor Koch and the legendary Fiorello LaGuardia have accomplished. LaGuardia is widely considered to be the greatest of all the NYC mayors, (he was offered a chance for a fourth term, but demurred) and both his and Koch's tenure evoked the qualities of the "quintessential New York City mayor". Despite two referendums retaining term limits, Bloomberg used the power of his high office and masive wealth to cajole the City Council into revising the New York City Charter to repeal term limits. He is opposed by NYC Controller Bill Thompson (D-Harlem).
Thompson, the city's chief fiscal officer since 2001, is running on a platform which, like his opponent's, includes a strong plank of support for LGBT community issues. However, the record shows Thompson has demonstrated a greater level of involvement and commitment with the gays and lesbians of the city. He is a frequent speaker at marches and rallies against homophobic violence, and lobbies City Hall for greater City support of the LGBT community. This is in sharp contrast to Mayor Bloomberg, who, while he has advocated legalizing gay marriage and marched in the Heritage Of Pride Parade, has been conspicuously absent from other LGBT rallies, marches and functions. Both Bloomberg and Thompson have not yet stated their position on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or on the afotementioned Shepard-Byrd Act. As of this writing, Thompson was said to be enjoying a 17-point lead among gays and lesbians, over Bloomberg on these and other issues of the day. Mayor Bloomberg, however, has a 15-point lead over Thompson citywide. Other Mayoral candidates on the ballot include Stephen Christopher (C-Park Slope), Francisca Villar (Socialist Liberal, West Fordham), Dan Fein (Socialist Workers, Inwood), Billy Talen (Green-Coney Island), Jimmy McMillan (Rent Is Too High, Bed-Stuy), and Joseph Dobrian, Libertarian, Kip's Bay).
The number-two office in NYC government is that of the Public Advocate. In the event that the Mayor dies or cannot fulfill his duties, the Public Advocate becomes mayor, until a mayoral election can be held. The Public Advocate is your watchdog in City Hall. Acting as a kind of ombudsman, his or her job is to call attention to issues raised by New Yorkers, and make sure the city fathers address them in a timely and correct fashion. The candidates running for Public advocate this year from the major parties are Bill De Blasio (D-Park Slope)and Alex Zablocki (R-Great Kills). Both candidates indicate strong support for such crucial issues as mass-transit improvements, strengthening the Rent Control Board, and better funding for the Police and Fire Departments. On other city issues, such as Charter reform and accountability of City officials, the candidates differ along Party lines. DeBlasio has been a consistent LGBT supporter, and is well-known for his efforts as a City Council member in pushing for greater recognition of LGBT rights, as well as better housing and senior-citizen care. Zablocki's record on LGBT issues is less clear, but he "maintains a concern for the rights and freedoms of all New Yorkers."
The final citywide office on the 2009 ballot is for Controller, the city's chief accountant. The Controller manages funding for all of the city's departments and agencies, oversees municipal bond issues, and advises the Mayor and City Council on the fiscal health of the City. With sums running into the hundreds of billions of dollars, the monster New York City budget is bigger than that of many states, and some small countries. Competing for election to this daunting task are City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) and longtime securities analyst Joe Mendola (R-Greenwich Village). Councilman Liu is a vocal proponent of fiscal reform in lean economic times, and has been pushing for greater frugality in City spending while representing Flushing in the City Council. His GOP opponent Mendola brings the experience of his long career in finance to bear in addressing the City's fiscal woes. The Controller's office is a critical post in City government, because this office affects everything the City does, from the price of a subway ride to the functioning of city services we all depend on. It's not a race to be taken lightly.
Other major elections on the New York City ballot include five judgeships in The Bronx, the Bronx Borough President, and 18 City Council races. It should also be noted that participation in government is not limited to voting. We are the government, and running for public office is also available to us. In City Council District 8 (Spanish Harlem), incumbent Melissa Mark-Veverito (D-Harlem) is running unopposed. While she boasts an excellent record representing her District, the fact that she runs alone points to a lack of interest in political affairs in that area. That's a shame, because when we don't vote, run for office, or otherwise pay attention to who is in our government and what it is doing, we often end up with the government we don't want. On Tuesday, get over to the polls and cast your vote, no matter where you live. Your government arises out of your choices, so don't let others make that decision for you!