New York governor George Pataki's efforts to win the endorsement of Empire State Pride Agenda, New York State's largest gay and lesbian advocacy group, unexpectedly backfired Thursday evening as the group's leadership rebuffed a tacit election-eve deal, according to Newsday. The Pataki campaign had arranged for New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to deliver a pledge that the Republican-controlled state senate would this year pass legislation to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
Pataki, eager for ESPA's endorsement, has proposed the bill for two years but has not been able to get it through the senate. ESPA's leadership had withheld endorsement unless it passed. Thursday night, at the organization's annual dinner, the leaders had been prepared to consider endorsing Pataki if senate majority leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) publicly promised to pass the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act this year.
"Senator Bruno and I talked again this very afternoon, and without overstepping my bounds, based on that conversation, I will tell you that SONDA will be passed in the next session," Bloomberg said.
But as Bloomberg continued, saying that "victory is at hand, and it's due in large measure to the advocacy and leadership of Gov. George Pataki," he was interrupted by jeers from the crowd. "You want these things?" Bloomberg asked, departing from his speech. "He's the one who is getting it done."
Afterward, ESPA executive director Matt Foreman said, "It's not enough. We need a clear, unequivocal statement from the majority leader." Foreman said that if the group did not get a promise of passage by January 1, not only would the group not endorse Pataki but next year it would abandon its strategy of "constructive" lobbying in Albany.
Pataki spokesman Michael McKeon expressed surprise that Bloomberg had not said the legislation would be passed by year's end. "We remain hopeful that the senate will pass it this year," he said.
At the same event, state comptroller H. Carl McCall, the Democratic candidate for governor, tried to redirect attention to his campaign. McCall questioned the depth of Pataki's commitment to gay rights. "I've seen the destructive nature of bigotry and discrimination firsthand," said McCall, who is African-American, linking the treatment of African-Americans to the experiences of gays and lesbians. To widespread applause, he said, "Well, let me tell you, George Pataki, if you haven't done this in the last eight years, why should anybody in this room think you will do it next year?"