A pornographic would-be campaign mailer of mysterious origins represents the latest in a series of antigay attacks against the New York State Republican senators who voted for the marriage equality bill and are seeking re-election in contests considered crucial to the growing national momentum for the issue.
Politico first reported on the piece circulated by email that accuses Sen. Mark Grisanti of being a “political whore” for accepting “over $750,000” in contributions from marriage equality advocates. The mailer asks, “How far will a politician go to get in your pants?” and says, "Make sure your Son [sic] says, 'Thank you, Mark Grisanti” in a suggestion of reciprocation.
No one in the Buffalo district represented by Grisanti has reported receiving the piece by land mail, but the emailed piece says it was paid for by the “Committee to Save the Erie County Republican Party.” BuzzFeed, which posted the graphic mailer, identified the sole member of the “committee” as Matthew Ricchiazzi, a failed local mayoral candidate. The images used in the mailer were attributed to gay porn studio Corbin Fisher.
Ricchiazzi has not responded to requests for comment, but Buffalo insiders contacted by The Advocate described him as a young attention-seeker with a reputation for holding political grudges. He has identified as gay and was involved with a previous Grisanti campaign but was let go because of erratic behavior. The dismissal angered Ricchiazzi.
“I consider him less than stable,” said longtime gay rights activist Kitty Lambert-Rudd. “I consider him not a particularly viable person whose information I would want to lean on or listen to. Anybody who actually works in politics here dismisses him as being a little bit unstable. I have not known him to be associated with any actual, real, existing group other than his committee of one.”
Grisanti is one of three Republican state senators who voted for the marriage equality law last year facing a primary challenge from the right this Thursday. His opponent, Kevin Stocker, has avoided stating a clear position on the issue and instead stuck to criticizing Grisanti for evolving in his views. The senator did not announce his vote in advance, but he gave a floor speech in which he said, “I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage.”
Senators Roy McDonald and Stephen Saland face more demonstrative primary challengers. The National Organization for Marriage sent a mailer against McDonald last week that accuses him of “arrogance, broken promises … and political payoffs” and trumpets the “pro-family economic policies” of his opponent, Kathy Marchione. James Alesi, the fourth Republican senator who voted for marriage equality, announced earlier this year that he planned to retire.
Ricchiazzi appears to have acted alone against Grisanti in Buffalo, but observers would not rule out the possibility that he created the mailer in concert with or under the direction of another individual or group.
In the Poughkeepsie-area district of Senator Saland, thousands of voters have received at least four mailers paid for by his opponent, Neil Di Carlo, which were obtained by The Advocate. The challenger claims he will “work tirelessly to restore the institution of marriage to its rightful place,” while he says the incumbent provided “the deciding vote on homosexual ‘marriage.’”
Three of the mailers depict Saland as a “puppet” of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and say that he received contributions from the mayor, the “liberal gay mafia,” and “Fistgate” Kevin Jennings. Antigay groups had attacked the former Obama appointee with false charges about his work as founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.
A fourth mailer depicts Saland as a small child holding the hands of his “two daddies,” Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who spearheaded the marriage equality push, under the caption, “New York’s Modern Political Family.” The mailer seems to veer into anti-Semitic territory, with Saland, who is Jewish, wearing what appears to be a rainbow yarmulke.
Advocates have prioritized the races in New York because of the signal the senators’ fates will send to other lawmakers around the country. Almost 200 Republican state lawmakers have expressed support for marriage equality legislation nationwide and none has lost a seat yet for that reason.