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N.Y. Leaders Question Endorsement Pace

N.Y. Leaders Question Endorsement Pace


Gay leaders from Queens, N.Y., have expressed frustration with the statewide advocacy group for not including state senate candidate Lynn Nunes in its first round of endorsements this week. The marriage-equality advocate is challenging state senator Shirley Huntley, a Democrat who voted against the marriage-equality bill last year.

Attention is riveted on state senate races in New York, where Democrats hold a slim 32-30 majority. Compared to the state assembly, where Democrats hold a strong majority, the narrowly divided senate has stood in the way of the equality agenda, including the high-profile defeat of the marriage-equality bill in December and a senate committee's rejection of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act last month.

Five of the 38 state senators who voted against the marriage-equality bill hail from Queens, including Huntley, the incumbent Democrat being challenged by Nunes. Community leaders view the race in the 10th senate district, encompassing southern Queens, as their single opportunity to affect the primary election season. Among the other four no votes from the borough, Sen. Hiram Monserrate has been defeated, Sen. George Onorato retired, Sen. Joseph Addabbo has no primary challenger, and Sen. Frank Padavan, a Republican, will face a marriage equality advocate in the general election in November.

"It really is a strange dynamic what happened here," said out New York City councilmember Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights, who has endorsed Nunes. "We have the second largest delegation in the assembly to vote for marriage equality. Our problem is with the senate, and this is the only race where we can have an effect this primary season."

Given the urgency, Dromm and other gay leaders were surprised to see that Nunes did not make the cut in the first round of endorsements announced by the Empire State Pride Agenda this week. The coveted endorsement could help Nunes, who is straight, build legitimacy among gay voters, raise money, and attract campaign volunteers in the weeks leading up to the September 12 primary, where every day counts. By comparison, the Pride Agenda did endorse Charlie Ramos, the upstart challenger to state senator Ruben Diaz Sr., the notoriously homophobic Democrat from the Bronx.

"It's not only surprising, it's disappointing," said Lynn Shulman, a gay community leader from Forest Hills who supports Nunes. "He's one of the insurgents who actually has a good shot."

Nunes, who owns a real estate business in the district, came without four votes of defeating a longtime incumbent in a City Council race last year, and a significant chunk of that district overlaps with Huntley's senate district. He expects to qualify for the ballot, having collected more than 7,000 signatures for a petitioning process that requires 1,000 valid names, and he said his fund-raising report to be filed Thursday will show more than $150,000 raised so far.

"For those of us running against incumbents, we need to let the gay community know that we're viable, we're credible and we're right on the issues," said Nunes. "It's important that people with an interest in this campaign know it's happening. We don't have time to waste."

The candidate said he has not been in touch with the Pride Agenda, but he remains optimistic.

Ross Levi, the executive director of the Pride Agenda, said in an e-mail response to The Advocate that there would be more endorsements to come, although he declined to indicate whether Nunes was under consideration.

"This week's announcement was just the first round of our endorsements, and there are a number of other important races that we will be weighing on in the next few weeks and further into the election season," he said.

Levi referred to a set of endorsement criteria that includes a candidate's alignment with the Pride Agenda's public policy agenda, viability, responses to the candidates' questionnaire, and voting record.

While Nunes has never held elected office, his campaign has received endorsements from citywide LGBT political clubs including the Stonewall Democratic Club and the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club. In addition to Dromm, he also has been endorsed by the borough's other out City Councilmember, Jimmy Van Bramer.

"I can only speak for myself," said Van Bramer. "When we have people who are wiling to stand up for civil rights for the LGBT community, we need to take a good serious look at those cnadndiates, even when the battle can sometimes appear uphill."

Questions about the pace of endorsements arrive as a number of organizations have prioritized the marriage equality battle in New York for 2011. Other groups working in the state include Fight Back New York, Freedom to Marry, Marriage Equality New York, and HRC's new Campaign for New York Marriage. Earlier this month, HRC said the organizations would be working in a strategic collaboration.

Levi confirmed the groups' cooperation over e-mail.

"Fight Back New York, HRC and other groups are collaborating with the Pride Agenda to make sure that our efforts throughout the election season are complementary and having the maximum impact for the LGBT community here in New York," he wrote.

In the meantime, supporters of Nunes say those efforts need to come sooner, rather than later, to make the biggest difference in Queens.

"This is the type of campaign that is going to be won by going from door to door," said Dromm. "That's where these endorsements would come in handy. We can't wait any longer."
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