An appearance from New York state senate majority leader Dean Skelos and moving remarks from senator Mark Grisanti were among the highlights at a fund-raiser that generated about $1.2 million to recognize four Republican senators and their conference for this year's marriage equality vote.
Held in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday evening, the "GOP Heroes" reception presented the first opportunity for donors to celebrate with all four lawmakers -- James Alesi, Mark Grisanti, Roy McDonald, and Stephen Saland -- since they joined 28 Democrats in supporting the bill in June. The vote marked the first time a Republican-controlled legislative body passed a marriage equality bill.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, gay philanthropist Tim Gill, and hedge fund manager Paul Singer chaired and spoke at the fund-raiser, which according to attendees attracted an assortment of major Republican and Democratic donors, independents, and people affiliated with the five LGBT organizations that campaigned in the New Yorkers United for Marriage coalition. Co-chairs included real estate developer Donald Capoccia, Tea Party patron David Koch and hedge fund manager Daniel S. Loeb, according to an invitation circulated on social networks.
"The individuals at this event tonight were a who's who among conservative politics, Republican influencers, and politically savvy New Yorkers on both sides of the aisle and a lot of politically unaffiliated individuals," said Gregory T. Angelo, a host committee member and chair of the Log Cabin Republicans of New York. "It's greatly encouraging to me to see this type of broad-based support. I could see in each of the four senators this evening that they were pleased as well."
Others reported in attendance included Margaret Hoover, former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, New York State Republican Party chairman Ed Cox, and the wives of senators Grisanti, McDonald, and Saland.
According to attendees, organizers announced that more than $1.2 million had been raised, the bulk of it for the four Republican senators. Donors could contribute up to $16,880 however they liked between the four, but they were asked to give at least $250 to each senator.
The remainder of the money raised, a significant sum for a single night in New York state politics, went to the Republican senate campaign committee as appreciation for allowing the marriage equality vote. Senate majority leader Dean Skelos, who last October said he would not block the bill from coming to the floor although he personally opposed it, attended the fund-raiser and received a warm reception. He did not address the crowd of at least 200 people.
In brief remarks, the four Republican senators reflected on their votes, which have prompted backlash from marriage equality opponents including the National Organization for Marriage. Last month, the organization unveiled billboards in the districts of the four upstate Republican senators and Shirley Huntley, a Queens Democrat who voted no in 2009 but changed her vote to yes this year. The billboards warn each senator "You're Next," an allusion to a special congressional election last month in New York that NOM claims Democrat David Weprin lost because he voted for marriage equality in the state assembly.
One attendee said that Grisanti criticized the billboards for having harmful effects on youth. The senator represents Buffalo, home of Jamey Rodemeyer, the teenager who took his own life last month after being targeted by antigay bullying.
"We need to be sending a different signal to young people," he said, according to the attendee. "He made a link to that billboard being a very poor message to send to young people."
Another said that Saland, a member of the legislature since 1980 often considered close to retirement, made it clear that he planned to stand for reelection in 2012. He said it would be important to show that a senator can vote for marriage equality and emerge victorious.
The fund-raiser helps make that point to lawmakers in the next battleground states being eyed by marriage equality donors. Meanwhile, in a separate event, actor David Hyde Pierce plans to host an event honoring Senator McDonald this Monday in New York.
"We'll continue to stand with those who have stood with us irrespective of their political party affiliation," said Brian Ellner, a host committee member and senior strategist for the Human Rights Campaign in New York. "To date, seventy-seven Republican state legislators have either voiced their support or voted for marriage equality legislation and not a single one lost their seat."