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The Politician and the Statesman

Jim Burroway

June 26th, 2011

Two New York Senators who had previously opposed marriage equality in New York voted ended up voting for it when the chips were down Friday night. They both explained their change of votes during the roll call, and their explanations provide a textbook illustation of the difference between a politician and a statesman.

One was Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Kings Co) who had been one of three Senate Democrats who blocked a vote on same-sex marriage in 2009 when Democrats controlled the chamber. His change of heart, chronologically at least, came after he was accused last March of accepting $1 million in bribes in return for political favors. Along with that scandal came allegations from the The New York Post — and one must always consider the source whenever the Post is involved — that Kruger laundered at least some of that money through his reportedly unacknowledged gay lover with whom he shares a house with along with the identified lover’s mother. Sidestepping the possible outing, The New York Times merely said, “The gay nephew of the woman he lives with, Dorothy Turano, was so furious at Mr. Kruger for opposing same-sex marriage two years ago that he had cut off contact with both of them, devastating Ms. Turano.”

Whatever the truth may be, Kruger certainly had a change of heart by the time he cast his vote last Friday. And in explaining his vote before the Senate, Kruger defended himself by giving a long list of gay-rights legislation he had supported — hate crimes legislation, anti-dissemination bills, anti-bullying bills — and more incredibly, even tried to explain his change as not being a change at all. He was with us all along, he says. Except, of course, for when he wasn’t.

Oh well, a yes vote is a yes vote, and every yes vote is vital when the margins are so thin like this. But Kruger’s statement was especially memorable because moments before, freshman Senator Mark Grisanti (R-Erie and Niagara Co), who had campaigned against same-sex marriage leading up the the November 2011 elections, explained his vote this way:

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As you may know, prior to me coming here, it’s only been about six months and the issue of same-sex marriage has never been a strong topic of discussion among family and friends. I simply opposed it in the Catholic sense of my upbringing. And I have stated that I have a problem with the term “marriage.” But at the same time, I have also said that I have a problem with the rights that are involved that are being overlooked. I have never, in the past four months, researched an issue or met with so many people and groups on a single issue such as this. I have struggled with this immensely, I can tell you that. I have read numerous documents, independent studies, and talked with a lot of people on both sides of this issue. As a Catholic I was raised to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.

I’m not here however as a Senator who is just Catholic. I’m also here with a background also as an attorney, to which I look at things and I apply reason. I know with this decision, many people who voted for me will question my integrity a short time ago. I tell you though that I have studied this issue. To those who know me, they know that I have struggled with it. To those whose support I may lose, please know that in the past what I was telling you and what I believed at that time was the truth. But by doing the research, and ultimately doing what I believe to be the right thing, to me, shows integrity. I would not respect myself if I didn’t do the research with an open mind and make a decision, an informed decision, based on the information before me.

A man can be wiser today than yesterday, but there will be no respect for that man if he has failed in his duty to do the work. I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage. Who am I to day that someone doesn’t have the same rights that I have with my wife that I love, or have the thirteen hundred-plus rights that I share with her?

But there’s another important point here that this bill brings up, and that’s its religious protections. Because I am Catholic. Under this bill the religious aspects and belief are protected as well as for not-for-profits. There’s no mandate that the Catholic Church or any other religious organization perform ceremonies or rent halls. There cannot be a civil claim or an action against the church. It protects benevolent organizations such as the Knights of Columbus and many others. And as a lawyer I feel confident that the religious organizations and the others are protected.

We in this state have recognized same-sex couples who are married in other states and are now in New York. I have read studies about civil unions that show that they do not work, and causes chaos. I believe this state needs to provide equal rights and protection to all of its residents.

I struggled with the word marriage as between a man and a woman — that’s how I’m raised. But I also struggle with the rights that are lacking for same-sex couples, and I’ve stated this numerous times. I cannot deny that right or opportunity for someone nor stand in the way of allowing them to obtain the rights that I have.

I’m not going to get into the philosophical arguments, because I’ve heard them all. But for me, the issue boils down to this: I’ve done the research, and I believe that a person can be wiser today than yesterday. I apologize to those who feel offended, to those I have hurt with the votes that I had six months ago. But I believe you can be wiser today than yesterday when you do the work. I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, of people of my district and across this state, the state of New York and those people who make this the great state that it is, the same rights that I have with my wife…

That is a long, long way from where Grisanti was just last March, when he told a Buffalo radio station, “To me, marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s been a term, a term of ours for years that has been around for thousands of years. It’s like calling a cat, a dog.”

Like I said, every vote is important. Kruger’s “yes” vote, however it came about and however he tried to explain away his prior opposition, is every bit as important as Grisanti’s. But in the end, the events of Friday night clearly showed that there is a huge difference between political posturing and statesmanship.

Comments

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Bruno
June 26th, 2011 | LINK

Grisanti is very eloquent and persuasive, but I have doubts as to the veracity of his tale of enlightenment. I just don’t think it had anything to do with anything but a political calculation on his part. He was elected in a Democratic district over a Democrat who was dogged by ethical questions around his campaign, and only barely at that. He was probably the best candidate to give Saland, Alesi, & McDonald cover with the 33rd vote as well. I just don’t know if I believe him more than I believe Kruger, but we’ll see how future actions play out.

Tom O'Connor
June 26th, 2011 | LINK

This is one more nail in the coffin of our once-vibrant culture. The first nail was casual divorce, the next was casual unmarried sex, the third was pornography as a mainstream activity in the arts, and the next was the mainstreaming of homosexuality.

TampaZeke
June 26th, 2011 | LINK

Kruger is a scumbag on SO many levels. He’s got to go. His yes vote was just payback for his no vote a couple of years ago. We owe him NOTHING more. Now we should support a gay rights supporting Democratic primary challenger.

Theo
June 26th, 2011 | LINK

Regarding Kruger: A couple of key facts are 1) he represents a district that has a lot of politically active Orthodox Jews, including the obnoxious and gay-obsessed Yehuda Levin, and 2) he will be resigning very soon as he goes to trial on the federal corruption charges. The first item explains the vote in 2009, the second explains his vote last week. He no longer has anything to lose by voting yes, while a no vote almost certainly would anger the governor and isolate him from this party, sources of support during his upcoming expensive and draining federal trial.

Jim, I would love to see a BTB post highlighting an explosive revelation in that New York Times piece, which has gone largely ignored. That Times piece exposes our most professional and highly compensated gay rights “leaders” as utter incompetents. According to the piece, one of the first things that Cuomo did was to call them in and tell them right to their faces that they – the gay advocates – had actually damaged the effort to pass SSM in 2009. Not just that they were ineffective, but that they were actually had a negative impact.

That they were ineffective in 2009 has always been clear from the lopsided defeat. But that they were so completely clueless about how to proceed and that they made no real effort to coordinate among themselves, and gave contradictory information to Cuomo and others at the time is really scandalous. And these are allegations leveled against groups like HRC and ESPA, supposedly the serious and mature inside players.

It is a sad joke that these groups needed a real adult – in this case Gov. Cuomo – to force them to be effective. And it probably illuminates what really happened in RI and MD, where somehow we managed to lose SSM despite overwhelming Dem control of all chambers of the legislatures in both states. Indeed, there has been some reportage of how HRC staged a “take over” of the local RI group and how it clashed with EQMD. I guess they needed Govs. Chafee and O’Malley to force them to do their six-figure jobs.

TampaZeke
June 26th, 2011 | LINK

@Theo, hear, hear!

I’m glad somebody said it!

Stefano A
June 26th, 2011 | LINK

Theo, well said.

And if people didn’t have doubts about Maryland before, they should have developed some when Equality Maryland hired Lynne Bowman as interim director; and I say this as someone from Ohio.

Why on earth would they hire someone from a state that hasn’t been able to achieve even one piece of gay rights legislation? Nada, nothing, not an inclusive school bullying policy, no anti-discrimination protections, a state whose hate crimes law is not only noninclusive of sexual orientation or gender identity but actually states by law that an assault is excluded from Ohio’s possible hate-crimes list — Under Ohio law, unless a local ordinance says otherwise, authorities may file an additional charge of “ethnic intimidation” only when the offense involves threats or damage to property, to hell with the person who was assaulted.

I was totally baffled by Bowman’s hiring.

Stefano A
June 26th, 2011 | LINK

Oh, and for anyone follows Michigan’s battle for school bullying policies, the infighting that went on between Michigan Equality and the Triangle Foundation is another blunt example of dysfunctional advocacy.

Stefano A
June 26th, 2011 | LINK

Oh! And a caveat.

To be fair to the LGBT advocate groups in Ohio (and Michigan), but especially Ohio, it does have to considered that the state’s pols are about as progressive as Mississippi or Louisiana when it comes to gay rights, the rare gay rights affirmative politician not withstanding.

Amicus
June 26th, 2011 | LINK

I’ve seen two stories now focusing on the finances of the campaign that just pushed marriage over the top in NY, including one just now in the WSJ.

In the competitive world of capital raising, this type of attention isn’t good for normally quietest money managers and the WSJ knows it.

But, the same stories have not mentioned that, so far as I know, NOM has not yet complied with court orders to disclose their financing.

It still boggles my mind that a group like this, which is in open violation of disclosure laws, doesn’t get the kind of legislative response to that situation that one would expect. Would you let a national group with (criminal?) intent to violate your election laws come into your state, without doing or saying anything?

MattNYC
June 27th, 2011 | LINK

Amicus,

Considering the “assassination” of ACORN–which never actually did anything illegal–I whole-heartedly agree.

Bruno
June 27th, 2011 | LINK

Doesn’t it seem like leaders of these “gay inc” type groups rarely get anywhere? And I have to wonder if at least subconsciously, they don’t because they know if they achieve their goals, they may be out of a job. We need to figure out how to get true leaders, selfless ones, in these positions.

Donny D.
June 27th, 2011 | LINK

Everybody isn’t convince that California’s anti-Prop 8 campaign was competent.

Ben In Oakland
June 27th, 2011 | LINK

Donny– I was there, and after repeated efforts to get them to do something– anything– effective, I finally gave up,.

I do not appreciate being treated like a crazy person, especially by people who are obviously not paying any attention.

We lost in California becuase of that incompetent campaign.

Timothy Kincaid
June 27th, 2011 | LINK

Jim,

Thank you for pointing out the distinction between a politician and a statesman. It’s a distinction that doesn’t often get the attention that it deserves.

Timothy Kincaid
June 27th, 2011 | LINK

Stephano, I appreciate the generosity of your caveat.

But surely Ohio and Michigan are no more conservative than Utah? And yet their advocates have slowly but surely been achieving steps toward rights and protection – often small steps, but sometimes downright astonishing steps.

We need to figure out how to get true leaders, selfless ones, in these positions.

I agree… but I don’t think they need even to be selfless. I’ll take some jerk who recognizes the power that will come from finally harnessing a cohesive community, if it also means that he’s effective and puts the interests of our community ahead of everything else.

Stefano A
June 27th, 2011 | LINK

@ TK

But surely Ohio and Michigan are no more conservative than Utah? And yet their advocates have slowly but surely been achieving steps

Indeed! That’s why I am critical of Bowman and the two groups in Michigan that engaged in so much infighting. As far as the Michigan groups go, however, back in February 2010, they reportedly merged into a single advocacy group so they could refine their activism, avoid redundancy and decrease the bickering or cross-purpose messaging. But as far as I’ve been able to observe (admittedly from out of state), they’ve done neither.

As for Equality Ohio, they apparently prefer to conduct all their efforts in secrecy as they can’t even be bothered to maintain an active and up to date web site and the only news ever mentioned is their, after the fact, once a year descent on the statehouse to lobby. The local Cleveland groups seem to do a better job, at least for their area.

Theo
June 27th, 2011 | LINK

@Stefano:

It doesn’t surprise me that EQMD hired some ineffectual seat warmer from OH (one who has already left the state when she realized there was no money to pay her). It is obvious that these organizations do not hire based on needed skill sets or other assets.

Consider: HRC is an organization that primarily lobbies on the federal level in Washington DC. How do most sophisticated interests lobby in Washington? They retain lobbyists from outside lobbying firms on a monthly basis, targeting lobbyists with close ties to the party in power and with ties to particular members of key committees of interest. As the political environment changes – one party takes over the House, for example, or some legislation of interest is moved to a different committee – the interest group reconfigures its lobbying team. Finally, the interest group will have an office in DC and shell out some bucks to hire a former Congressperson, as you can see by looking at the PhRMA or the RIAA. In that way, they get things done. (BTW, I am not endorsing this corrupt system, just describing it.)

And HRC – by far the most powerful and wealthiest gay group in American history – how does it do business in DC? Well, it retains no outside lobbyists. It has 2 employees (paid year in and year out regardless if needed) who are lobbyists. One had no experience on Capitol Hill when hired. The other was a staffer in Tammy Baldwin’s office. That would be Rep. Tammy Baldwin of the party that doesn’t control the House and who, in any event, does not need to be lobbied by HRC. That is HRC’s lobbying team regardless of whether the Congress is controlled by the Dems, controlled by the GOP, or split. The environment in DC may change dramatically, but HRC just plows ahead year after year in its own little bubble.

HRC doesn’t have an office; it has an office building. And it is led not by a former Congressperson or Senator or Cabinet member, but by someone who was a fundraiser for a Democratic PAC some 15 years ago. He headed HRC when the entire federal government was under the control of conservative Republicans, when it was entirely under the control of Dems, and today. Again, the hiring doesn’t match the environment.
You see the results of all this – despite a budget of nearly $40 million per year, HRC is still working to achieve legislative objectives from 1980.

And even in this NY battle, the Times article notes that the gay coalition didn’t hire a well-connected consultant until after Cuomo read them the riot act. These people don’t hire to get things done. They hire people they know and like.

One last point on the state groups:

Did you know that the recently resigned/fired director of EQMD got hired? Now here you have someone who predicted 2 major victories (marriage and a gender identity bill) and boasted that EQMD was ready to defend both in statewide ballot referenda. Incredibly, both are defeated by legislatures controlled overwhelmingly by the Democrats. As the disaster unfolds, she flounders cluelessly while friendly co-sponsors turn into opponents overnight. After two public humiliations, she has no fallback plan, say, to at least get civil unions accomplished.

Instead, there is a period of in-fighting, all aired out in the media. Bizarrely, she issues a public statement that this is the right time for her to go, since she is very confident that marriage equality will be passed this year.

Then, after she departs, come the public revelations that the group is broke, thus ensuring that MD legislators will not fear crossing the group any time in the near future. In keeping with their standard practice, both she and her former board of directors blame one another in the media.

So just a few months after her confident predictions of a victorious year, she leaves this group defeated, humiliated, severely weakened, divided, and insolvent. Who would hire someone with this record? Why another gay organization of course! Who else would?

Timothy Kincaid
June 27th, 2011 | LINK

Tom,

How sad for you that the once-vibrant culture of the 50’s is gone. Ah, Leave it Beaver, The King and I, Harvey. Such a good time to be alive.

Unless you were gay. Or black. Or Jewish. Or poor. Or atheist. Or an unwed parent. Or different in any way.

Ben In Oakland
June 28th, 2011 | LINK

Tom:

why is it social conservatives are obssessed with sex? Europe has a very active and vibrant culture, while ours seems to think that michelle Bachman or sarah palin actually have intelligence.

meanwhile: “the third was pornography as a mainstream activity in the arts”

when did that happen? I certainly wish it were the case, but pornography is usually as bad as it ever was.

Priya Lynn
June 28th, 2011 | LINK

Ben asked “why is it social conservatives are obssessed with sex?”.

Because they were taught to think of sex as something disgusting and shameful. They’re full of hangups over sex and fearful and ashamed over their own sexual desires. In order to repress their own sexual thoughts they desperately want to minimize all sexual activity everywhere.

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