Brian Ellner, a gay Democrat whose unsuccessful primary run for Manhattan borough president centered on a high profile television ad in which he mocked George W. Bush—whose head was mounted on a naked torso—with the phrase, “the emperor has no clothes,” has gone to work for Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the president’s top surrogate in New York City.
In an announcement ending days of rumors released Wednesday afternoon, the mayor’s reelection campaign confirmed that Ellner would work as “an advisor and lead outreach to the Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.”
“Mayor Bloomberg has earned a second term,” the statement quoted Ellner as saying. “He has an outstanding record of fighting for all New Yorkers... I am pleased to join our mayor’s re-election team and stand with so many other fellow Democrats to support a progressive mayor who is staunchly pro-choice, supports the LGBT community, and has a proven record of achievement in helping all New Yorkers.”
Meanwhile, another unsuccessful Democratic borough president candidate, City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez, has neither confirmed nor denied similar rumors—floated most prominently by the Politicker page of the New York Observer’s Web site—about herself. Lopez declined to return a call from Gay City News seeking comment, but in response to a telephone query on the matter from The Villager, a sister newspaper of this one, said, “I don’t know what they’re talking about. People know more about my life than I do.”
However, a source very close to Lopez confirmed to Gay City News that the councilwoman is prepared to announce her support for the mayor’s reelection. Whether she, like Ellner, has negotiated a position in the mayor’s campaign or his administration is unclear.
The news of Ellner’s decision, reported 36 hours before any formal Bloomberg announcement in a Tuesday New York Post story, started a feverish flurry of e-mails and blog posts, many voicing criticism of the Democrat. The most outspoken critic was Jon Winkleman, a member of the Stonewall Democratic Club who took pains to emphasize that he is in no position to speak on the club’s behalf. In an e-mail message that read, “Please distribute far and wide!” Winkleman circulated a satirical mock-up of Ellner’s campaign literature, announcing a “political capital clearance sale,” with the erstwhile candidate saying, “My endorsement is for sale.”
Reached by telephone, Winkleman said that when Ellner battled Lopez unsuccessfully last spring for the Stonewall endorsement, he lobbied members by warning them, “Margarita’s not really a progressive. She’s a Bloomberg lover. She’s friends with Bloomberg.”
Winkleman alleged that in appearances before Stonewall and other progressive clubs, Ellner repeatedly donned a Dump Bloomberg button the club had produced and said that any of the four Democratic mayoral hopefuls was preferable to the mayor.
“From every Democrat I’ve spoken to, he’s gone from being a reformist, populist Democrat to being a joke,” Winkleman said of Ellner.
Precisely when Ellner decided to go with the mayor is unclear. Prior to the reports in the Post and on the Observer Web site, rumors had circulated for days, though other speculation had Ellner contemplating a Democratic primary challenge next year to longtime West Side Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, who was the first in Albany to propose same-sex marriage legislation.
Last Thursday, Ellner was on hand as Bloomberg did a quick stop at a VIP reception that preceded the Empire State Pride Agenda’s annual fall dinner, and he was also spotted with the mayor at a PFLAG dinner on Monday of this week. One source noted that Jonathan Capehart, a prominent gay supporter of the mayor who formerly worked for Bloomberg News and the Daily News, advised Ellner on his borough president’s race, and the two are next to each other and the mayor in a picture from the Pride Agenda dinner on the front page of this newspaper.
Yet, as late as mid-day Tuesday, Ellner told Gay City News that he was not yet decided on his political future or his choice for mayor, insisting he was “talking to anyone who wants to talk to me,” including Democratic mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer. The only bottom line, he said, was that he did not wish to return to private law practice, but preferred to stay in public life, in a political, policy, or non-profit capacity. Ellner said he would get back to Gay City News if he made any decision prior to the newspaper’s deadline, but when contacted Wednesday afternoon by phone after the Bloomberg release surfaced, an aide who worked on his campaign said he had left for Yom Kuppur services.
Other gay Democrats were more reserved than Winkleman in their assessment of Ellner’s decision and the potential for Lopez following suit.
Brad Hoylman, a past president of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, said that recruiting Ellner was part of an overall plan, often successful, by Bloomberg to win support from traditional allies of the Democratic Party, including abortion rights advocates and minority-owned businesses, which the mayor courted with his proposal for construction of a stadium for the Jets on the West Side.
“The mayor’s camp has been very skillful at cherry-picking from bread and butter Democratic constituencies,” he said. “Housing advocates, minority businesses, choice. This is just the latest part of that strategy.”
Alan Fleishman, a past president of the Lambda Independent Democrats and a Park Slope party district leader, lamented the fractiousness of the city’s Democratic Party.
“It’s dismaying that there’s no party loyalty left in a Democratic town like New York,” he said. “I don’t look favorably on any one endorsing Republicans [but] that’s a problem we have in the party here in the city. There’s no discipline among Democrats. I also understand that people need to work and to feed themselves, but that’s no excuse. But clearly they have plenty of cover from other Democratic elected officials and Democrats working for the mayor.”