As Fernando Ferrer’s prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered supporters joined the candidate on the steps of City Hall to endorse him on October 6, police from City Hall’s security detail stood by passively as an anti-Ferrer protestor was allowed to stand right next to Ferrer with a sign condemning him. Pleas from several elected officials to separate the protester from them went unanswered.
Civil libertarians are calling it a gross violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.
Christopher Brodeur, who garnered four percent of the vote in the Democratic mayoral primary and is still running a write-in campaign, held up a placard at the rally equating Ferrer and Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg and calling the former Bronx Borough president a liar. When City Councilwoman Christine Quinn and others talked to the police about Brodeur’s unwanted presence, the police refused to intervene.
As the rally began, Brodeur crouched down right next to the lectern, holding his anti-Ferrer placard next to it, occasionally shouting encomiums and using his sign to block the Ferrer poster on the lectern.
Lieutenant John Brennan of City Hall security, who stood near Brodeur during the rally observing him but taking no action, said, “These are public steps. You can’t control who comes to these things.”
Brennan claimed that an administrative law judge at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) had so ruled.
Mark Daly, spokesman for DCAS, said, “I have never heard of such a ruling.”
Jonathan Werbell, deputy press secretary to the mayor, was in front of City Hall and witnessed part of Broduer’s disruption but refused to answer any questions about whether such actions were legal. He referred this reporter to the Police Department for comment. The NYPD in turn said this reporter would have to talk to “the adminstration or legal” about it. Neither Werbell, the city’s Law Department, nor the Bloomberg campaign responded to e-mails and calls by press time.
Ferrer tried to be philosophical about his treatment by the police and Brodeur.
“I suspect there would not be a discordant note allowed at a Mike Bloomberg press conference,” he said, but, “that’s America.”
Civil libertarians said it is not.
Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “Someone doesn’t have the right to disrupt someone else’s event. Police normally separate the two groups. A counter-demonstrator has the right to be there. He doesn’t have the right to be in it, however.”
Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel cited the unanimous 1995 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case allowing organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston to exclude a gay contingent or anyone else they wanted to.
“Government can’t dictate what your message is,” Siegel said. “If homophobes wanted to march with us in the LGBT pride parade, we could ask the police to put them away from us to protest. Organizers have a First Amendment right to set forth their message.”
He suggested organizers of the rally file a complaint against the police.
Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who emceed the rally, said, “I’m pretty incensed. I don’t think the police would have stood idly by if the mayor or one of his commissioners were in a similar situation.”
She is trying to get a clarification of what responsibility the City Hall police detail had to separate Brodeur from the rally.
Brennan acknowledged that he had never witnessed a disruption like Brodeur’s on the steps, but still refused to do anything about it. He said, “The mayor and some of his staff have orders of protection against him.”
Despite the danger that Brodeur is known to pose to the mayor, he was allowed to stand next to Ferrer.
Jen Bluestein, spokeswoman for the Ferrer campaign, “At an event where the most powerful representatives of the LGBT community came together to voice their disappointment over the promises made and promises broken by the mayor and pledged their support to Fernando Ferrer whose record is inclusive and determined, it is terribly unfortunate that the event was disrupted by one individual whose sole goal was disruption.”
Gerard Cabrera, co-president of the Out People of Color Political Action Club, called the police inaction “outrageous.” Veteran gay activist Christopher Lynn, transportation commissioner under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, called it “odious.”
But as it stands now, every protester in town is on notice that they can go to City Hall and disrupt all the rallies and press conferences they wish in the same way.
Brodeur was arrested in January for allegedly making more than a thousand phone calls to the mayor’s press office. He also disrupted Giuliani’s testimony to the 9/11 commission in May 2004.