The Empire State Pride Agenda has entered the fray in this year’s Democratic primary campaign for state attorney general with an unusually early endorsement, throwing its support to Sean Patrick Maloney, a 39-year-old investigative attorney who served for three years as a top White House aide to President Bill Clinton.
The endorsement was announced Wednesday evening at an ESPA fundraiser, Sprung, held at the Puck Building’s Skylight Ballroom, that Pride Agenda officials said targeted young LGBT professionals. Maloney, a gay father of three (with his partner, realtor and interior designer Randy Florke), was on hand to accept the endorsement and address the crowd, as Gay City News was going to press.
“The Pride Agenda political action committee met last night and unanimously endorsed Sean Maloney for the Democratic primary for state attorney general,” Alan Van Capelle, the Pride Agenda’s executive director, told this newspaper in an interview hours before the announcement. “He’s an extraordinarily qualified person who worked beside President Bill Clinton as his staff secretary. He is as qualified as Eliot Spitzer was when he ran for attorney general in 1998 and Eliot Spitzer became an incredible attorney general.”
The group’s political action committee is made up of a subset of the Pride Agenda’s 34-member board, though the organization does not disclose which or how many board members serve on it.
Implicitly acknowledging that the group was endorsing the only gay contender in the six-candidate race, Van Capelle also told Gay City News, “We didn’t endorse Sean because he is the gay candidate, but because he has an unusually strong understanding of the issues facing gay families in New York. We happen to believe that Sean Maloney will make the best attorney general for the LGBT community.”
For his part, Maloney issued a written statement an hour before the Pride Agenda event, saying, “The Empire State Pride Agenda is a force multiplier. Their endorsement sends a message that the gay community is going to step up, pony up, and show up to make its voice heard and respected on Election Day.”
In the Maloney release, Van Capelle is quoted as crediting the Democrat with having “the three key factors to win—a base, resources, and rationale” as well as “the vision and passion for the work.”
Even as he praised Maloney, the Pride Agenda leader acknowledged the quality of the entire Democratic field in the attorney general’s race.
“This primary is an embarrassment of riches,” Van Capelle told Gay City News. “For each one of the six candidates, I could name at least two things they’ve done for the LGBT community. Each of them has publicly stated support for same-sex marriage and that’s amazing.”
Still, Van Capelle insisted that the early dominance in the polls by Andrew Cuomo, the son of a former governor who also served Clinton, as his housing secretary, and former city Public Advocate Mark Green, who narrowly lost the mayoralty in 2001 to Michael Bloomberg, did not rule out a Maloney victory in the September 12 primary.
“I just don’t think anybody is paying attention to the attorney general’s race now and they won’t until Labor Day,” he said. “The fact that he doesn’t now have a high name recognition isn’t surprising given that it’s his first race, but there’s plenty of time to change that. Undecideds are currently beating all the candidates in the race.”
Van Capelle specifically challenged what he said was a belief held by some “that you have to have previously held public office in order to run a statewide race,” adding, “Sean is part of a new generation of LGBT leadership.”
The issue of LGBT leadership speaks to the importance of the Pride Agenda endorsement. Some leading gay and lesbian elected officials have endorsed Maloney’s rivals. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and state Senator Tom Duane are supporting Cuomo, while Assemblywoman Deborah Glick has given her nod to her Assembly colleague Richard Brodsky from Westchester. With LGBT Democratic clubs likely to vote their endorsements in the next several months, ESPA’s support of Maloney could prove very helpful.
Last June, the Washington-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports viable LGBT candidates in races across the country, endorsed Maloney and since then has donated nearly $20,000 to a campaign that the candidate said has raised more than $1.5 million. The Pride Agenda’s political action committee can contribute as much as $50,000 in this race, though Van Capelle said no discussions on financial support have yet taken place.
The ESPA endorsement also comes a month before the Democratic State Convention in Buffalo, which may make a formal endorsement in the race and will also decide who among the six candidates will appear on the September ballot. Under party rules, a candidate must poll greater than 25 percent among delegates to get an automatic slot on the ballot, though those who fall short can petition with voters in June to win a place in the September contest.
Many political pundits currently believe that Cuomo may be the only candidate to win his spot without petitioning. Besides Green and Brodsky, the other candidates are Denise O’Donnell, a former federal prosecutor from Buffalo, and Charlie King, a non-profit housing executive in New York City who was Cuomo’s running mate in his short-lived 2002 gubernatorial bid.
Maloney’s competitive fundraising and wide travels across the state during the past year have impressed many party professionals with the seriousness of his run, which has centered on the issue of political corruption in Albany, particularly the influence of lobbyists and the lack of accountability among the state’s many unelected public authorities.
In the 14 years since he earned his law degree from the University of Virginia, Maloney worked for six years, in two stints, at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, the Manhattan law firm, focusing on criminal and institutional investigations of corporations; served as chief operating officer of a company that produces risk management software solutions for Wall Street firms, an enterprise he helped sell; and spent three years in the White House as Clinton’s staff secretary, responsible for the flow of information to the president when executive decisions were required.
Maloney was the first candidate to go on the air with a campaign commercial in this race, announcing in late March the novel legal approach of filing a complaint as attorney general in federal court seeking an order that the Bush administration, in secret session, show cause for wiretapping New York State residents.