Gay Baiting in Queens City Council Race

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Ali Najmi (in white shirt) outside his Queens campaign headquarters on July on July 28.
Ali Najmi (in white shirt) outside his Queens campaign headquarters on July 28. | GAY CITY NEWS

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | A candidate for a Queens City Council seat is charging that supporters of one of his opponents are trying to smear him among Muslim voters by telling them about his support for LGBT rights and same sex marriage.

“Some key supporters of other candidates have tried to use my support for LGBT rights and marriage against me in this race,” said Ali Najmi, a Muslim who is seeking the seat held by Mark Weprin until he resigned to join the Cuomo administration. “I’m very disappointed that some people will use prejudice as a political tool.”

Najmi is squaring off against Rebecca Lynch, who took leave from working for Mayor Bill de Blasio to make the run, and Barry Grodenchik, a former state Assemblymember. Also running are Robert Friedrich and Satnam Parhar. All are Democrats and the September 10 Democratic primary will decide who wins the seat.

Two Lynch donors, Debbie and Naji Almontaser, have been using social media and approaching fellow Muslims at mosques in the Queens district and at recent Eid festivals, which mark the end of Ramadan, a holy month of fasting in Islam, and attacking Najmi’s pro-LGBT positions. Friends who have witnessed this have reported the conversations to Najmi. The Almontasers, who live in Brooklyn, have each given $175 to Lynch’s campaign.

One man, who was referred to Gay City News by Najmi, confirmed that he had a conversation about Najmi’s pro-LGBT record with the couple and that he saw the Almontasers have such conversations with others.

“They’re actively sabotaging his campaign because he supports gay rights,” said the friend, who asked to remain anonymous. Another two people who Najmi referred to Gay City News did not respond to calls seeking comment.

With the turnout expected to be very low in the primary, a few hundred voters or less could mean the difference between winning and losing. The district is 40 percent Asian, a population that is disproportionately south Asian there, 30 percent white, 15 percent African-American, and 15 percent Latino. There are roughly 43,500 registered Democrats in the southeastern Queens district.

“Probably not more than 6,000 will turn out, less than that,” Najmi said.

It is not clear that these discussions are having an impact. In America, Muslims are generally not counted among the groups that oppose LGBT community interests and Muslims have plenty of issues, such as the discrimination they contend with, that are likely more important to them than same sex marriage or LGBT rights.

Najmi, 31, is running as a progressive Democrat in a district that went for de Blasio in the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary. A criminal lawyer for the past six years, Najmi spent two years as Weprin’s legislative director prior to that. He talks of being a voice for a district that gets too little attention from City Hall.

“It’s a big system, it’s a big bureaucracy, and people need an advocate,” Najmi said during an interview at his campaign headquarters in the basement of a Korean church. “We need to make sure that city policy and the city budget take our concerns seriously.”

Najmi, who was born and raised in the district, is endorsed by the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, an LGBT political group, Make the Road Action Fund, several Muslim or south Asian groups, and Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University professor who challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary.

“Rebecca must disagree publicly with what they’re saying and take a strong positon on the issues on which they are denouncing Ali,” said Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles club. “She needs to say if you’re going to vote against Ali because of his stance on marriage then you need to vote against me because our stances are the same.”

Lynch is backed by eight unions, the Working Families Party, and the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, also an LGBT political group. Grodenchik has the support of leading Queens Democrats and is seen as the party’s candidate. He, Najmi, and Lynch lead the money race with roughly $60,000 each while Parhar and Friedrich have each raised less than half that amount.

In an email, Sally Frank, a Lynch campaign spokesperson, said the campaign had no knowledge of and did not participate in the Almontasers’ actions.

In an email to Gay City News, Lynch wrote "As a lifelong supporter of LGBT rights, I was proud to earn the support of the Stonewall Democratic Club this month. Our city and state should continue to lead the way for the nation in inclusive and affirming policies that guarantee equality for all New Yorkers. At the state level, Albany must pass GENDA. At the city level, equality must be part of the mission of every agency -- from providing shelter to protecting public safety. There is no place in New York City or anywhere for homophobic or any offensive rhetoric, and I strongly call on anyone who supports me to stand against bigotry and for equality."

After being contacted by Lynch, Ritchie Torres, the openly gay City Councilmember from the Bronx, called Gay City News to comment.

“The right thing to do is to judge Rebecca by her record rather than guilt by association,” Torres said. “I know firsthand that Rebecca is committed to LGBT equality. When I ran for public office to become the first LGBT elected in the Bronx, Rebecca was among my earliest supporters.”

Debbie Almontaser promised to return a call to Gay City News, but did not.

While they are undoubtedly LGBT voters in the district, it is not known as a haven for LGBT people. Najmi, who called himself “a staunch supporter of LGBT rights and proud of it,” said that he had no demographic data showing such voters there so his championing of LGBT issues seems quixotic.

“It’s because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I’m running on principles of equality and civil rights.”

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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Reader feedback

Rosanna Delgado says:
HELLO, This is not about whether she support LGBT rights as CM Torres claims. It about how she would go to any means to win including demonizing the LGBT. Why are her employees going to the "religious" community and telling them that her Opponent a muslim supports LGBT as if it is a bad thing??? They need to state that both candidates including their employer Rebcecca Lynch supports LGBT. she talks from both sides of her mouth. SHe send her paid employee ( a registered sex offender) to people's doors. After it was revealed she responded she was mortified. He stated her worked for her bc she supports ban the box. SO which is it? does she support the ban the box or only when it doesn't apply to her???? And if she supports LGBT then why has she accepted so much monies from the carriage industry to support their horse abuse??? they are on video quite often tossing homophobic remarks. Not to mentioned she moved from Manhattan back to Queens once Weprin vacated his part time 112k paying seat. May I say Carpetbagger????
July 30, 2015, 4:54 pm
Rosanna Delgado says:
I mean i can respect if she didn't support LGBt and her employees were attacking her opponent Aji's support for LGBT but she supposedly supports LGBT so she can't have it both ways. disgraceful
July 30, 2015, 4:59 pm
Muhammad Rashid says:
Ali Najmi is example to many in this country. He is the live example of values, virtues, passion and compassion. He loves his country USA (where he born and brought up) and adore the constitution of the USA (a 32 year Thomas Jefferson proclaimed that "all men are equal.") and cherish the decision of the Supreme Court. Our LGBT community lives in our hearts - one who are very dear to us. My name is Muhammad Rashid (I groomed students to go to the best of the best schools, colleges and universities to become leaders to lead us) and I will do everything to love, support, respects, and admire each and every one in LGBT communities. LGBT is the backbone of our society and community. Go and meet one of the members of LGBT and you will see how humane and how gentle and how full of live and full of happiness they are. No matter what these idiots (wife and husband team) have been doing against Ali, they had done the same thing against my dearest brother honorable John Liu (that time they told John Liu was against Arabs and Muslims because he attended a peace conference to support the peace loving people of Israel and all countries in the world). This wife and husband thugs (snakes) are sowing the seeds of hates in our communities. Please check their background on from where they are getting money / funds (I heard sometime they take shelter under a particular union and particular organization called MUNA). Now let me tell you once again, my name is Muhammad Rashid, and I love, respects and admire LGBT and I will do everything in my power to serve LGBT community. And let me tell these two wife and husband team, that I love the country Israel and I will do everything in my power to serve the people of Israel. Let these two devils (wife and husband) team go out to every mosques and everyone against me. And with all due respects I humbly request that no politicians, no elected officials and no organizations should welcome these dirty wife and husband team. They have crossed the limits. They have poisoned the air. When they against my brother honorable John Liu, we tolerated it because we thought forgiveness is divine. Because these dirty and filthy wife and husband team misunderstood our modesty and humbleness. Enough is enough. Is there anyone brave and courage person who can come forward and stop once and for all these wife and husband team from poisoning our fresh air and fresh minds.
July 31, 2015, 9:56 am
Mike McGuire says:
@Rosanna Delgado: Apparently your reading comprehension is as atrocious as your spelling, grammar and syntax. You state three times over two posts that the people allegedly disseminating the facts about Najmi are employees of Lynch, or presumably her campaign. I read the article twice and found nothing to support that contention. Perhaps before you go on a rant, you should double-check your facts. After all, without doing so, you have little credibility.
Aug. 3, 2015, 1:28 pm
Roxanne says:
Lynch's donors who are disseminating these homophobic mistrust and hatred among the conservative Muslim community run the Muslim Community Network that received funding. They are deliberately fostering homophobic hatred to win their campaign. Rebbeca Lynch is a shill.
Aug. 3, 2015, 5:45 pm
@TeamsterNYC says:
This accusation is without merit and a lame attempt to undermine the Lynch platform. If Ali felt so strongly about this issue he would have shown up at the debate at Northshore Towers to air his grievance in public rather than throw himself a party in Manhattan on his birthday.
Aug. 7, 2015, 5:49 am
hillaryEverest says:
Most Muslims I know (and many Queens South Asians-- can't speak for the South Asian Queens) support Ali Najmi as a progressive choice and an honest man. We hope and expect that the socially conservative and civic minded Almontasers are not playing a negative role-- I doubt it and really wonder about the forces & interests behind this public accusation. GCN should be careful not to get used to settle scores. And at the very least Ms Almontaser should be allowed to set the record "straight."
Sept. 3, 2015, 2:55 pm
hillary2 says:
Some mouths are fresher than their minds, Mr Rashid. If you would uphold your supposed values you would be more careful in your political views and more respectful in your comments. You sir seem to sow the seeds of hate, not the Almontasers. However I am sure that this is not your intention and after a deep breath of fresh air you will see that community interests are not served by negative and divisive comments. Lets be more constructive!
Sept. 3, 2015, 3:02 pm

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