In an extraordinary turnabout, the de Blasio campaign, late in the evening on September 8, disavowed its confirmation made more than eight hours earlier that Mayor Bill de Blasio had endorsed Bronx City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera, a divisively anti-gay Democrat, for reelection in his District 14 primary race. The disavowal came five hours after Gay City News reported online about the campaign’s confirmation of the endorsement.
Cabrera, a pastor with a history of working with the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ organization condemned as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, made an extraordinary visit to Uganda while that nation was considering a notorious anti-gay law that would have made homosexual conduct punishable by death. During that visit, Cabrera made a YouTube video praising the nation’s anti-gay forces. When that video became widely known as he waged a 2014 primary campaign against State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a pro-gay progressive, Cabrera took the video down. A copy of that video, however, was preserved and appears below.
As Gay City News was reporting a story published September 8 about three primary contests in the Bronx this coming Tuesday, the newspaper noticed that Cabrera’s campaign website listed the mayor as one of his endorsers. In an email at approximately 11 a.m., the newspaper asked the de Blasio campaign to confirm the accuracy of that information.
At about 2:30 in the afternoon, Dan Levitan, who works at BerlinRosen, a public relations firm representing the mayor’s campaign, in an email titled “Cabrera,” wrote, “Here’s a quote you can use on Cabrera that can be attributed to me: ‘Mayor de Blasio is a strong support[er] of marriage equality and LGBT rights, and the Mayor has been clear about his very strong disagreement with Councilmember Cabrera on these issues.’”
Gay City News, surprised at the offhand manner in which the campaign was confirming such a controversial endorsement, wrote, “So, the answer then is yes — he does support Cabrera’s reelection.”
Levitan, at roughly 3 p.m., reiterated his earlier confirmation, writing, “Yes, as I said, Mayor de Blasio is a strong supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights, and the Mayor has been clear about his very strong disagreement with Councilmember Cabrera on these issues.”
At 5:30 p.m., GayCityNews.nyc published its story about the primary races online, including the information about the mayor’s endorsement of Cabrera.
Nearly five and a half hours later, just before 11 p.m. Levitan contacted Gay City News again, writing, “Hey Paul, sorry I was wrong see below. ‘Mayor de Blasio has not endorsed Councilmember Cabrera. We regret the miscommunication.’”
Surprised by the message and uncertain as to what Levitan meant by “miscommunication,” Gay City News wrote back, saying, “I’m going to need something more than sorry for the miscommunication. The mayor is listed in Cabrera’s website as an endorser. I send the campaign a note fact checking that. You send me a statement. I say, so in other words he supports his reelection. You say, yes, as I said [repeat earlier statement]. Now, 8 hrs later you’re trying to get by with ‘sorry for the miscommunication.’ I can’t do anything with that. It is impossible to understand what you are trying to say to me here.”
Levitan wrote back, simply reiterating his statement moments earlier and not explaining what he meant by miscommunication: “I am trying to say that there was a miscommunication and that he is not endorsing Councilmember Cabrera. His name is being removed from the website.”
Early Saturday morning, Gay City News took one more shot at getting an answer as to what Levitan meant by “miscommunication”: “Your most recent email did not answer my question. You have twice referred to a ‘miscommunication,’ a term that is meaningless unless you identify who did the miscommunicating and who was miscommunicated to… Please clarify my question regarding what you mean by the word miscommunication. I will, at some point, have to let my readers know my conclusion here and let them draw their own.”
At that point, Levitan called Gay City News and explained that the miscommunication was “internal.” Asked whether than meant that somebody in the de Blasio campaign had told BerlinRosen that the mayor had endorsed Cabrera but the campaign was now saying he had not, Levitan responded, “I’d prefer it being said it was a matter of the left hand not knowing what the right hand did.”
Amidst the back and forth with BerlinRosen, a de Blasio ally emphasized to Gay City News that the mayor has been very selective in making primary race endorsements. At a town hall meeting in July in Cabrera’s district — one of the city’s poorest — however, the mayor did vouch for the councilmember while Cabrera was in a bit of hot water over remarks that had surfaced in a video two weeks earlier. In April, Cabrera told his Bronx parishioners, “Did you know it is harder being rich than being poor. I know you don’t believe what I just said. But being rich you have more responsibility… When you are rich, you have more things to worry [about]. Millionaire people… got there because of their ability to handle more pressure. Every CEO, every president that got in there and stayed there, it’s because of their ability to handle pressure.” At the July town hall meeting, de Blasio praised Cabrera’s commitment to “economic justice.”
By Saturday morning, the Cabrera website had removed de Blasio’s name from its endorsements page. Public Advocate Letitia James’ name had also been removed.
In its original story, Gay City News reported that James was also listed as one of Cabrera’s endorsers and that neither her office nor her campaign had responded to a request for comment. Moments after Gay City News posted its story on September 8, Anna Bowers, communications director in the public advocate’s office, contacted Gay City News to say James had not endorsed Cabrera. When told Cabrera’s website said otherwise and that the newspaper had received no response from either James’ campaign or her office, Bowers said, of Cabrera’s campaign, “They lied.” (On Saturday afternoon, Gay City News received a delivery failure notice on the fact-checking email sent to the public advocate’s office the day before.)
In 2014, James did endorse Cabrera in his unsuccessful State Senate campaign challenge to Rivera. At the time, she told the New York Observer, “I endorsed Cabrera on paper. I did not actively campaign, and I distanced myself from him during the campaign.” Gay City News, however, located a photo of the public advocate appearing with Cabrera and others who endorsed his bid, including then-Congressmember Charlie Rangel. James subsequently did outreach to LGBTQ community leaders to voice her solidarity with them.