I found myself in an awkward position with the de Blasio campaign last Friday evening. That day, while reporting on Bronx City Council primary races, I contacted the campaign to confirm something surprising on incumbent Councilmember Fernando Cabrera’s website — that the mayor had endorsed his reelection.
Surprising because Cabrera is well-known for his Christian right antagonism toward the LGBTQ community, including a trip to Uganda while that nation weighed a draconian “kill the gays” measure in its legislature. There, he produced a YouTube video praising its homophobic leaders as “the righteous.” That video, which still exists online, has been widely reported since it first surfaced in 2014.
Three and a half hours after I queried the mayor’s campaign, a spokesperson confirmed the endorsement, while saying de Blasio has always made his differences with Cabrera on LGBTQ rights known to the councilmember. We published our story, spotlighting that endorsement, late in the afternoon. More than five hours later, the same spokesperson — just before 11 p.m. on a Friday evening — contacted Gay City News to say a “miscommunication” had led him to mistakenly say de Blasio endorsed Cabrera, when in fact he hadn’t. After several attempts, the best I was able to learn about what was going on was the campaign’s assertion that it made an “internal mistake” based on “the left hand not knowing what the right hand did.”
Readers will decide what they think the truth is here. Had de Blasio made the endorsement, with his campaign willing to acknowledge that up until the point it was reported in black and white, at which time a ham-handed claw-back effort began? Or had sophisticated people in politics, even after being clued in about the Cabrera YouTube video by my questioning, been so indifferent to it that they simply assumed if the councilmember said their boss endorsed him, then he must have?
This was all handled so inexpertly that it’s hard for me not to assume the worst. Unfortunately, that worst needs some context. Along with the de Blasio endorsement, Cabrera listed the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is headed by out gay labor leader Stuart Appelbaum, as supporting him, something confirmed on the website of the RWDSU, which never responded to a query. And three years ago, in a primary challenge to staunch LGBTQ ally State Senator Gustavo Rivera, Cabrera had the support of Congressmember Charlie Rangel and Public Advocate Letitia James.
How does this happen? The best answer I’ve heard is from my friend and colleague Andy Humm, who wrote that this “is an area that shows the weakness of our movement. Open racial bigots are toxic. But open anti-gay bigotry is excused as ‘a difference on some issues.’” And that’s where we come in. It’s unacceptable that bigots like Fernando Cabrera thrive in New York politics. It is our job to call him and every one of his supporters out at every opportunity. Otherwise, this lamentable situation will never end.