BY ANDY HUMM | New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, up for re-election next year and among those mentioned as a possible Democratic nominee for president in 2020 despite his protestations to the contrary, opened 2017 by tacking left on some issues. He stood with Bernie Sanders announcing free tuition at public colleges for students whose families make under $125,000 a year. And in the wake of Trump ascendancy and his band of right-wing cabinet appointments, Cuomo has said he wants New York to be “a safe harbor for our progressive principles and social justice.”
But in his State of the State message, Cuomo has also picked Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a longtime opponent of LGBT rights who will give the invocation at President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural, to head a state panel on intergroup relations.
“We will enforce our anti-discrimination and our hate crimes laws in every instance of prejudice,” Cuomo said. “I am proposing a new State Police and Department of Human Rights Education and Enforcement Task Force because hate and discrimination have no home in New York and no infraction will be tolerated, period. We will also come together as New Yorkers under Cardinal Dolan’s efforts to organize interfaith religious leaders and congregations to share and educate New Yorkers about the commonalities in our different faiths because religious freedom and individual liberty are New York hallmarks and we need to focus on commonalties as opposed to artificial distinctions.”
The Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s Catholic bishops, including Dolan, in Albany, has consistently opposed LGBTQ rights initiatives over the years, including the hate crimes law, adding sexual orientation to the state human rights law, and opening marriage to same-sex couples in 2011 through legislation championed by Cuomo. The bishops also oppose transgender rights, want abstinence education restored, and want “religious liberty” laws to protect Catholic hospitals from having to recognize what they call “same-sex ‘marriage.’” As head of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dolan refused repeated requests to meet with Dignity, the LGBTQ Catholic group.
Dolan has been credited with finally allowing the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan to allow an open LGBTQ contingent last March after 25 years of resistance from Cardinal’s John O’Connor, Edward Egan, and Dolan himself.
Details on the Dolan panel have yet to be revealed, but Alphonso David, the out gay counsel to the governor, told Gay City News that it would include LGBT clergy. He said that the need for the panel grew out of concern for the rise in hate crimes based on religion, particularly against Muslims.
“Hate crimes are a direct result of a lack of information, indifference, and ignorance,” David said. “We want clergy to break down barriers and be proactive in identifying commonalities among faiths. It has a different impact coming from clergy rather than the state.”
Asked about Dolan’s record of opposition to LGBT rights, David said, “We’re not supportive of any position that would discriminate,” but said the cardinal “is being supportive of an initiative that will be beneficial to the LGBT community.” Dolan gave the invocation at Cuomo’s State of the State, he noted.
Out State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan said, “I am concerned generally about keeping the lines between church and state clear,” adding the Archdiocese of New York has been “blurring” those lines in its lobbying for an education tax credit to parochial schools “or sending money to lobby against the Child Victims Act,” his bill to partially lift the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases.
“That said, there’s been a surge in hate violence against religious and ethnic monitories and LGBT people and if men and women of faith can transcend that and offer solutions to increase acceptance, that’s a positive,” Hoylman said.
David also highlighted Cuomo’s support for further initiatives in the End of AIDS campaign and a renewed effort to remedy a Court of Appeals decision three years ago that said the state human rights law does not apply to students in public schools.
Many of Cuomo’s progressive initiatives have good chances of passing the Democratic-led Assembly along with many bills initiated by the Assembly itself. But these bills are often blocked in a Senate that is still led by Republicans even though a majority of Democrats were just elected to the Senate. Democratic Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn caucuses with the GOP to keep them in power in a body that has 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans , and the seven members of the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, cut deals with the Republicans to gain leadership posts rather than maintain solidarity with their fellow Democrats.
Allen Roskoff, president of the LGBTQ Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, said, “Members of the IDC and Simcha Felder should be rebuked, condemned, and thrown out of the Democratic Party. They have betrayed the party and prevented progressive issues passed by the Assembly from becoming law, including transgender rights, universal health care, and budgetary priorities. They are scoundrels and double-dealers.”
Scott Klein, co-president of the LGBTQ Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, spoke this month of leading demonstrations against IDC members such as Klein and Jesse Hamilton of Brooklyn.
Regarding control of the Senate, Hoylman said, “I believe people should act in good faith based on how they were elected. I have good relationships with my Democratic colleagues no matter where they sit in the chamber because we will need them when a vacancy occurs. I believe they will come back because we agree on more issues than the Republicans,” especially “in the era of Trump.”
He added, “There will be opportunities this year and beyond [to work together] on the governor’s proposals [and others] including a millionaires tax, raising the age of criminal responsibility, and a DREAM Act for children of undocumented.”
Assembly Health Committee chair Dick Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, has passed universal health insurance for New York several times, but it is always blocked in the Senate, now controlled by a Republican minority aided by the rogue Democrats.
“We will continue to be the progressive capital of the country no matter who is in the White House,” said David, and that will include making up for potential federal cuts to health care.
On another front, the winner of Cuomo’s competition to design a memorial in the West Village portion of Hudson River Park for the victims of last year’s Pulse massacre in Orlando and other hate crimes will be announced “in the very near future,” David said. “We received dozens of applications from artists throughout the nation and are finalizing the selection process.”