Monday, July 19, 2010

NYers Debate Socarides' Punditry

& Bloomberg's Gay, HIV Record

Writer and activist Larry Kramer started a conversation a few days ago, after lawyer and pundit Richard Socarides published an essay at Huffington Post titled "A Summer for Gay Rights." Included on Larry's CC list were longtime New York City advocates of widely differing experiences and opinions, and myself out in San Francisco. The exchange has further educated me about the troubling record of Mayor Michael Bloomberg on lots of gay and HIV/AIDS concerns, none of which have been addressed by his loudest and most visible gay booster, Socarides.

I've taken the first round of emails, excerpted them here, and since the second volley of exchanges are extensive and would make this post a mile long, I've placed them in the comments section. As you'll read, Bloomberg may be a candidate for the Oval Office in 2012, and Socarides may have latent motives for being the primary gay critic of President Barack Obama. It's never too early to scrutinize potential presidential candidates and the gays who support them.

Let's get to the arguments and debate:

From Larry Kramer:

richard, an excellent and VERY IMPORTANT piece. thank you!

From Jon Winkleman, longtime gay/AIDS/union advocate:

I personally like Richard Socarides and wish more LGBT people would have their criticisms of the White House be aired on CNN and WSJ. However as a matter of credibility the recently published Clinton White House talking points regarding DOMA [in the pages of Gay City News], seem to point to Socarides as being a co-architect of the Clinton administration’s DOMA policy. I am and have been very aware that the original DOMA compromise consisted of a deal to allow DOMA to go to the floor for a vote if ENDA was tacked on and passed as well. [...]

However Socarides has ignored questions and refused to make any public statements regarding the authorship of the pro-DOMA talking points and the less than truthful statements he had previously made claiming he had no involvement whatsoever with DOMA. [...]

As a separate matter of credibility, most NYC White House critics are very worried about Bloomberg testing the waters again for a possible presidential bid. Socarides goes on national television and talks about Bloomberg as a champion of equality when the mayor has actively and aggressively worked against equality in NYC while contrasting a president who deserves much criticism but merely does not see us as a cause to expend a quantum of effort to make good on his promises. [...]

More from Larry Kramer:

richard has no obligation to apologize or explain to anyone! you are acting like you are running the Nuremberg trials here. you are acting like a little hitler. people are entitled to do the work they do and support the people they do. it is called democracy. i sent you this most recent article of his to show you what a fine piece of work it is and hope that you would appreciate it for that and calm down. my mistake. i should have known you would not change your really out-of-all-proportion behavior.

From Art Leonard, veteran gay legal eagle:

In 1996 Socarides was a White House staffer of Bill Clinton assigned to write talking points articulating the president's position, in the midst of a presidential election year in which Clinton was running for re-election in the context of the GOP having swept the Dems out of power in the prior mid-term elections. He was doing a job for the boss to whom he was accountable.

We may not like the way he did it, or we may disagree with Clinton's political judgments at the time about how to deal with the DOMA issue, but I think it's wrong to demonize Socarides for doing his job at that time, or for resisting talking publicly about internal White House assignments he had back then.

[...] He is not a public official, he is not drawing a salary, as far as I know, from a movement organization, and so he is accountable only for himself. [...]

I really appreciate what you [Michael Petrelis] do in uncovering and publicizing the money trails, and the failures of organizations and their leaders in our community to follow democratic, transparent procedures in making important policy decisions. And, of course, it is always appropriate to criticize the merits of positions people are taking, when you make substantive arguments about why you think their positions are wrong. [...]

Socarides has been very critical of the Obama Administration in public on quite a few occasions, and he has also pointed out when the administration has done things that are good for us. I'm not sure it is all that relevant to attack him by dredging up what he is alleged to have done in 1996 when he was not acting as a free agent.

From me:

I must digress at this point and share a July 8 letter in the New York Times from Socarides, because it bears directly on the comment that follows:

Re “A ‘Kagan Doctrine’ on Gay Marriage,” by Jonathan Rauch (Op-Ed, July 3): On the surface, Mr. Rauch’s argument has appeal: why not let the political process solve political controversies, like the question of gay marriage, rather than look to the courts to impose solutions? But it ignores political history.

I, for one, am glad that the Supreme Court did not follow Mr. Rauch’s advice in Brown v. Board of Education.

Comments from Andy Humm, longtime gay/AIDS/human rights advocate:

It is pretty rich reading Richard citing Brown v. Board of Education when he continues to be totally uncritical of the Bloomberg administration which was just cited in a lengthy piece in the Times as even less racially diverse than the Giuliani administration.

In one of these previous e-mail exchanges, Richard acknowledged that there might be some problems with the Bloomberg LGBT and AIDS record. Where are the posts in the Huffington Post or elsewhere about that? When Bloomberg appealed the one good decision on same-sex marriage in New York that would have forced the City to give licenses to gay couples, we didn't hear a peep out of him. Instead, he vigorously worked for his re-election. And then there are the Bloomberg false arrests of gay men for prostitution, the rising HIV rate among teens in NY unchecked by any serious prevention program in the schools, the Bloomberg support for anti-gay Republicans, etc., etc., etc.

This is not ancient history. This is today.

Richard: unless you are willing to apply the same standards to Bloomberg, you will have no credibility.

Please jump over to the comments section to read more emails continuing this necessary debate.


Michael said...

And the debate goes on:

From Allen Roskoff, veteran gay and Democratic Party advocate:

Art Leonard, you haven't addressed any of Andy Humm's or my concerns about the hypocrisy of going after Obama and his cheerleading for Bloomberg. Why would someone who is so devoted to the rights of our community campaign for Bloomberg who makes Obama look great in comparison. Why the double standard? Art Leonard, isn't that hypocrisy? What do you think of Bloomberg's appealing the judge's marriage decision? What has Obama done that could be worse then that? Can you please address what Andy and I consider a double standard. I'd appreciate it if you'd take a moment to address Andy's concerns in what I consider your defense of Socarides.

In addition I would like to add that I would have quit any job that required my to do in our community. We all choose how we will make a living and I never would have done what Socarides did. I have held many government jobs and each and everyone I worked for would never have asked me to do what Socarides did. They wouldn't have asked me because they would have known that I would have refused to do it. I would have packed my bags and walked out. I do not forgive him for doing what he did to our community and I'm surprised you are are willing to say that it was ok because that was his job. He should have walked rather then doing what he did. Leonard if you think it was ok for him to do us in then we have strong disagreement there. What good is having gay people employed in high places when they become nothing more then the enemy within.

Over to Art Leonard:

Marriage law is state law. I thought Bloomberg's decision, based on his corporation counsel's advice, to appeal the judge's marriage decision was correct. Similarly, I think the Obama Administration should appeal Judge Tauro's decision in the DOMA case from Boston. Trial court decisions are not binding precedents, and the marriage question would not be settled as a matter of state law without an appeal to a higher court. In my own view, Bloomberg was unfairly demonized for that appeal. I think that generally Bloomberg has been better on gay issues than people give him credit for, and I put that down to politics more than anything else.

Michael said...

From Andy Humm:

Let's review the things that Bloomberg does that are terrible on LGBT and AIDS issues:

1. He is the single biggest individual donor to the anti-gay Republican Party in world history and a massive donor to the anti-gay Republicans in the NYS Senate.

2. He vetoed the Dignity for All Students Act (the anti-bullying bill in the City Council), called it silly, and when he was overridden by the Council, REFUSED TO IMPLEMENT IT.

3. He vetoed the Equal Benefits Bill and went to court--successfully--to block its implementation. It required contractors with the City to provide domestic partner benefits as San Francisco does.

4. The HIV rates among teens has gone UP under Bloomberg who is supposedly so concerned about public health that he wants to ban smoking in parks. Where is the emergency public education campaign on AIDS targeting young people? The AIDS curriculum in the schools is weak tea. He has continued the Giuliani Era ban on condom lessons in classrooms--a ban that he could lift with the stroke of a pen but that he personally refuses to.

5. We know about his abysmal record in hiring people of color to top posts. Who are the out gays and lesbians who have been appointed as a major Commissioner besides Stark at Finance and Verna Eggleston at HRA who are now gone?

6. He has NEVER publicly addressed the scandal of the false arrests of middle-aged gay men for prostitution that Duncan Osborne has so well documented. When I asked him about it at a press conference early last year, he said he had not reviewed the data and then read from a card handed to him that the police wee just doing their jobs and responding to complaints--the same crap that we're hearing from Palm Springs officials right now in their stings of gay men.

7. He continues to march in the openly anti-gay St. Patrick's Day Parade--a clear statement about which side he is on.

8. He continues to be a major donor to the Boy Scouts of America despite their reprehensible exclusion of gay scouts and scout leaders. He says they should change their policy BUT THEY HAVEN'T AND HE CONTINUES TO SUPPORT THEM. If they kept any other group (Jews, African Americans, etc.) out, the firestorm would never die down. But it is just gays and atheists, so it doesn't matter?

9. We disagree about the appeal of Justice Doris Ling Cohan's order to start issuing marriage licenses in New York City. Had a halfway decent gay rights supporter been mayor, that order would NOT have been appealed. Barney Frank said that Bloomberg's appeal "was terrible for us." Norman Siegel, who was handling one of the other cases seeking same-sex marriage in New York State, said that all other appeals in New York could have been dropped and gay couples from around the world would STILL be able to get married in the City. That mass of legally married couples would have put much more pressure on the legislature to pass the marriage equality bill. I concede that the gay legal groups gave Bloomberg a pass on this as you did because you wanted a Court of Appeals determination. None of you read that Court very well, did you? Beyond that, look at the vigor with which the Bloomberg administration defended the exclusionary marriage law, citing Leviticus for crying out loud. This is pro-gay? How exactly?

10. He just purchased some old Catholic school buildings to use as public schools and agreed in the contract NOT to do any AIDS or sex education on the premises. These kids have to be transported to a separate building to receive these required lessons now--emphasizing how shameful these topics must be. It is a disgrace that the contract was agreed to and a disgrace that there is not enough of an AIDS movement or an LGBT movement in this town to stop it.

I await Art Leonard's defense of his "good" record on LGBT and AIDS issues--and your defense of his record outlined here.

From Duncan Osborn, Gay City News reporter:

Michael said...

From Duncan Osborn, Gay City News reporter:

If it's fair comment, what is all the complaining about?

although it is certainly fair comment to note changes in position, inconsistencies, or conflicts of interest when people put themselves forward into public debate about public policy issues.

Richard Socarides claimed that he "urged Clinton not to sign DOMA at the time, both publicly and privately. I did everything I could to stop it. This is all part of the public record. I was not part of the WH policy group during DADT implementation but fought against it too, after I arrived. I have talked about all of this publicly, both then and now, including saying that Clinton was wrong, very wrong, even saying this when I worked for him.”

Great. Let's have a look-see. I've looked for evidence of this at the Clinton Library and, so far, I have found nothing to support it. I have found nothing in the public record to support it. I have asked Richard Socarides to supply me with evidence and he has not responded. After, I stress after, Richard Socarides made this claim, I looked for evidence to support it and found the memos that I reported on in Gay City News and on my blog. It was Richard Socarides' claim that instigated my reporting. If I found memos that showed him opposing DOMA we would have reported that. I didn't find such memos.

The mainstream press has held Richard Socarides up as some sort of expert on politics and the lesbian and gay community. Fine. Who is he and what has he done previously?

The larger point is that Bill Clinton has boasted of appointing 200 lesbian and gay people to his administration. Alright. Let's investigate what Bill Clinton is claiming as his legacy for the gay community.

In one or two of his appearances, Richard Socarides has said that Clinton was the best president the gay and lesbian community ever had. Ok. Let's take a look. Between DOMA, don't ask, don't tell, increasing new HIV infections and STDs among gay/bi men, and his efforts to promote religious freedom that, fortunately, were unsuccessful, one could argue that Clinton's administration was a disaster for the lesbian and gay community. Clinton did issue the one executive order at the end of his presidency that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation in federal employment, but it appears that even that was never fully implemented as we see from the story at the link below. As we see from the Obama administration, there was plenty more Clinton could have done by executive order, but he chose not to. ;

This is standard practice for journalists and bloggers. Richard Socarides is being treated like anyone else who ventures into the public eye and just like others who join any public debate he has defenders who say his earlier statements are too old to be considered or he's being so nice now why must we talk about when he wasn't being nice and on and on.

Art is right. This is fair comment. And I won't stop.

Socarides' defense of various anti-gay Clinton policies continued after the '96 campaign.

Michael said...

From Art Leonard:

OK, Andy, you've convinced me that Bloomberg is terrible on gay issues and therefore, since Richard Socarides supports Bloomberg, he is to be demonized and everything he writes in the press is to be excoriated, regardless of what he says, on the additional grounds that 15 years ago while working for a Democratic president who was desperately struggling to be re-elected, he participated in drafting talking points in support of DOMA because the president and his political advisors believed that support for DOMA was a necessary part of the re-election strategy. (Remembering, of course, that this was a president who was initially elected because a surprisingly strong third-party candidate in 1992 split the Republican vote in the midst of a recession, and who had just suffered a sweeping loss of Congress in the 1994 midterms, and was facing a Republican candidate who was just close enough to the political center on some issues to pick up independent voters... but we won't re-fight the strategic issues of the 1996 Clinton re-election campaign here, or speculate on what a Dole Administration accompanied by Republican congressional majorities would have meant for gay issues in 1997-2001.) In retrospect, it would have been better if every openly gay appointee in the Clinton Administration had resigned en masse in protest of Clinton's support for DOMA, thereby shaming Clinton into changing every position on gay issues to which you object and stimulating gay voters to sit on their hands in 1996 and punish Clinton for his DOMA perfidy by electing Bob Dole. A "gay-free" Clinton Administration would have been better for us in retrospect, because it would have left all those gay people "pure" and immune from scorn from the true-blue activists, right?

You do present a very convincing bill of particulars on Bloomberg. I've never voted for the man, because on principal I only vote for Democrats unless the individual Democratic candidate is beyond the pale, and I am repulsed by his free-and-easy party switching solely for political advantage. I don't think I've ever seen such a complete list of Bloomberg's failings on LGBT issues in one place.

But it's no use in replaying old battles. No matter what Socarides has done or what you think he should have done in the past, his Huffington Post piece is unexceptionable and I see no reason to go ballistic condemning him for having the temerity to write such a piece summarizing and commenting on the current legal situation for gay rights on a liberal news blog.

Michael said...

More from Andy Humm:

I wasn't talking about 15 years ago, though it is a bit rich for Richard, who was in the White House when some of these anti-gay policies were crafted, to now put himself forth as the lead opponent of the current president who is trying to undo the Clinton damage--albeit too slowly for any of us. This is not about defending Obama, but trying to get Richard to apply the same standard he uses in attacking Obama to his friend Mike Bloomberg who, as mayor of New York, should quite frankly be held to an even higher standard since it is a lot easier to support LGBT rights and progressive AIDS policies here in the City and he does not. I'm not trying to "demonize" Richard, but trying to understand why he thinks Obama is worth so much of his protest and Bloomberg doesn't merit any public criticism--indeed, that he merited re-election.

I'm ready to sit down with Richard and anyone else who wants to work to reverse Bloomberg's bad approach to AIDS education, LGBT rights and LGBT appointments. As a Bloomberg insider and supporter, Richard could be effective on those City issues if he chose to focus on it the way he has on Obama.

Look, I try to be practical about politics, too. I voted for Bill Clinton over the opposition and voted for Obama over McCain (unlike Bloomberg). I supported more progressive candidates when they were available in the primaries and when they lost, I went with the Democratic nominee. Resigning from a Clinton administration, however, might have made an important statement--certainly more than staying and helping the President craft defenses of his anti-gay policies. I remember when Al Lowenstein and Cyrus Vance quit the Carter administration over different issues of principle. I don't expect everyone who works for the president to quit when the president makes a bad move, but sometimes it can make a difference in drawing attention to how bad a particular action was.

Norman Siegel's point on the NY marriage appeals was that since we LOST all of the other cases at the trial level, our side was under no obligation to appeal those to higher courts. Bloomberg was certainly under no obligation to appeal Ling-Cohan's decision and no one else had standing to.

Michael said...

From Paul Schindler, editor at Gay City News:

I gotta jump in here. Politics as I understand it is the process through which we govern ourselves. But I suspect you mean something more insidious when you use the word.

Last fall, we posed three major questions to the mayor:

How does he reconcile his advocacy for gay marriage with his position as the biggest financial contributor to the State Senate Republicans?

How does he plan to improve on his failure to reach his own stated goal of cutting HIV infections in half and does he plan to be end the ban on condom education in the NYC public schools?

What steps has he taken or will he take to end the practice of false arrests of gay men in video stores and other venues?

In both a one-on-one interview and in an endorsement meeting with all the newspapers here, he failed to answer any of those questions in any fashion that would be convincing to people for whom these questions are important (GRANTED: other people have other "political" priorities). We could not give him our "political" support -- because we felt he failed on critical criteria issues facing the community our newspaper serves:

Michael said...

Back to Art Leonard:

I concede to Andy's well-documented case that Bloomberg's record on our issues is poor. My understanding was that he had stated at some point that he thought he might be able to influence some Republicans in the Senate to support same-sex marriage, but if he tried (and I haven't seen anything about him seriously trying) he clearly failed, since they all voted against. I've never seriously considered supporting him for any public office.

Over to Duncan Osborn:

Bloomberg initially asserted that his support for state Republicans would allow him to lobby them on marriage. In the endorsement meeting that Paul discusses he conceded that his influence with Republicans would be useful on issues other than marriage. His lobbying for marriage consisted of sending a letter to each member of the state Senate asking for their support.

Michael said...

From Andy Humm:

And lest we forget, up until the very day Bloomberg appealed Justice Ling-Cohan's order to start issuing the licenses, he refused to state that he supported same-sex marriage. He would say idiotic things like, "I don't think the government should be able to tell you who you can marry," when in fact that is EXACTLY what the government does, e.g., you can't marry someone underage, more than one person, or your sibling. (He STILL says this from time to time which may explain why he is not a good lobbyist on the issue.)

Bloomberg appealed the decision because he was facing a Republican primary from conservative Council Member Tom Ognibene of Queens that later did not materialize. Every Democrat running for mayor said they would not have appealed the decision. And Christine Quinn condemned the mayor's decision. (This was before she was Speaker.)

At the time, New York magazine quoted Bloomberg asking an aide, "Why am I appealing the decision if I am for same-sex marriage?"

When Gov. Paterson held his press conference last year about introduction of the marriage equality bill, he walked in late, fiddled with his blackberry while others are talking, and when HE spoke, he stopped the whole press conference to chide a disabled reporter whose tape recorder was accidentally knocked into and was interrupting him. Bloomberg fumed at him, called him a disgrace (his favorite word), and said that this was the most important civil rights issue of the year!

Koch, when he first ran for mayor in '77, told a group of gay leaders, Allen among them, that any mayor who couldn't get a gay rights bill passed in six months wasn't worth his salt. Koch would then testify for the bill and then do almost nothing to pressure Council Members to pass it. We became his enemies and constantly pressured him to do more and the bill finally passed in 1986 LONG after most major cities had adopted such ordinances. I can recall on op-ed piece by a writer named Larry Kramer in the Times in 1978 saying about the New York movement in comparison with San Francisco in the wake of Harvey Milk's assassination, "We are not ready for our rights in New York. We have not earned them. We have not fought for them. California homosexuals mobilized an entire state to defeat the Briggs Amendment, which would have barred the hiring of homosexual teachers in public schools. New York City's one million homosexuals cannot mobilize a city." The whole piece is at:

That article infuriated me as a gay activist since 1974, especially given the differences between New York (stuck with then very conservative outer boroughs) and San Francisco (a small liberal town), but Larry's shaming also spurred us to work harder.

Richard is trying to hold Obama to a higher standard. I think he is a very imperfect vessel to do so given his own record, but fine. We want to hold Bloomberg to a much higher standard and we need people like Richard to acknowledge his bad record and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. If Richard could move Bloomberg on the issues we've outlined in these e-mails, he would have a lot more credibility to go after Obama. Activism begins at home.

Michael said...

Still more from Andy Humm:

Sorry to belabor this, but I called civil rights attorney Norman Siegel to clarify his position that if Bloomberg had not appealed, the state could not have intervened. I shared with him Art's arguments and he hesitated because he wasn't sure if, in the city case, the state department of health was named as a defendant as it was in his second department case out of Nyack (which, by the way, was not brought to the Appellate Division until AFTER Bloomberg's appeal of the good City decision and could have been withdrawn had Bloomberg not appealed).

Norman just researched the City case, Hernandez v. Robles, and only the City Clerk Victor Robles was named as an aggrieved party. There were no others. (I'm blind copying Norman on this in case I get anything wrong so he doesn't get caught in our endless loop.) The only reason the Attorney General of New York got involved in the state appeal of the marriage cases was because the health department was named in some of the other suits--but, again, those appeals could have been dropped to let the good New York City decision stand. Absent the state as a defendant, the only role for the Attorney General could have been to file an amicus brief in the Hernandez case when Bloomberg appealed, not to defend the law at the Court of Appeals.

Norman also said that Bloomberg acted precipitously, appealing within a couple of days rather than taking the 30-day limit to decide and to caucus with the lawyers in all the other cases to discuss strategy. Bloomberg insists that his Corporation Counsel told him he HAD to appeal the decision and Norman says that that is flat out wrong. (It may have been what Corp Counsel said, but it is not legally true.)

The bottom line is that the City could be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples to this day absent Bloomberg's appeal. If Art can now show us legally where Norman is wrong, let's hear it. And let's remember that even if someone else could have intervened--a premise we dispute more surely now--Bloomberg was under no obligation to appeal and could have simply said, "We happily accept the judgment of the court."