Backers of same-sex marriage may give 25-year-old Lynn Nunes a fighting chance in the uphill battle to knock off State Sen. Shirley Huntley: he is a prime candidate to get financial support from the pro-same-sex marriage PAC Fight Back New York, although no final determinations on strategy for this year’s races have been made, according to a spokesman for the group.
Nunes already demonstrated some political viability last year, running an entirely grassroots, volunteer-based campaign which came within four votes of knocking off 14-year New York City Council Member Tom White, who most observers say has higher name recognition than the two-term incumbent Huntley. Danny Dromm, an openly gay Council member from Queens and a prominent leader in the gay rights movement, said he became convinced Nunes would be viable during a February phone call in which Nunes described his strategy for unseating Huntley.
“Lynn is a statistician in terms of numbers,” Dromm said. “That’s something he gets almost innately.”
Huntley’s supporters, though, are already pegging Nunes as an opportunist backed by a pro-same-sex marriage lobby that is out of step with the majority of the district.
“I think Lynn Nunes is going down the wrong road,” said Council Member Leroy Comrie, a Huntley ally. “He is taking advantage of a singular opportunity presented by something that is not a big deal in that district.”
In the southeast Queens district where Nunes will spend his summer knocking on doors, the streets of Jamaica and Springfield Gardens are lined with socially conservative black churches. The same-sex marriage bill was unpopular among the African-American churches and clergy and Huntley cites this opposition as she as the reason she voted against the bill.
Nunes said he would instead run on issues such as the district’s highest-in-the-country foreclosure rate, which he says Huntley has not done enough to address, and the district’s overcrowded classrooms.
Charter school advocates are also expected to help fund Nunes, who said he is an unabashed supporter of lifting the state’s charter school cap. Huntley, meanwhile, finds herself in a more precarious position when it comes to the education lobbies.
A former local school board president, Huntley has been a longtime ally of the United Federation of Teachers and along with State Sen. Bill Perkins was the catalyst behind an April hearing calling out charter schools for alleged abuses. She also opposed legislation to lift the state’s charter school cap in January. But Huntley switched courses and voted in favor of lifting the charter school cap in the bill that was passed by the Senate in early May.
Leadership of the New York State United Teachers—the UFT’s parent union—has said it will be difficult to support anyone who voted to raise the cap. Still, Huntley believes one vote will not sever their longstanding relationship.
“I have been generous in my support of the UFT’s issues over the years,” Huntley said.
Spokesmen for the UFT and NYSUT declined comment on the union’s plans in the district.
But speaking generally about his union’s involvement in this year’s races, UFT president Michael Mulgrew said a vote to raise the cap would not necessarily stand in the way of an endorsement by the teachers.
“I’ll let the political process take its course,” Mulgrew said. “I like to talk to people first and find out what their reasons are. If they decide they don’t want to work with us anymore, then we’ll go from there.”