Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Despite John Sampson’s Efforts, Gay Groups To Back Shirley Huntley Challenger Lynn Nunes by Chris Bragg - City Hall News

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The Empire State Pride Agenda and the Human Rights Campaign, two of the state’s most prominent gay rights groups, are poised to throw their weight behind Lynn Nunes in his primary challenge to State Sen. Shirley Huntley on Tuesday, sources close to both groups confirmed.
ESPA’s board still had to meet Monday night to finalize their endorsement, the sources said, but the board was expected to formally vote to endorse Nunes as well as a slew of other legislative candidates on Tuesday.
Huntley was one of eight Democratic senators who voted against the same sex marriage bill last year. Nonetheless, the groups’ support for Nunes had been in doubt, with neither backing Nunes in their first round of endorsements. This had riled many in the gay activist community.
Democratic Senate Conference Leader John Sampson, a strong Huntley ally, has been pushing behind the scenes on Huntley’s behalf in an effort to convince the groups to remain neutral, insisting that Huntley was still a possible ‘yes’ vote for the bill, according to multiple sources close to the groups.
Huntley, meanwhile, recently met with leadership of the Empire State Pride Agenda in an effort to get the group to remain neutral in the race, she confirmed. But the effort apparently was unsuccessful.
“I told them my position and explained to them why I voted like I did,” Huntley said, adding that it was “not a surprise” for ESPA to back Nunes.
Huntley had taken a strong rhetorical stand against the same sex marriage bill. Last year, Huntley told the poet Maya Angelou, who was lobbying on behalf of the gay marriage bill that, “If they gave me a million dollars, tax free, I just wouldn’t vote for it,” according to the Times.
Huntley has a strong base of support in her southeast Queens district from the leadership of socially conservative black churches, and has cited those constituents as the reason why she voted against the bill. Huntley’s supporters have pegged Nunes’ support of gay marriage as opportunistic and say it could hurt him in socially conservative neighborhoods in the district.
A number of grassroots gay rights groups, including the Stonewall Democrats, Marriage Equality New York and the Jim Owles Democratic Club had already endorsed Nunes. Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Democratic Club, said a push from these grassroots groups had helped convince ESPA and HRC to finally back Nunes.
“It’s important that the LGBT community support anyone who is running against their enemies,” he said. “Lynn Nunes is a logical choice.”
Both HRC and ESPA have political action committees that give money to candidates, though the extent to which they will offer Nunes financial support on manpower remains unclear. The organizations are also targeting State Sens. Bill Stachowski and Ruben Diaz, Sr. in primaries and are likely to support a number of Democratic challengers in general election State Senate races.
Even if they do not spend heavily on Nunes’ behalf, ESPA’s endorsement is seen as a crucial stamp of approval to donors in the local gay rights community. The Washington D.C.-based HRC, meanwhile, has a national network of donors that its endorsed candidates are expected to now be able to access.
Spokesmen for both HRC and ESPA declined official comment on the endorsements.
Fight Back New York, an independent expenditure group pouring money into races against anti-same-sex marriage incumbents, has yet to announce whether it will target Huntley. A spokesman for the group also declined to comment.
Nunes, who is receiving heavy financial support from charter school backers, already had a financial advantage in the race with over $155,000 raised as of the last campaign filing. Huntley had raised $106,000 over the past six months.
Reached by phone, Nunes declined comment on the endorsements since they had not been formally been made public by the groups.