Longtime Ally of Gays to Step Into Governorship in New York
When Alan Van Capelle needed to know the legislative hopscotch that would lead the New York Assembly to pass gay marriage, he knew who'd be his best teacher: David Paterson, who'd been the state Senate Democratic leader before being elected lieutenant governor in 2006.
So over several late-night strategy sessions last year, the gay rights leader listened to Paterson help him plot his next jumps:
"David would say: 'I know this (Assembly) member is hearing from clergy who aren't supportive of this. If you have supportive clergy in his district, it'd be helpful for them to call right now,'" recalls Van Capelle, the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.
"Or David would say: 'I don't think you are the best person to reach out to her. Let me have a conversation with her first and let me report back whether I think she's gettable."
A bill that had begun with only 35 of the 76 votes it needed started adding up committed "aye" votes. And last June 19, the day of the dramatic Assembly debate and vote, Lt. Gov. Paterson could be found on the chamber's floor.
"He walked up to the individuals who had privately made commitments to him that they would be in favor of the bill and shored those votes up," Van Capelle recounts.
The Assembly passed the gay marriage bill, 85-61, a hugely important feat pulled off partly because of the political savvy and passion of Paterson.
The shocking and disgraceful fall of Eliot Spitzer puts New York's governorship in Paterson's capable — and gay-friendly — hands.
In Spitzer's first 100 days as governor, he made good on his promise to introduce a gay-marriage bill, making him the first governor to do so.
While the Assembly passed the legislation, it remains stuck in the state Senate, blocked by a Republican who opposes gay marriage.
Ironically, flipping control of the state Senate to Democrats in November, which would get rid of the blockade and give gay marriage a good shot at passage, appears more likely with Spitzer gone.
Spitzer's brass-knuckles style had left him with dismal job approval ratings, which could have hurt Democrats in state legislative races in the fall.
Paterson — best known for championing stem cell research and green energy — assumes the governorship with tremendous promise.
Legally blind since boyhood, he comes from a prominent political family in Harlem, served as a prosecutor and was elected to the state Senate in 1985.
"I have had this desire my whole life to prove people wrong, to show them I could do things they didn't think I could do," Paterson said, alluding to his blindness, when he was elected Senate minority leader in 2002.
He follows Deval Patrick of Massachusetts to become the second African American governor to support gay marriage.
Paterson's support for gay equality goes back to his early days in office, when he worked on the gay-inclusive hate crimes bill, which was signed into law in 2000, for example, and the ban on anti-gay job discrimination, which was signed into law in 2002.
And if the state Senate flips and passes gay marriage in 2009, Paterson will have the chance to be the first governor to sign away discrimination against marriage-minded gay couples.
Paterson, who once ran the New York marathon, has made his life's ambition exceeding expectations.
Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues. To find out more about Deb Price and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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