Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
If and when the New York state legislature votes on a bill allowing same sex couples to get married, all eyes will be on the Senate, where every similar effort over the past five years has met its demise. Republicans tend to vote against gay marriage as a bloc, while Democrats struggle to present a united front in favor—indeed, insiders perceive that failure to secure enough votes on the Left makes dominoes on the Right less likely to fall.
This time around, there are four Democrats who are either 'undecided' or solidly 'no.' Here's a look at the party's spoilers.
Huntley was a 'no' vote in 2009, when a gay marriage bill last made the rounds in Albany. The Queens senator maintains that she was voting the will of her constituency, and says she will continue to do so. But Huntley also once said she wouldn't vote for such a bill even if someone gave her a million dollars.
However, she's been non-committal about a repeat 'no' so far this session. Asked in March about legalizing same sex marriage, Huntley replied, “I don’t have any thoughts. I’m thinking about the budget and senior centers in my district. When it comes up, I’ll think about it.”
Almost everything said about Shirley Huntley can be said about Joseph Addabbo: he's a Queens Democrat who voted 'no' in 2009 and chalked it up to the will of his constituency. Also like Huntley, Addabbo's on the fence this time around.
“You can probably be listing me as undeclared. I mentioned to pro-marriage equality groups and those in my district, I’m going to talk to the people in my district and get a consensus on where they are,” Addabbo said. “I have actually said we’ll make a better effort this time, to get a more clear idea of where the constituents are.”
Addabbo enjoys a unique position in the State Senate thanks to his name: at the top of the alphabet, he's the first one to vote on every bill. In 2009, that meant the lead-off vote on gay marriage was a Democrat saying 'no.' At least one undecided Republican—Jim Alesi, second in the alphabet and second to vote—said that Addabbo's vote made it instantly clear that there wouldn't be enough Democrats on board to pass the bill. Alesi, who appeared to waver until the last possible minute, wound up voting 'no' with the rest of his party.
Kruger waffled between 'undecided' and 'no' in the run up to the 2009 vote, but ended up voting against the bill.
Due to some legal trouble, the Brooklyn Senator's position on this matter—as well as his sexual orientation—has drawn scrutiny in recent months. Kruger faces federal corruption charges for allegedly using bribes to pay for a mortgage on a waterfront mansion (among other goodies) in Mill Basin, NY, where Kruger spends most of his time with the Turano family: two brothers named Michael and Gerard, and their 73-year old mother. Michael Turano is rumored to be Kruger's secret lover—why else would he be driving a Bentley paid for out of a state senator's coffers, some ask.
However, Kruger's camp refuses to confirm this, and the rumor remains just that: a rumor. Were it true, his 'undecided' position would be especially ironic. Even more ironic would be if the senator decided to support gay marriage, and then didn't get to vote because he's being prosecuted for funneling bribes into his gay partner's wallet. That would be something.
Ruben Diaz is as likely to vote 'yes' on same sex marriage as he is to announce that he's the secret love child of Elvis and Hitler, both of whom happen to be alive, well, and retired in Boca. A pentecostal minister, Diaz is, will, and has always been a 'no' on gay rights issues; Diaz is even the main organizer of a recently-announced anti-gay march in New York City on May 15th. He held a similar rally in 2009, during the lead-up to the Senate vote on the most recent marriage equality bill to fail.
Notice anything interesting about these senators? They're all from New York City.
State Senator Diane Savino (D-23), a staunch supporter of legalizing gay marriage, may not buy the constituency excuse used by Senators Huntley and Addabbo, but there is some evidence that if pockets of opposition exist in state senate districts, they're most likely to be found in the five boroughs.
The most recent Siena Research Institute poll shows statewide support for gay marriage at an all-time high of 58 percent. Siena then breaks the state down into three regions: New York City, Upstate, and Suburbs. Of the three, NYC has the lowest margin of support for gay marriage, with only 54 percent in favor. Upstate, the number is 64 percent.
Statewide, opposition is also strongest from minority voters. Thirty-two percent of whites are against same sex marriage, compared to 45 percent of blacks and Hispanics, who also make up a significantly larger portion of the NYC population than the total state population.
Income is also an indicator, and Siena finds most opposition to same sex marriage from people making less than $50,000 per year. Median household incomes in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens all fall below the statewide median of about $55,000 per year, while Manhattan and Staten Island's are higher.
Siena does not have polling data for individual boroughs or senate districts, as the sample size was too small for them to accurately get that micro. That makes it difficult to answer the question of whether or not Shirley Huntley and Joseph Addabbo were really voting with their constituencies when they said 'no' in 2009. While the most recent support numbers based on race and income don't clear them of voting their own conscience, it lends credence to the idea that there's a more substantial population backing them up than their might be in other districts outside the city.