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.
Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Liz Benjamin, host of Capital Tonight, counted the votes in Albany and discusses the prospects for allowing gay marriage in New York State.
With momentum building behind yet another push for gay marriage in New York, all eyes are on the Republican-controlled State Senate, where such legislation is most likely to fail.
But at a 2010 event with the pro-gay conservative organization Log Cabin Republicans, soon-to-be Senate majority leader Dean Skelos promised he would at least allow a bill to reach the floor, even though he and most other GOP Senators would continue to vote 'no.' Liz Benjamin said that Skelos, by conceding to a vote, might be setting himself and his party up to make political gains toward other priorities at a relatively low cost, assuming the gay marriage bill dies.
At this point, we just don't know what Skelos might gain or lose from allowing a vote. Does he want to clear it out this year because it's not an election year? Take LGBT money that's pouring into Democrats' coffers off the table? Maybe some protection for Republicans who vote 'yes' in a difficult election year in 2012? Maybe he trades with Governor Cuomo for backing off the redistricting reform issue? It's very unclear.
There's a dearth of clarity any way you look at this debate. Even within the Democratic ranks, there are enough 'no' votes and undecideds to torpedo the whole effort. Benjamin pointed to Queens Senator Joseph Addabbo as one possible spoiler for the Left this time around.
He says he remains on the fence, but has indicated that he will vote based on what he believes the district wants...He has said that the anti-gay lobby, namely the religious right, has been organizing in a strong way; there's been an uptick of e-mails and calls into his office, the majority of which are 'no.' Pro-gay marriage folks better get on the stick with him: if he feels that his constituency wants a 'no' vote, he will again vote 'no.'
Little attention has been paid to the State Assembly with regard to gay marriage, but that's because the Democrat-controlled chamber has passed a gay marriage bill twice before and is expected to pass one again. Benjamin said that they've even done it with a few Republican 'yes' votes—perhaps Democrats should put more attention on the Assembly, then, and try to emphasize that a 'no' vote isn't the only safe vote for a GOP Senator.
If you look over in the Assembly, several Republicans in upstate districts voted 'yes' with Democrats on gay marriage in the past and did not lose their seats. Maybe if you vote 'yes' you'll get cash from folks who have proven to be quite generous in terms of campaign contributions. It's very much a liquid sort of situation at the moment.
One of the few certainties is that Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to get this done. He's got a ton of political capital, and he's been vocal about making gay marriage a priority of his administration. Nothing makes that clearer, Benjamin said, than the fact that Cuomo made it a pillar of his "People First Tour," on which he'll stump for his triune legislative agenda.
It's going to be ethics reform, gay marriage, and the property tax cap—sort of a weird bag, but still, he could've put anything in there. Rent laws could have been in there; he could have wanted to talk about redistricting reform; instead he chose these three issues, so I think there's no question the Governor is clearly personally involved in this and has made it his top priority. Will his personality and poll numbers push it through? It's going to be harder than the budget was.