When voter's head to the polls for next month's special election in the 54th Assembly district, they'll see three different candidates' names. One of those candidates, Rafael Espinal, will be the Democratic Party candidate. He'll also be the Conservative Party's candidate. Some people may wonder how that happened, considering how opposite the two parties are on a number of social and political issues.
Political blogger Nick Rizzo put the question to Brooklyn Conservative Party Chairman Jerry Kassar. What had Espinal said to the Conservative Party that convinced them he shared their values?
Espinal met with the executive committee of the Brooklyn Conservative Party twice, and told them that he is anti-abortion. Furthermore, Kassar told me:
“We asked him about his position on same-sex marriage… He opposed same-sex marriage. This was before it passed, but he told us he would vote against it.”
According to Kassar, Espinal also “appreciates our concern about out-of-control spending."
That's not the tone he took with the Working Families Party, according to documents obtained by The Empire. Responding to two specific questions--which the Working Families Party confirmed were the responses received from the Espinal campaign--the candidate answered in the affirmative to both his willingness to defend abortion rights, as well as what appears to be hist support for same-sex marriage, stating:
Historically, minorities, people of color and women have not enjoyed the full protection of the law. Through heroic struggles for justice, full civil rights and equality before the law have gradually been extended to millions of people were once denied equal rights. The right to marry the person of one’s choice is a basic freedom. The extension of civil rights to gays and lesbians is in this honorable tradition. Marriage is one of society’s most important social institutions and is also a key economic benefit gays and lesbians shouldn’t be excluded from.
[NOTE: The questions and answers are in full below.]
When asked about the apparent discrepancies between what the Espinal campaign provided the different parties, Brooklyn Conservative Party leader Kassar said he remained "very comfortable" with their endorsement of Espinal.
"He's very active in St. Rita's parish and has strong moral values," Kassar said. "He has told us he would not be considered a pro-choice candidate." He went on to say that members of the community had recommended Espinal to the county committee and that, among the committee, "everyone thought that this was an excellent fit." The Conservative Party just sent out a mailer on behalf of Espinal, on which, according to Kassar, the candidate's pro-life, anti-same-sex marriage positions were stated.
Kassar said that, had Espinal been endorsed by the Working Families Party, the Conservative Party would not have endorsed him. Pressed on whether the different set of answers concerned him, Kassar said, "I'm assuming he's not going to embarrass me."
TJ Helmstetter, spokesperson for the Working Families Party, said Espinal's answers call into question his integrity. "Our question was clear, and his answer was also clear," Helmstetter said. "Espinal clearly lied to us, or to the Conservatives."
Michael Olmeda, the Espinal campaign's manager, said his candidate did nothing of the sort. He insisted Espinal's personal beliefs are what they are, and that the Working Families Party's questionnaire was answered based on the laws Espinal would have to uphold as an elected official.
"How could we write no, when that would be going against state law,” Olmeda asked when questioned on the responses to the Working Families Party questions. "He’s agreeing that he’s going to abide by the law.”
Whether or not Espinal was duplicitous with either political party, the underlying reason to appear on the oft-politically opposed party lines was explained by candidate himself when asked why he accepted the Conservative Party's backing.
"I'm looking to win this race," he said. "I'm just looking to get as much leverage as I can."
Questions 6 and 7 from the WFP endorsement questionnaire:
6. Reproductive Choice and Economic Fairness:
The WFP views issues through a lens that includes both human rights and economic opportunity. We believe that the right of women (and families) to family planning and safe, legal abortion has a profound impact on an individual woman and her family’s economic opportunity. We believe that attacks on health clinics such as Planned Parenthood that provide services to low-income and middle-income women are a direct attack on economic fairness for women. Do you agree with WFP's position to defend reproductive choice and women's health providers?
7. Extending the Benefits of Marriage to All Couples:
The state and federal government extend economic protections and benefits to married couples. No couple committed to each other should be denied these
protections and benefits. The WFP seeks to end the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the institution of marriage. Do you support the freedom to marry for all couples?
YES. Historically, minorities, people of color and women have not enjoyed the full protection of the law. Through heroic struggles for justice, full civil rights and equality before the law have gradually been extended to millions of people were once denied equal rights. The right to marry the person of one’s choice is a basic freedom. The extension of civil rights to gays and lesbians is in this honorable tradition. Marriage is one of society’s most important social institutions and is also a key economic benefit gays and lesbians shouldn’t be excluded from.