‘Major’ Changes: Democratic Hopefuls Make Congressional Pitch to Lambda

By Thomas Tracy

They all want peace in the Middle East, want to eradicate the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality and want George Bush run out of Washington D.C. on a rail. But they have to be elected to Congress first. The 2006 Congressional campaign season officially started Thursday with a lively candidates’ forum for the hotly coveted 11th Congressional District. The forum, held at the Montauk Club at 25 8th Avenue and sponsored by the Lambda Independent Democrats, was a chance for the five candidates vying for the seat vacated by outgoing Rep. Major Owens to meet residents living in the 11th Congressional District, which encompasses Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, and Flatbush as well as small sections of Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens and Midwood. Candidates attending the forum included City Councilmember Yvette Clarke, City Councilmember David Yassky, State Senator Carl Andrews, Assemblymember Nick Perry and civic activist Chris Owens – Major Owens’ son. The forum was aptly named because it certainly wasn’t a debate. To varying level of degrees, each of the candidates had the same answers to the questions handed down by moderators and the standing-room-only crowd about issues pertaining to the borough’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender political club. Candidates were asked about their thoughts on gay marriage, the president’s defending of illegal wiretaps, Hamas election to power in Palestine, the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, as well as their position on the proposed Atlantic Yards project. Nearly all, with the exception of Perry, said that they supported gay marriage. Perry said that personally he is opposed to same-sex marriage, firmly believing that marriage “should be between a man and a woman.” That being said, all agreed that they would fight to ensure that same-sex married couples receive the same rights and benefits that heterosexual married couples do. “The first thing that we have to do is to repeal that hateful Defense of Marriage Act,” said Yassky, who prided himself for being the second councilman after now City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to support a referendum demanding that the bill – which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman – be abolished. “Congress should give domestic partners the same federal benefits that other couples do, and I would resist any effort to change the Constitution against that.” Owens said that he would demand to amend the Constitution to include same sex marriages, so the country could be “ever more inclusive.” “That’s why we had a civil rights movement in the first place,” Owens said. Clarke said that she supports same sex marriage, although she recognized the “divide in the Congressional district.” Some of the churches on the Flatbush side of the district might oppose same sex marriages, she said. “We must abolish any bill that is going to legitimize one group’s personal rights while taking away the rights of others,” she said. “That should never be the case.” Andrews, who worked to include language in the legislation of the September 11th Victim and Families Relief Act that would make domestic partners eligible for federal fund awards, said that he would “endorse any bill that would support same sex marriage.” Resounding support was also given to the fight of inheritance rights for same sex couples, although the issue was a thinly veiled disguise to talk about those who seem to inherit political positions – namely, Owens and Clarke. While Chris Owens is the son of the outgoing congressman, Clarke is the daughter of longtime City Councilmember and political powerhouse Una Clarke. Both candidates made it clear that they were their own person, even though politics are in their blood and either have, or hope to have, ascended to their parents’ throne. “When I became City Councilwoman, people would tell me that now that I was in my mother’s City Council seat, I had some big shoes to fill,” Clarke said. “I told my mother that she could keep her shoes while I blaze my own trail.” Owens said that he has supported many things against the will of his father and his father made sure that he wasn’t handing the Congressional seat to his son by “announcing two years prior to his retirement” that he will be stepping down. “Principle comes first,” he said. If elected, Yassky, Owens and Clarke told Lambda members that George W. Bush’s days could be numbered. All agreed that the President’s backing of covert and illegal wiretaps along with his openly lying to go to war against Iraq are both impeachable offenses. “The scope of how he [Bush] ignores the fourth amendment is truly breathtaking,” said Yassky, who, if elected, said that he would put forward a Resolution of Inquiry where Congress would “have to vote to ask the President specific questions about the wiretaps, the war in Iraq and his contempt for Congress.” “I don’t think impeachment is off the table,” he said. “I think January 2007 is too long to wait for the Democrats to take back the house,” said Owens. “I support the impeachment of George Bush. He has dared us. His abuse of executive power is becoming a high crime and misdemeanor.” “There is no doubt that the President has lied and abused his powers,” Clarke said. “He has shown a total disregard and disrespect to this country. That’s what happens when the Republican Party is in power. But most disturbing is the silence of the Democratic Party – the unwillingness or lack of strength to say that “this is the time to get rid of the Republican Party that is in power and say that George Bush has violated us, this nation and the Constitution.” As of Thursday, all five candidates were seriously considering a run for office, although those intentions may have changed recently. According to a recent issue of Crain’s, Andrews may bow out of the race for the New York State Senate minority leadership spot, soon to be vacated by David Paterson, who is poised to join Eliot Spitzer in the race for Governor. Gary Parker, Lambda’s president, said that a vote to decide who gets the club’s endorsement will not come for several months. Each of the candidates, he said, has either received the club’s endorsement or has been supported by Lambda in the past. “It’s going to be a very close race,” he said. “It’s like choosing one of five diamonds. We have the utmost respect of all of them.”

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