By Jeremy Walsh
State Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) and three other Queens Democrats came under fire from some constituents after voting to kill the same-sex marriage bill in the state Senate, which was struck down by a larger margin than expected.
Five of the borough’s seven-member Senate delegation opposed the controversial measure, including Monserrate, whose district includes one of the largest and most visible gay and lesbian populations in Queens. The other senators to vote against it were Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), George Onorato (D-Astoria) and Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose).
Sens. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) voted in favor of the bill, which failed by a surprisingly wide 38-24 tally.
Some of Monserrate’s constituents and colleagues began the new week by mobilizing against him. City Councilmen-elect Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, state Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) and Councilmen John Liu (D-Flushing) and David Weprin (D-Hollis) joined activists for a rally outside the Jackson Heights post office Monday, where they announced a protest march to Monserrate’s district office on Northern Boulevard Saturday.
Van Bramer, who along with Dromm will be the first gay councilmen representing Queens, said he was saddened by how the borough’s representatives voted in light of his own victory at the polls last month.
“It certainly is ironic,” he said. “And it’s to me an indication that certainly in the case of Sens. Onorato and Monserrate, that they are not in tune with … a majority of their constituents.”
Addabbo defended his vote, declining to publicly state his own opinion on the issue but calling it a “difficult decision.”
“The oath is to represent the people of my district,” he said, noting he received more than 400 phone calls from constituents, mostly opposed to the measure. “Certainly my district overwhelmingly did not favor marriage equality. Even before my interests, it’s the interests of my people I represent.”
Onorato incurred anger from activists earlier this year when he indicated he opposed same-sex marriage. Protests outside his office did not sway his vote, and gay-rights groups have indicated they will support a challenger in the Democratic primary next year.
“Within a year and a half there’ll be a senator in that district that supports marriage equality,” said a political insider, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The guy is 81 years old. Nobody thinks he’s going to be in the Senate much longer.”
Padavan’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time Tuesday.
Denny Meyer, vice president of American Veterans for Equal Rights, said Monserrate had previously assured the gay community of his support.
“A year ago I stood here and endorsed him based on that,” he said at the Monday rally. “I’m here tonight to take it back.”
Astoria resident and gay rights activist Brendan Fay, who helps organize the St. Pat’s for All parade in Sunnyside each year, said he was angered by Monserrate, who showed support for the gay and lesbian community at the Queens Pride Parade, but “when the chips were down, he voted no.”
“It could have been a redeeming moment for him,” Fay said. “I think people were also taken aback by Sen. Addabbo, [for] whom the community had … dug deep into the pockets to help him get elected, put time and effort into his campaign.”
Monserrate and his spokesman did not return requests for comment by press time Tuesday, but he defended his vote when interviewed on NY 1.
“I think that in my district there is large LGBT community, but there’s also a very, very large community that did not support it,” he said, noting he received one phone call from a gay constituent urging him to support the bill.
The political insider said the senator’s vote was a bid to maintain the support of Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and a key Monserrate ally since the Senate coup in June. Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx), Monserrate’s fellow rogue Democrat who temporarily crossed over to the GOP side, voted in favor of the bill.
“In the Council, Hiram supported repealing the Defense of Marriage Act,” the source said. “He sold his soul to Rev. Diaz.”
Dromm said he was furious when he watched the vote last week.
“I always had a feeling that Monserrate wasn’t really there on gay issues for us,” he said. “He never endorsed me in any of my races, and I don’t know what that was all about.”
Dromm also said he would recommend the Queens Pride Parade committee return any funds Monserrate contributed.
“He can keep the money,” Dromm said.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.