By Arthur Z. Schwartz
Twenty-five years ago an upstart threatened to run against longtime Greenwich Village Assemblyman Bill Passanante. Bill had become a progressive force in the State Assembly and in local politics over thirty-six years. He was way ahead of his time, introducing a gay rights bill and domestic partnership legislation. He supported liberalized abortion laws, introduced the first loft law legislation, was a major supporter of reform politics, and even joined the Village Independent Democrats when it was a major progressive voice in NYC. But then forty-something Debra Glick, president of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, called on him to step aside (at age 70) or face a challenge. He stepped aside.
Debra won that primary, against four opponents, and won handily. She promoted the fact that she would be the first female Assembly member elected since the 1950s and the first open lesbian ever. She was fresh, young, and independent, a face for a changing population in the Village—West, Central, and East. She had no track record save a short stint on CB2, but we all hoped for the best.
Now we get to look back with twenty-five years of hindsight. Earlier this year, Ms. Glick made the news as the major apologist for Sheldon Silver when he fought to maintain his Speakership in the face of an indictment which indicated that he had leveraged public funds to make himself wealthy. While the rest of the legislative Democrats wanted a leader free from taint, Glick said no, let him stay till he has a trial. He gave up before she did.
Then, when the Assembly members united around Carl Heastie, who would become the first Black Speaker ever, she refused to vote for him.
This reflected just how much Debra had become a key part of the “good old boys” club. Democrats in her district last year voted by a 70-30 margin for Zephyr Teachout for Governor and Tim Wu for Lieutenant Governor, but she stuck with Andrew Cuomo and campaigned hard for him. The year before, when New York City had its first open election for Mayor in twelve years, she went with Christine Quinn, who did little to serve Glick’s district, while 57% of us voted for Bill de Blasio. When given the choice between a Black woman (Letitia James) and a thirty-two-year-old White Male State Senator in the Public Advocate runoff, she went for the White Male. The pattern repeats back many years, including her staunch support for Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Presidential primary. The voters in her district went 60-40 for Obama and his historic candidacy. (We were the only White majority Assembly District in the State to do that).
We live in one of the most liberal, politically outspoken communities in the United States. You would think that our elected officials would reflect that reality, becoming major fighters against money in politics, political corruption, lack of school funding, the increasing affordability crisis in NYC, the job and housing discrimination faced by Black and Hispanic New Yorkers, wage stagnation, and diminishing and overly expensive medical care. Under Glick, the Village has become 96% White and a place where no young person can afford to live (much less older folks with the escalating attacks on people in rent regulated apartments). We lost St. Vincent’s and got no serious replacement. NYU expansion continues unbounded. She can’t even get Pier 40 funded. (Debra voted against creation of Hudson River Park, and in that position did little to shape the economics of the park, and forfeited a right to be a major player in park development thereafter.)
Our community should have spawned someone as outspoken as Bernie Sanders or Zephyr Teachout. But not our Assembly member. After twenty-six years, she could be a progressive power in the Assembly. She is not!
So here is my challenge to Assembly Member Glick: Announce your retirement. Let some new people come forward over the next year to vie with each other and then run in a primary. If up and coming candidates didn’t have to face your $250,000 war chest, they would, I believe, come forward. But if you say NO, or just ignore me or call me a name (misogynist and homophobe are your favorites), then I will run against you—and finance my campaign wholly from contributions collected by New Yorkers who want loud, provocative, progressive voices in politics. I have made sure that WestVew will accept and publish your response.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Male Greenwich Village District Leader.