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Brooklyn Councilmember Jumaane Williams is touting his credentials within the LGBTQ community as he vies for the coveted citywide position of public advocate, but his rhetoric and his answers on questionnaires about his past political giving are in direct conflict with his donations to candidates with anti-gay pasts.
Williams, who earned the endorsement of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club on January 19 and is among those seeking the backing of another LGBTQ group, the Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC, claimed in that group’s candidate questionnaire that he has never “endorsed or financially supported any candidate for public office or current elected official with a track record of working against LGBTQ equality.”
Yet, campaign finance records show otherwise. Williams donated $1,375 apiece on March 11, 2017 to the re-election campaigns of City Councilmembers Chaim Deutsch of Brooklyn and Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx, both of whom have documented histories of homophobia.
Williams did not respond by deadline for this story’s original posting but his campaign did send out an email release about the Owles club endorsement. Subsequent to the story’s posting, Williams responded via email, “I regret and apologize for this oversight. Over the past 10 years I’ve contributed to many of my Council colleagues and these donations were not ones I remembered. I’m 100 percent committed to advancing the rights and protections of our LGBTQ community, and will make a commensurate donation to pro-LGBTQ organizations.”
Deutsch’s anti-gay statements and voting record, described in detail in a Gay City News article earlier this month, includes attacking political opponents for having an “agenda with gays and lesbians” and voting against queer youth-related initiatives such as a resolution to provide support to protect LGBTQ and gender nonconforming students, as well as their inclusion in curriculum materials. He also voted against banning gay conversion therapy.
Cabrera, who has rallied against marriage equality, traveled to Uganda in 2014 shortly after that nation passed what was originally dubbed a “Kill the Gays” bill, an act that banned, under penalty of life imprisonment, same-sex sexual relations and the promotion or recognition of LGBTQ people. He said in a video during his trip that “godly people are in government” in Uganda and praised the nation for standing against what he described were threats by the United States to pull funding if Uganda’s anti-gay actions continued.
“Even when the United States of America has put pressure, has told Uganda, ‘We are not going to fund you anymore unless you allow gay marriage,’ they have stood in their place. Why? Because the Christians have assumed the place of decision-making for the nation,” Cabrera said in the video.
Assemblymember Michael Blake of the Bronx was the only candidate seeking Stonewall’s endorsement to admit that he has donated to anti-gay candidates. Brooklyn Councilmember Rafael Espinal, former Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign surrogate Nomiki Konst, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Democrats secretary Benjamin Yee, Assemblymembers Danny O’Donnell of Manhattan and Latrice Walker of Brooklyn, and attorney Dawn Smalls are other candidates who said in the questionnaire that they have not donated to homophobic candidates. Attorney Ifeoma Ike also filled out the questionnaire, but announced on Monday that she was pulling out of the race for failing to submit the necessary paperwork.
Stonewall, which is slated to hold an endorsement meeting on Wednesday evening, expressed concern over Williams’ answer on the questionnaire in the face of new revelations surrounding his history of donations to homophobic politicians.
“Stonewall Democrats has been clear over the years that it is unconscionable for those claiming to be our allies to support candidates who actively work against the equality for the LGBTQ community,” the group said in a written statement to Gay City News. “Our questionnaire specifically and straightforwardly asks this question of candidates seeking our endorsement because it is important. It is clear that Councilmember Williams’ answer does not line up with his donation history. LGBTQ New Yorkers deserve to know why.”
The Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club defended Williams after learning about the donations. President Allen Roskoff told Gay City News on Tuesday afternoon that the club is sticking with its endorsement of Williams and that it would be unfair to target him when other politicians, such as Ruben Diaz, Sr. — who is not running for public advocate — are much worse.
“He misspoke,” Roskoff said when referring to Williams’ answer on the questionnaire. “He’s not a liar, he’s a very honest man, and he’s very principled. We endorsed Jumaane, and we think we need more people like him.”
During a 2017 interview with Gay City News, Williams acknowledged his own complicated history on gay issues and demonstrated a stronger dedication to fighting for the community moving forward. He echoed those comments in a forum last week for public advocate candidates at Manhattan’s LGBT Community Center, where he recalled when he came around to support marriage equality.
Williams’ voting record and participation at LGBTQ rallies reflects improvement, and he has become much more vocal on issues in the community. He was the lead sponsor of the 2013 Community Safety Act, which brought discrimination protections for those who are dealing with police — including LGBTQ people — and he also cosponsored 2016 legislation that required businesses with single-stall bathrooms to mark those bathrooms with a sign indicating that the facility is gender-neutral.
Williams’ political evolution also coincided with several runs for political office: Before announcing his candidacy for public advocate, he most recently lost bids for lieutenant governor last year and City Council speaker in 2017.