From Three Boroughs, New Gay Councilmen
BY PAUL SCHINDLER | Even as the September 10 Democratic primary spelled defeat for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, New York’s leading LGBT elected official, the results catapulted three gay men into roles as rising political stars.
In the race to succeed Quinn in Council District 3, which encompasses Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, and the West Village, Corey Johnson scored a big victory over Yetta Kurland, an out lesbian civil rights attorney, winning nearly 63 percent of the vote. Johnson, who is 31, has been an LGBT activist in his 13 years in New York and served for eight years on Community Board 4, which represents Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.
Kurland ran a strong challenge to Quinn four years ago, garnering almost a third of the vote, but her tally this year in an open race showed only a modest increase in support.
Corey Johnson, Carlos Menchaca, Ritchie Torres join incumbents Rosie Mendez, Daniel Dromm, Jimmy Van Bramer
Brooklyn elected its first out gay Council member, with Carlos Menchaca winning big in his challenge to 10-year incumbent Sara González. Raised in a public housing project in El Paso, Texas, Menchaca, 32, came to New York after college as a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He went on to work for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, with responsibility for capital budget and economic development issues, and then served on Quinn’s staff doing community liaison work focused on the LGBT community and HIV/ AIDS issues.
Menchaca won nearly 58 percent of the vote in District 38, which includes Sunset Park, Windsor Terrace, and Red Hook, He had significant labor support, as well as the endorsement of Congresswoman Nydia Velásquez and the Working Families Party.
In the Bronx, Ritchie Torres, a 25-year-old aide to City Councilman James Vacca, captured 36 percent of the vote in a six-candidate race for the open central Bronx District 15 seat, becoming that borough’s first gay official. Like Menchaca, Torres grew up in public housing, where he still lives. He began working for Vacca at age 17 and viewed his primary responsibilities as organizing tenants in one of the city’s poorest districts to demand that landlords fulfill their legal obligations to maintain their buildings.
Torres enjoyed overwhelming labor support in the district, as well as endorsements from the Working Families Party, Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a leading reformer in the Bronx. His closest competitor, finishing with 21 percent of the vote, was Joel Rivera, a candidate who lives outside the district but has the same name as the longtime incumbent, forced to leave the Council this year by term limits.
Rivera, Menchaca, and Lower East Side incumbent Rosie Mendez, who represents District 2, all faced opposition from the City Action Coalition PAC, an independent expenditure group representing ministers who formerly fought to block marriage equality and are now challenging a Department of Education policy that forbids religious organizations from renting public school space for worship services.
With more than 80 percent of the vote, Mendez easily dispatched her opponent, Richard Del Rio, a senior pastor at Abounding Grace Church.
In the race to succeed Gale Brewer in District 6 on the Upper West Side, Mel Wymore, a transgender man who is a systems engineer and has been on the local community board for the past 17 years, ran strong in a seven-person race. He was edged out, 27 to 22 percent, however, by Helen Rosenthal, who served on the same community board.
Mendez, Torres, Menchaca, and Johnson will join incumbents Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, Queens Democrats who won renomination in the primary, in the Council’s LGBT caucus next year.