On June 24, 2011, the New York state legislature passed a bill that legalized gay marriage. This legislation is indeed ground breaking, making New York one of only six states in the country which permit same sex couples to marry. Marriage equality legislation was introduced on a yearly basis and was defeated with regularity, albeit by small margins. This year the Democratically controlled Assembly supported the legislation as it had in the past. It is the Republican controlled Senate whose support was new and significant.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg were both staunch supporters of the bill. More importantly, so were the wealthy Wall Street donors who run New York politics and decide who will and won’t serve in office and under what conditions.
According to a report in the New York Times, history was made because these financial heavy hitters donors made it so. They worked hand in hand with Cuomo to assure the Republicans willing to change their votes that they would be protected from opposition and not pay a political price for their actions. Marriage equality now exists in New York because enough rich people wanted it.
These same donors made certain that the state’s millionaire’s tax also made history, by disappearing. The same Democratic governor who forced wage and pension concessions from public employee unions was adamant that rich people would not pay their fair share in a time of growing budget deficits. He refused to even consider raising the income threshold and allowing the tax to exist in some form. The result is that wealthy New Yorkers now pay less in taxes than working people do.
The marriage equality outcome is right both morally and politically, but it is not the only item on the progressive agenda which New York legislators need to address. New York City continues its draconian practice of rounding up blacks and Latinos through marijuana arrests and state legislative action which would make this misdemeanor a violation and therefore not subject to arrests, languishes. Rent regulations which allow apartments to be lost to so-called “vacancy decontrol” have not been addressed, pushing more and more working people out of New York City because they cannot find affordable housing.
Cuomo, the marriage equality victor, is already being lionized as a progressive leader when he is in fact nothing of the sort. Black and Latino legislators essentially came up empty handed in this session, having nothing to give their constituents which improves their lives or brings them any measure of justice. Gay rights have now usurped the progressive agenda to such an extent that the inaction on rent protections and police state malfeasance will be seen as irrelevant.
Too many progressives shy away from the harder work of fighting the good fight against tough opponents like the hedge fund chieftains who demand that laws work for them and against working people. This is the most troubling aspect of this vote. Its success depended entirely on the largesse of people who have no interest in promoting legal and economic justice. Quite the opposite, they profit by undermining democracy and making their needs paramount and the needs of most citizens inconsequential.
Governor Cuomo should not be allowed to be seen as a paragon of great virtue after he spent his first legislative session acting like a Democrat in name only. The money driven politics presents clear disincentives to him or to any other governor who wants to represent the needs of most citizens. A candidate for governor in New York is not considered viable unless he or she raises a minimum of $25 million. Like the presidency, the office is for sale, and the winner is automatically beholden to the people who put him there.
Overly enthusiastic pundits are claiming that Cuomo has launched himself into front-runner status for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. In addition to being premature, the wishful thinking is based upon very little that Democrats ought to endorse. Democratic governors who attack public workers and refuse to address unjust regulations and legislation should not force amnesia upon the rest of us because of one victory.
Then again, Cuomo’s strategy of currying favor with rich people comes right out of the Obama playbook. Perhaps he will be a good presidential candidate after all.