Freshman Senator Broke from Party in Rejecting Bill
By Conor Greene
In the wake of the state Senate’s rejection of the marriage equality bill, several of the borough’s representatives have come under fire for voting against the law, which would have provided gay and lesbian residents the right to marry.
While several of the Queens’ Democratic delegation on the state Senate surprised observers with their no votes, one in particular – freshman Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) has come under especially heavy criticism. Addabbo was elected to the Senate last year to replace longtime Republican Serf Maltese, leaving some of the groups and people who worked to elect the Democrat feeling let down when he didn’t support the law.
At the same time, much of Addabbo’s district, which stretches from Woodside south to Howard Beach, is made up of socially conservative voters in neighborhoods such as Glendale and Middle Village who oppose gay marriage. As a result, Addabbo was left in a tough spot as he is now being viewed as a major reason the bill was defeated 32 to 24.
Throughout the weeks of debate leading up to the vote, Addabbo refused to reveal how he personally stands on the issue. Instead, he says that more than 400 constituents contacted his office in the weeks leading up to the vote, on top of the many more he spoke to each day. Addabbo says about three quarters of the constituents he heard from on the issue were against allowing gay marriage. “This decision of mine was totally constituent driven,” continued Addabbo.
“When I took the oath of office, it was to represent the opinions of the people, and it was very clear that… the residents who I represent in Albany are against marriage equality.” He says not divulging his personal stance allowed him to receive an accurate and clear picture of his constituents’ views, instead of just having residents on one side of the debate contact him.
During the interview, Addabbo repeatedly stressed that the role of an elected official is to get the community’s consensus on an issue. “I keep saying that my personal feeling is my personal feeling, and it’s only one opinion, so I take my opinion out of it and go with the views of many,” he said. “When you have issues along the lines of civil rights, religion or other personal beliefs people have, certainly their voices should be heard… When it came time for a vote, my people had been clear.”
While Addabbo called this “one of the hardest” votes he has been part of during his career in politics, he noted that, unlike budget and tax decisions, it only impacts a small portion of the community. “I knew at some point we would have to take up this issue, and there still will be hard issues in the future and I’ll try to get the consensus of my people again in the future,” he said.
Now that a vote has finally been cast on this emotional subject, Addabbo stressed the importance of moving ahead with other state business. “I think the idea here is, we did this issue - which was ery important to many - but we have very serious issues that lie ahead that affect everyone” including budget, education, transportation and public services, he said. “We definitely need to move forward with issues that affect the daily lives of constituents.”
Looking ahead at his own political future, and the possibility that he alienated portions of the Democratic and liberal base that helped get him elected, Addabbo maintained that he never made promises to groups regarding gay marriage.
“One thing I’ve been consistent with was that I kept an open mind and never committed myself to a yes or no,” he said. “I am grateful to all those who supported me, including members of the gay community, but they did that as everyone did, not knowing if I was a committed yes.”
Addabbo said he couldn’t base his decision on the possibility of facing a Democratic primary next year, even though his vote has made that much more likely. “My philosophy is to do my work to the best of my ability, and I put that body of work, both legislation and constituent service-wise, on the lien every other year, and it’s up to the people to judge me I hope not on one issue, but on a whole bunch of issues I put work into.”
He said he “can’t be hung up” on the prospect of facing a party primary challenge on the basis of one vote. “If there is a primary, I’ll put my record up against my opponent, and if there is a general, I’ll put my record up against that opponent.”
Addabbo did seek to debunk one theory that has been presented since the vote: that his vote, which came early in the roll call due to his last name, set off a chain reaction that led other Democrats to also reject the bill. “We knew going into the chamber that there were not enough votes, so the myth that I caused a chain reaction didn’t happen,” he said. “If you do the math, eight other Democrats were solid with their no votes. This issue really wasn’t as cultivated as much as it should have been, and we didn’t have enough votes going in.”
The other Queens Democrats voting against the bill were George Onorato (Astoria), Hiram Monseratte (East Elmhurst) and Shirley Huntley ( Jamaica), while borough Democrats Toby Ann Stavisky (Flushing) and Malcolm Smith (St. Albans) supported the measure. Frank Padavan (Bellerose) joined every one of his Republican colleagues in voting against the bill and not participating in the discussion leading up to the roll call.