Friday, August 20, 2010

Grassroots Turn Out Against Ruben Diaz

Activist Alan Bounville trails Senator Ruben Diaz outside his August 12 fundraiser in the Bronx. (QUEER RISING)

Challenger Charlie Ramos see path to upset; presses for more aggressive gay


Before guests began to arrive for an August 12 fundraiser for Ruben Diaz held at a Bronx catering hall, Natasha Dillon, a founder of Queer Rising, engaged in a brief negotiation with police.

The cops first said that the protesters, who object to the state senator’s anti-gay positions, would have to stand on the other side of a wide avenue across from the hall. Dillon said that they wanted to photograph people going in, so police strung up tape on two sides of an awning over the entrance and guests had to run a gauntlet of protesters to get inside.

“Hopefully, we planted a seed,” said Iana DiBona, the protest organizer, after roughly 90 minutes of chanting “Dinner with a bigot, shame on you” and “Queer rising, Diaz falling.”

When protesters began to chant “Down with Diaz, up with Ramos,” one person quickly objected, saying they could not be seen as partisan. But the point was made. Charlie Ramos is running a long-shot campaign to defeat Diaz in the September 14 Democratic primary. The queer community is backing him.

“I’ve been getting a lot of support from the gay community, endorsements, but financially I wish they had done a little better,” Ramos said. “I’ve also gotten a lot of support from the gay activists Queer Rising.”

Ramos, 40, who entered the race late, has raised $35,000 and has just under $3,000 in cash, according to his latest filing with the state Board of Elections. Diaz had $140,000 in cash on hand.

Ramos’ cash was so tight that when Diaz tried to throw him off the ballot by challenging his nominating petitions, Ramos represented himself, a job that is typically left to experienced election lawyers. Queer Rising members were among the volunteers who carried those petitions and later verified the signatures.

“We knew that Ruben Diaz would challenge the petitions,” said Sergio Llanos, a member of the activist group. “We had to go line by line and make sure that each signature was correct.”

Diaz, 67, was represented by attorney Stanley K. Schlein. Showing how ugly the race is, Kevin Douchkoff, who joined the August 12 protest, said he heard Schlein say, “Fags for Diaz” as he entered the fundraiser. Schlein did not return a call seeking comment. Another man attending the fundraiser gave the protesters the middle finger.

The Queer Rising members carried signs that compared Diaz to Adolf Hitler and George Wallace, the Alabama governor who was known for his defense of racial segregation.

Diaz has long opposed goals sought by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, community. Most recently, he helped table a long-stalled transgender civil rights bill in a State Senate committee, and he was one of eight Democrats who joined all 30 Republicans in that body to defeat a same-sex marriage bill last year.

Diaz first won his Bronx State Senate seat, by a wide margin, in 2002. He remains popular in his district and has not faced a serious primary or general election challenge since then. Perhaps daunted by the difficulty of removing incumbents in New York’s State Legislature, some of the gay groups that endorsed Ramos have been otherwise lukewarm in their support.

“I think that Queer Rising has been the one that has been more out there for me,” he said. “Marriage Equality New York, their PAC, they’ve been very helpful.”

Ramos feels some frustration with the tepid response.

“Considering that I’m taking on the number one obstructionist against gay marriage,” he said.

Among the ten endorsements listed on his campaign website, six are from gay-identified organizations — including the Empire State Pride Agenda and the Human Rights Campaign — and only one of the six, Marriage Equality New York, has given him money. Individual gay donors have given him cash.

[Editor's Note: Financial contributions to the Ramos campaign were reviewed as of his most recent filing with the State Board of Elections, submitted on July 15. On August 16, when this story was published, the filing due on August 13 had not yet been submitted to the Board, and the Ramos campaign had not responded to Gay City News' request for the information that would be reported in that filing. A $1,000 contribution from the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York and a $500 contribution from the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club are due to be included in the August 13 report when filed.]

He has other help.

Ramos won the endorsement of a Teamsters umbrella organization that represents 33 union locals. He expects to be endorsed by another union local in the Bronx. That support can translate into volunteers.

“That’s the plan,” Ramos said. “If I can get like 500 bodies out of them — I think that’s possible — I would have a nice ground game.”

The State Senate district where he is running includes neighborhoods represented by two members of the Assembly who face competitive primaries, and the turnout in those races may aid him, Ramos said.

He will also rely on old-fashioned retail politics.

“Starting from tomorrow until the election, it’s going to be like 6 a.m. until late in the evening,” Ramos said. “That’s pretty much going to be the schedule for the next 30 days.”

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