Same-Sex Marriage Activist Considering Run For Manhattan Borough President

Laura Nahmias for City Hall News |

Brian Ellner, one of the principal activists in the coalition that helped legalize same-sex marriage in New York this year, is considering running for Manhattan borough president in 2013, according to a source with direct knowledge of his thinking.

“I have no current plans to run,” Ellner wrote in an email.  “My focus now is to use the New York momentum to help win equality in other states.”

Ellner first ran for borough president office in 2005, finishing fourth in a nine-person race, but after advocates singled him out as an important force behind same-sex marriage, some consultants say he could be a formidable contender in 2013.

“Brian Ellner would be one of the strongest candidates running for the seat,” said Advance Group consultant Scott Levenson. “If you couple the momentum he has coming off the marriage vote of last year and the ability to bring the money necessary to win, that makes him formidable.”

Brian Ellner was instrumental in the push for marriage equality in New York. His next move may be into the borough president's office. Photo courtesy of City Hall News.

Ellner, currently working with the Human Rights Campaign on a same-sex marriage campaign in Maryland, was in 2005 the first openly gay politician to appear in an ad with his partner.

But after being highly critical of Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his campaign, Ellner incurred the wrath of some lesbian and gay activists for taking a job within the Bloomberg administration after losing the borough president’s race. At the time, some LGBT activists and members of the Empire State Pride Agenda called it hypocritical, given the mayor’s financial support of Senate Republicans who opposed the marriage bill.

If Ellner enters the race, he’ll face a wide and still-widening field. Potential candidates include Julie Menin, the chairwoman of Community Board 1; current City Council members Jessica Lappin, Dan Garodnick, Gale Brewer and Robert Jackson; and Tom Allon, the media executive running for mayor. (Allon’s Manhattan Media publishes City Hall, but he has recused himself from its editorial process for the duration of his campaign.)

To win in Manhattan, political consultant George Arzt said, a candidate needs high name recognition, high favorability ratings, a lot of money and the endorsement of the New York Times.

“The math is, the New York Times is 10 percent of the vote,” he said.

Other consultants said the fractured field could also turn on endorsements from Congressman Jerry Nadler, Borough President Scott Stringer and Speaker Christine Quinn – whose mayoral campaign would surely spur many Manhattan gays and lesbians to the polls.

“The lesbian and gay vote alone is not enough to win a borough-wide election,” one Manhattan political consultant cautioned. “[Ellner]’s certainly got to put together quite a bit beyond that narrow base, especially without the rallying cry of gay marriage.”

The districts with the highest voter turnout are usually the Upper West Side and West Village, which could overlap with Brewer’s or Lappin’s council districts. And Menin could get a boost from a population boom in lower Manhattan, where the population has grown by 30,000 people in a decade.

None of the potential candidates reached for comment would confirm their plans to run, and several noted there is no guarantee Stringer won’t upend the contest by running for another term instead of for mayor.

“Like every smart politician, Scott has to look as though, while he’s raising money, he’s running for something else. But it’s like musical chairs isn’t it?” asked Allon, who insisted he is a candidate for mayor, not borough president. “When the music stops, we’ll see who’s running.”

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