Now that New York is set to become the sixth and largest state to legalize gay marriage, it’s time to give the credit where credit’s due — and that starts with me.
You wouldn’t know it from reading media accounts. A few outlets have credited other Republicans. MSNBC claimed that gay marriage had passed “because of two undecided Republicans from upstate regions,” Mark Grisanti and Stephen Saland, had voted for it. Most have credited New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo. The Associated Press hailed him as the “new face of gay marriage rights” and The Washington Post called him the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. But none up to now have credited me for getting the ball rolling.
Last October, I was faced with the prospect of voting in the gubernatorial race for either Cuomo or Republican Carl Paladino. Paladino had doomed his own campaign with downstate liberals and moderates by calling gays “dysfunctional” earlier that month. After canvassing the NYC GOP Tweet-up and determining there might be a few votes out there to be had, I jumped in as a write-in. Little did I know at the time that I’d be facing another insurgent campaign: 10-month-old Sadie Markowicz’s. The daughter of WNYC columnist Karol Markowicz, Sadie ran as a write-in in part because Paladino’s comments had offended her mom. Karol had been at that same Tweet-up and had come to the same conclusion that I had — that New Yorkers needed a GOP alternative to Paladino.
I thought I’d be that person. After all, a quick look at Karol’s mommy blog, 212baby.com, didn’t seem to tell me much at all about the issues important to New Yorkers. There was a lot about baby wear but not much about the Obamacare mandates that could cost tens of thousands of New Yorkers their employer-sponsored healthcare plans. I knew that people seem to inherently like babies, but I knew I’d have an edge on the campaign trail since Sadie couldn’t talk yet.
I ran on experience. In three YouTube ads, I reminded voters of the work I’d done as a New York journalist, giving voices to people who otherwise had none. I also tried to draw a contrast between me and Sadie. In one ad, I told viewers that for the past ten years, I’d lived off my own initiative while for the past ten months Sadie had lived off her parents. I was convinced that — like Hillary Clinton’s red phone ad — it would stir some doubts about Sadie’s candidacy.
But I had not been prepared for how relentless Sadie could be or how low her campaign was willing to sink in order to smear me. In one low-budget ad that her mom produced, she accused me of flip-flopping on West Harlem development and compared me to John Kerry — the death knell for a GOP candidate.
It was a race that split the GOP. I should have known that we were in trouble at October’s Tweet-up when The Blaze’s Billy Hallowell seemed torn between voting for me and voting for Sadie. That’s how tough a choice it was. As a result, Sadie and I had to be even nastier to distinguish ourselves from each other and from a stable of other viable Republicans including former Eliot Spitzer madam Kristin Davis. I started a birther movement to convince voters that Sadie wasn’t eligible to be governor. And Sadie’s last attack ad on me was so convincing that I wound up voting against myself because I couldn’t risk sending a flip-flopper to Albany.
In the end, the sheer number of GOP candidates helped to fragment the coalition that had elected George Pataki. Cuomo won and went on to push the agenda that culminated in Friday’s gay marriage vote. Had I not run, that might never have happened. It’s time the media got the memo.
Dorian Davis is a former MTV HITS star turned libertarian writer. He’s been published in Business Week, NY Daily News, XY & more. He’s an NYU graduate and National Journalism Center alum. He teaches journalism at Marymount Manhattan College.