Clubhouse politics were thrown into turmoil on Tuesday when the president of one of the borough’s best-known liberal groups took a leave of absence rather than work to elect the right-of-center candidate who won the club’s endorsement for a council seat last week.
Independent Neighborhood Democrats President Kenn Lowy stepped aside, citing anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage views held by John Heyer, the club’s pick to succeed Councilman Bill DeBlasio and represent Park Slope, Windsor Terrace and Carroll Gardens.
“I have known John for many years and I respect his right to have his views, [but] I am committed to fighting for a more equal and just society [and] to expanding the rights and freedoms of our citizens, not taking these rights away,” Lowy said in a statement.
“Under these circumstances, it would be unfair to our endorsed candidate for me to remain president.”
Heyer got the nod of a slim majority of the club’s members in a tense endorsement meeting on Thursday night, where he was criticized by gay members of the club for his position that all marriages should be civil unions and that the term “marriage” should only apply to private ceremonies that have no legal weight.
Two days earlier, local district leader Alan Fleishman had urged the club to shun Heyer for his unconventional marriage position as well as his opposition to abortion. As a result of that call, Heyer skipped an IND candidate forum last Tuesday, claiming it was “rigged” against him. Heyer told The Brooklyn Paper that “it’s disappointing that some IND members … are leaving because their chosen candidate didn’t get the endorsement. Kenn Lowy’s statement is particularly regrettable because he continues to mischaracterize my positions, especially on abortion. I have repeatedly pledged never to interfere with a woman’s right to choose, and I think my unreserved support for the Clinic Access Bill is much better evidence for how I would vote as City Councilman than Kenn’s persistent, uninformed distortions of my personal spiritual beliefs.”
He added that the Democratic party is “a big tent, open to a variety of ideas and values.”
“For a leader to simply pack up and go home rather than engage in a conversation about difficult issues is counterproductive,” Heyer added. “And it most certainly is not representative of the progressive movement that Kenn Lowy claims to stand for.”
Nonetheless, Lowy’s decision to recuse himself from the primary was cheered by many in the IND community.
“Kenn is to be applauded,” said Fleishman. “I am dismayed that in 2009, a progressive political club could endorse a candidate with John Heyer’s right-of-center views. As a gay man who has fought for same-sex marriage and equal rights for women my whole life, the actions of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats disappoint me greatly.”
Bob Zuckerman, a rival for the seat, also criticized the IND endorsement of Heyer, saying that as a result of endorsing a “conservative candidate who is anti-choice and anti-marriage equality,” the club is “in danger of becoming an irrelevant voice.”
Zuckerman, a past president of the club, also resigned because of the endorsement of Heyer, a funeral home director and staffer in Borough President Markowitz’s office.
“I cannot in good conscience participate in a political club that would endorse a candidate who doesn’t support my right to enter into a civil marriage with my partner of 12 years and doesn’t support a woman’s right to choose,” the openly gay Zuckerman said.
The club’s first vice president, Hal Friedman, also took a leave of absence, Lowy said on Tuesday. Friedman backs Zuckerman.
Lowy did say that he would resume his leadership of the club after the bruising primary season is over. He admitted that the club had been ripped apart by its endorsement of Heyer “to some extent,” but quickly added, “I also hope and feel it can be put back together.
“My hope is that IND will be a strong progressive voice for Brooklyn again soon,” he added.
Other candidates in the race include Brad Lander, who has earned many union and political endorsements; Josh Skaller, who recently won the endorsement of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats; and Gary Reilly, a member of Community Board 6.