Letitia James: ‘I Endorsed Cabrera on Paper’

Public Advocate Letitia James downplayed her endorsement of Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who drew ire from gay groups when he praised the Ugandan government.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
New York City Public Advocate Letitia James (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images) (Photo: Andrew Burton for Getty Images)

Following outcry from gay and lesbian and women’s groups — and harsh criticism from her former colleagues in the City Council — Public Advocate Letitia James downplayed her endorsement of social conservative Councilman Fernando Cabrera in his failed bid for a State Senate seat.

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“I endorsed Cabrera on paper,” Ms. James told the Observer after an unrelated City Hall press conference. “I did not actively campaign, and I distanced myself from him during the campaign. And the voters have expressed their opinion, and I stand behind that decision.”

Mr. Cabrera, a pastor who has long opposed gay marriage and abortion rights, lost his primary challenge to incumbent State Senator Gustavo Rivera. A video emerged of him earlier this month praising Christian leaders in the government of Uganda. The nation has one of the world’s strictest anti-gay laws.

In an open letter last week to Ms. James and other Cabrera backers, lawmakers outlined why they were choosing to support Mr. Rivera — and pointed to Mr. Cabrera’s long record opposing gay and women’s issues that Ms. James has long supported. And at a press conference, gay City Council members who serve alongside Mr. Cabrera urged Ms. James to reconsider her endorsement and slammed the councilman for his views and his remarks about Uganda, which Councilman James Van Bramer said sent the message to gay teens “that we don’t give a shit if you live or die.”

But though Ms. James said today she had distanced herself from Mr. Cabrera, she never rescinded her endorsement, and in a statement last week her office said she’d worked closely with Mr. Cabrera on other issues.

“I have supported the LGBT community long before I was an elected official, and obviously on the right to choose, I’m strong proponent of women’s right to choose. I totally disagree with Council member Cabrera and anyone else who basically denies rights to the LGBT community as well as to women in general,” Ms. James said today.

Why, then, endorse Mr. Cabrera in his bid to take Mr. Rivera’s spot in Albany?

“I’ve worked with Council member Cabrera in the City Council. He was a friend. He was a supporter of mine. And again, I did not actively campaign and the endorsement was primarily on paper,” Ms. James said.

Mr. Cabrera backed Ms. James in her bid for public advocate. (Mr. Rivera, meanwhile, supported her main opponent, State Senator Daniel Squadron.)

Ms. James said her “very close relationship” with the LGBT community and women’s organizations would continue — but some are unlikely to forget her endorsement so quickly.

“I found it shocking that she would consider endorsing — whether it’s on paper or not,” Allen Roskoff, president of the progressive, LGBT-focused Jim Owles Democratic Club, told the Observer.

He called the public advocate’s endorsement “inexplicable,” and said she should have changed it after the Uganda video arose.

“When you make an endorsement like that and these things are brought to your attention, you withdraw your endorsement,” he said. “It’s not a shame to say you made a mistake.”

Mr. Roskoff said he had not yet spoken with Ms. James — who is a member of the club’s Board of Governors and whose behalf the club sent out “tens of thousands” of pieces of campaign literature last year — about the endorsement, but planned to.

“This is going to have long-term repercussions for her,” Mr. Roskoff said. “She has to apologize and explain, and I’m not saying this with malice.”

Mr. Rivera, the incumbent, beat Mr. Cabrera 60 percent to 40 percent in the primary race. Mr. Cabrera blamed the “liberal media” for his defeat earlier this week.

Mr. Cabrera’s campaign spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Letitia James: ‘I Endorsed Cabrera on Paper’