May 8, 2014 | by Kevin Naff
Gays behaving badly
Sean Eldridge, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

A squabble broke out at the Equality Forum panel discussion of national politics I moderated last week in Philadelphia.

A woman in the audience objected forcefully after the Victory Fund’s Torey Carter discussed his organization’s controversial endorsement of two gay candidates for Congress.

One is Richard Tisei, a gay Republican from Massachusetts seeking to unseat pro-LGBT (but straight) incumbent John Tierney. The race is dividing LGBT voters and donors, with some saying we should remain loyal to our allies in Congress while others like the Victory Fund see an opportunity to add an openly gay voice to the GOP caucus.

The other race is in New York where the Victory Fund and other LGBT advocates are backing Sean Eldridge over a Republican incumbent who opposes marriage equality. The race is controversial because Eldridge has a thin resume but deep pockets — he’s married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

The woman at Equality Forum nearly leapt from her seat, angry at the notion of a candidate buying a seat in Congress and questioning whether the LGBT community should play along with such unsavory tactics.

Her frustration is certainly understandable. Eldridge embodies much of what is wrong with our modern political system, which prizes money over achievement. LGBT advocates should reconsider supporting Eldridge’s vanity campaign for Congress from New York’s 19th congressional district.

Or is it the 18th district? It’s hard to keep track of where Eldridge and his wealthy husband — who won the lottery by ending up Mark Zuckerberg’s college roommate as he was creating Facebook — are buying their latest multi-million-dollar home.

We should abandon the term “carpetbagging” and call it “Eldridgeing” because he gives new meaning to the cynical practice of picking up and moving to a new district to buy a seat in Congress.

Eldridge is taking on incumbent Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican who opposes marriage equality but is a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Of course, no one would mistake Gibson for a gay rights advocate — he earned a zero on HRC’s congressional scorecard — but gay voters and donors should resist lining up behind an alternative just because he’s gay and rich. Surely there’s a viable, experienced Democrat living in the district. We won’t know because anyone contemplating a run was scared off by the Hughes war chest.

In sharp contrast to most newbie politicians, Eldridge shuns the media. He has refused multiple Blade interview requests. Politico last month published a profile of Eldridge and noted that he not only refused its interview requests, but locked the campaign headquarters door when a reporter showed up knocking.

Despite Eldridge’s arrogant approach to campaigning, LGBT voices are embracing him.

“They are young, rich, smart and good-looking. It’s a pretty powerful combination,” Richard Socarides told the New York Times in a predictable display of sycophantic ass kissing.

There’s no disputing they are rich. Hughes’ net worth has been reported to be between $600-700 million. The money came from his connection to Facebook’s Zuckerberg. As the New York Times put it, “For Mr. Hughes, a history and literature student with no programming skills, it later seemed to outsiders a lucky break.”

The couple bought an estate in Garrison, N.Y. along with 80 acres in 2011 for $5 million, the Times noted, quoting Eldridge as saying that’s where they “put down roots.” But just two years later, when the congressional seat in that area appeared out of reach for Eldridge, they bought a new, $2 million spread just north in the 19th congressional district.

Eldridge is just 27 but has a “deep commitment” to public service, according to his bio on Victory Fund’s website. It continues, “He helped lead the successful campaign for marriage equality in New York State in 2011.” That’s almost as ridiculous and brazen as author Jo Becker comparing HRC’s Chad Griffin to Rosa Parks in her new book “Forcing the Spring.”

Much gnashing of teeth followed publication of the book last month. Part of the reason for the backlash is that the book played into a narrative of HRC swooping in at the 11th hour and taking credit for the work of grassroots activists. Many of them have complained (often privately and off the record, fearing retribution) of HRC’s tactics, from Maryland to Maine and California to New York.

We all know the marriage equality movement didn’t start in 2008 with the Prop 8 case and that Griffin is no Rosa Parks. In fact, that case fell far short of its goals; it’s an odd choice for Becker’s grandiose claims.

As gays find increasing acceptance and move openly into the halls of power, we mustn’t forget our own history, as HRC bet wrongly we would in the case of Becker’s book. That history has always been about a shared responsibility for helping each other overcome discrimination and hate. We all stand on the shoulders of a generation of gay men who died and the LGBT survivors who took care of them.

And, as the insightful Maya Rupert of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told our audience at the Equality Forum: We don’t need a gay Rosa Parks. The original belongs to everyone.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

10 Comments
  • Does ..”In God we trust ” sound familiar ?….what god ? mine inspired the writings contained in the holy bible which is very clear concerning these issues…if there are other options, where are they coming from ??? PlEASE meditate on this ….

  • I'm Just Sayin'

    The thin resume is a valid observation, but specifically what experience or circumstance is a predictor of a capable legislator in your view? Actor? Doctor? Lawyer? Widow? Realtor? Entrepreneur? I mean is he any less qualified than Gopher from the Love Boat? There are a long list of disappointments with stellar CV’s. As for the carpetbagging rap, would you be so bold as to call out Hillary for doing the same when she declared residence in New York to run for the US Senate, or Bobby Kennedy before her? Seems like Sean has some good role models in that particular strategy. If you feel that strongly about someone buying a congressional seat, I can only imagine your views on someone buying a magazine so that they can play publisher and editor-in-chief just because they were lucky enough to have roomed with Mark Zuckerberg. Not sure what you were trying to accomplish with this editorial. The re-election of Chris Gibson?

    • I comprehended...but

      “Her frustration is certainly understandable. Eldridge embodies much of what is wrong with our modern political system, which prizes money over achievement.”

      This statement by the author is really interesting. It either shows a complete naivete, or a complete lack of comprehension/knowledge about the real basis on which this country was founded and its political systems. Considering the majority of initial Europeans coming to what became the USA were debtors, petty criminals, and all manor of people who at the time Europe wanted to be rid of. The concept that ‘money’ in all forms rules over all else is older than the USA. Achievement has its place but if you think for one second that the majority of US citizens (if they are honest) would champion achievement over money you are sadly mistaken. Whether its the ‘right thing’ or the ‘wrong’, USA culture has been indoctrinated totally by the concept that money rules and is the basic founding principal of the USA. All citizens may not practice that concept in a conscious manner but its there. Sometimes money follows because of achievement for individuals, but if the chance came for an individual to get money without the achievement they will take it. As far as this persons thin resume I agree with with a previous comment, is the set criteria, skills, degrees, areas of expertise that qualifies anyone to be in Congress. If there is then apply it to the set of fools, dumb a____. and generally self centered 535 ignorant people already serving. There are only a few of that 535 who are there thinking about anyone but themselves, and I work there.

    • First, nothing follows from the fact that “there is a long list of disappointing representatives who boast stellar CV’s.” Powerful members of Congress should, as a rule, be accomplished individuals. They don’t have to have earned an M.B.A./J.D. from Harvard, but they shouldn’t be Larry the Cable Guy.

      Second, Hilary Clinton is a weak analogy, for although she declared residence in New York in order to run for Senate, her CV—rather than a rich husband—is what made her a viable candidate and ultimately won her a seat. By contrast, Sean Eldridge’s CV begins and ends with his spouses money.

      Indeed, it’s important to distinguish between, on the one hand, a seasoned New York politician suddenly moving to Maine and immediately running *on the strength of her track record*, and on the other hand, a 27 year old kid moving into and “angel investing” in a district for one year so that he can run *on the strength of his husband’s financial standing*. In other words, the fact qualified politicians move around doesn’t justify Sean’s shameless, vain carpetbagging.

  • William Waybourn

    I have not met either candidate nor have I contributed to their campaigns, but when I helped start the Victory Fund in 1991 (and have supported since), the goal was to put and keep qualified lesbian and gay candidates in public office. Assuming that both candidates have met the Victory Fund's criteria, then I support them wholeheartedly. Who got there first isn't as important as who makes it to the finish. No doubt putting more openly lesbian and gay candidates in public office will bring the finish line closer for all of us. If we wait for "perfect" candidates to run for open seats that our friends don't want, we will never get anywhere.

  • Wonderfully stated, William. I totally agree and thank you for your leadership.

  • This is an excellent of accountability journalism and we could a lot more of it from the gay and straight press and blogosphere. I’m not the least bit surprised by political star-fcuker Richard Socarides’ quote and backing of Eldridge because he has no ethics or moral compass. Let us never forget his public silence when Clinton signed DOMA and how he drafted talking points to undermine gay anger at the president. Maybe Eldridge could find a more suitable profession than member of Congress, say, model during NYC’s Fashion Week after he loses the election.

  • Rank opportunism. I don't support buying elections when it's the Koch bros and I don't support it because it's a gay candidate who's credentials seem to be wealth and privilege.

  • Rank opportunism. I don't support buying elections when it's the Koch bros and I don't support it because it's a gay candidate who's credentials seem to be wealth and privilege.

  • Just because someone is gay does that mean that gays should blindly endorse that person? There is nothing wrong with furthering a gay agenda, but putting someone in the seat because they have enough money to promote themselves publicly does not seem like a good strategy. Sean has no credentials, no track record, no resume as the writer suggests and only money as a qualification. sorry does not work for me.

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