First Openly Gay NY Senator Won’t Seek Re-Election

VERENA DOBNIK,Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s first openly gay state senator said Monday that he’s not running for re-election because he wants to “come home,” while considering new plans “to make the world a better place.”

Tom Duane’s home is New York City, where the Democrat announced his decision to quit politics after 14 years of commuting to Albany.

“I have decided it is time for a new chapter in my life,” said the 57-year-old legislator, speaking with emotion at a Manhattan news conference. “And I want to come home.”

Duane, who is HIV-positive but otherwise apparently healthy, said he did not yet have any firm plans for the future.

He acknowledged he had “agonized” over retiring from politics — “I didn’t make this decision easily” — but finally concluded he wanted more time to enjoy his native city with longtime partner Louis Webre, who looked on as the politician recited legislation he’s proudest of.

That includes a state law legalizing gay marriage, which passed last year.

Duane was one of the most vocal early proponents of same-sex marriage, playing a key role in a failed push to legalize it in 2009. Still, he was present when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law last summer.

Duane, who was elected in 1998, will represent his Manhattan district until the end of this year as a voice for “those who never before had a voice in the halls of government,” he said.

Asked whom he might support to fill his Albany seat, he named Brad Hoylman, a friend of his who is executive vice president and general counsel of the Partnership for New York City, a pro-business group, as a possible candidate in a district that stretches from Manhattan’s Upper West Side to the East Village.

Duane said there would be others, and “I’ll make an endorsement at some point,” he said, drawing laughter when he added, “But can we make this about me? Could this just be my day, OK?”

When he first ran for the Senate, naysayers had told him “that an openly gay, HIV-positive person going into a highly partisan and conservative state Senate would not be able to make good things happen,” he said.

Instead, he said, “I think my track record speaks for itself.”

Duane’s political record goes back to the New York City Council, to which he was elected in 1991. When he resigned to go to Albany, Duane was replaced by Christine Quinn, who is now City Council speaker.

Senate Democratic leader John L. Sampson praised Duane for being an advocate “for those New Yorkers whose voices aren’t usually heard in the halls of government.”

“Whether it was standing up for tenants’ rights and affordable housing, or fighting for a women’s right to choose, or ensuring equal rights for all, Tom Duane has been one the front lines of every meaningful progressive struggle over the past three decades, and I am confident his advocacy will continue undimmed in the years to come,” Sampson said in a statement.

In the Senate, Duane worked to pass a state law in 2002 outlawing discrimination against gays and lesbians, and a law taking effect July 1 that protects public elementary and secondary school students from discrimination and bullying.

He said he’s most proud of legislation “that never grabbed headlines” while changing the lives of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, such as a measure that clears the records of sex trafficking survivors of prostitution-linked crimes so they can move on with new lives.

“It’s my mission to make the world a better place,” Duane said, adding that he would continue to work to provide basic care for HIV-positive people, especially those who are impoverished.

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