Katz Pajamas (Victorious Secrets)
The “New York Post” prints a story accusing a scandal-wracked official up for re-election of having an affair with a member of the New York City Council. The "Daily Politics" blog, which had previously zapped all such comments, is now forced to acknowledge this rumor's existence. Both "Daily Politics" and "The Politicker”, among other outlets, subsequently print their own items, which attract a number of comments, some friendly to the Councilmember, some less so, saying that the story is untrue because the Councilmember is gay. Other rumors, some contradictory, some complimentary, emerge as well. "Daily Politics" attempts to zap many of these comments, but as the story leaves the blog’s front page, new comments appear unmolested. "The Politicker" just lets such comments linger. The whole situation raises many questions which seem worthy of discussion, but to even discuss such matters requires transgressing unwritten rules of behavior, which although never publicly acknowledged, have usually been unquestioned, even by most of those who violate them. More distressingly, to engage in such discussions requires transgressing some rules one might conclude are better upheld. That being said, there's clearly an elephant in the room, and it seems foolish to pretend that it's not there. So let me raise a few issues.
Is it plausible that someone in the public sphere would, for their own benefit, falsely spread the rumor that they are gay? Gatemouth has long been the target of vicious rumors that he is actually living in what is known as “a state of marital bliss” with a member of the opposite sex with whom he is said to have children in common. When, in an effort to refute such allegations, he’s protested that it’s been ages since he’s engaged in vaginal intercourse, this fact is cruelly cited as irrefutable evidence that the rumors of such a marriage are actually true.
Since she first came upon the political scene in 1994, lifted from the obscurity of babysitting Alan Hevesi’s children to become his handpicked successor to the State Assembly, over the objection of the local Democratic Party (who, appalled by her apparent lack of qualifications, supported a very erudite bus driver instead), the sexuality of Melinda Katz, now a City Council member and Chair of its Land Use Committee, has been a matter of open speculation among the City’s political chattering classes. That her election was followed later in the same year by a suicide attempt from Mrs. Hevesi only increased such speculation exponentially.
This week’s blog posts, many since zapped, provide a representative sample of such classless chattering: Was Melinda Katz Hevesi’s lover, or was she a lesbian? Were those choices necessarily mutually exclusive? Is this is what is known as a non-conforming use? Does it require a variance, or has an easement been created? Did she really have a fight with another Hevesi girlfriend at Albany Airport? Wouldn’t it take JFK or La Guardia to hold them all? Does this bring up the question of air rights? Was her lover really Hevesi at all, and not his Chief of Staff, Jack “Mod Squad” Chartier? We already know Jack’s favorite cop show, but does he prefer “Bewitched” or “I Dream of Jeannie”? Isn’t Katz now “seeing” a powerful married male member of Congress? Are all these rumors just a clever attempt at misdirection? Even with eyes to die for, can a woman whose professional life revolves around the Zoning Code possibly ever live up to the buzz she’s generated? Are there any land use related puns I've missed? And should it matter?
No. Mostly. At least as to Katz.
In reality, none of these rumors is half as ugly as the one which concerns the circumstances of the affair with Mr. Hevesi. Yes, the Hevesi rumor was enshrined in newsprint, but otherwise seems no more credibly sourced than the others. Which is really more scandalous?: (1) alleging that Katz engaged in a relationship with someone of the same gender; or, (2) alleging that she engaged in an ongoing sexual relationship with a married man with whose very sick spouse she was also personally acquainted, and that that sexual relationship directly turbo-charged her career advancement? Yet only one of these unproven rumors is said to transgress the boundaries of decency, while the other is deemed fit for discussion. Which rumor is which is an extremely sad commentary upon the mores of our society.
Until this week, when the "Page Six" found this story worthy of attention, the one, and seemingly only, place these rumors never saw the light of day was in print. As far as Katz goes, this seems more than fair. While when she first sought election, rumors about the Katz-Hevesi relationship were arguably relevant (based upon a "she who lives by the sword" analysis), she now has a long public record of her own by which to be judged. Barring any arrests for assault at transportation hubs, who Melinda Katz chooses to sleep with seems to me to be her own goddamned business.
The matter, as concerns Mr. Hevesi, seems somewhat more complicated. In assessing the rights or wrongs of the charges made against him for his misuse of state funds, these rumor hold no probative value whatsoever. Was Alan Hevesi the devoted husband going the extra mile for his beloved wife, or the guilt-wracked lothario stealing from the public till as a form of penance for years of neglect and mental anguish inflicted upon his now ailing spouse? Or was it even worse than that? Frankly, while this conundrum may somehow prove relevant in the eyes of God, it is of little moment in judging the propriety of Hevesi’s inexcusable derelictions of duty.
However, the question of whether Hevesi was (1) a devoted husband, (2) a half-repentant scoundrel trying to assuage his guilty conscience, or (3) a non-repentant scoundrel dealing with an inconvenient fact of his life, has been injected into the race by Mr. Hevesi himself. The self-righteousness he displayed in his televised debate with Dominick Carter was clearly calculated to appeal to the sympathy of voters, and to some extent, it worked. Domestic Partner thought Mr. Hevesi an heroic figure, and after reading my critique of Hevesi’s misconduct, commanded that I sleep on the couch when it became clear that I lacked the valor to ever consider an equivalent response if a similar situation arose in our own home. I happen to think that voters who feel this way are wrong, but it is one thing for voters to feel that way if the “devoted husband” story is the truth, quite another if it is a lie. Mr. Hevesi, with his effort to turn the sour lemons of his misconduct into the refreshing lemonade of victory, has put the facts of his relationships with his wife (and anyone else who may prove relevant) into issue. To paraphrase Senator Baker, “Whom did the Comptroller know and when he did know her?” has sadly become a legitimate question only because the Comptroller opened the door on the matter. But, any other personal details concerning those unfortunately drawn into this imbroglio by Mr. Hevesi’s loose tongue should probably be allowed to remain outside the realm of detailed public discussion (although you are free to email me). Unfortunately, as concerns Melinda Katz, the horse is already out of the barn (or should I say that the Katz is already out of the bag?), but clearly this is a standard which should be applied for the duration of this scandal, and since we bloggers are making it up as we go along, I would also advocate the use of this standard in the event that similar matters involving others arise in the future.
Ironically, for as long as they have existed, it has been speculated that the Katz sapphic rumors were started by Katz herself in order to lower the heat on the Hevesi rumors. This seems unlikely, and I don’t think it happened, but is it really all that implausible? Not so long ago, a Jersey contractor was told that if the Governor was in on some sleazy deal, he would use the word “Machiavelli” in conversation. The Governor, one James McGreevey, was later caught on a wire asking the gentleman if it was true he was reading “The Prince”. Shortly thereafter, rather than allowing the disgrace of his non-sexually oriented corruption to overtake him, McGreevey used his resignation speech as an opportunity for low-level political heroism by declaring himself a “Gay American”. Now a best selling author, McGreevey regularly appears on television peddling to the public semi-pornographic stories of his affinity with the “People of Israel”, as he recounts the details of how he categorically refused to withdraw from Golan, even as his wife lay in a hospital bed recuperating from a problematic caesarian after giving birth to his child. McGreevey’s tale of grabbing celebrity from the jaws of incarceration seems proof that it is now less of a disgrace to admit one’s homosexuality than to be revealed to be a common grifter and grafter. Surely, it might also seem rational to conclude that it is better to be thought to be a lesbian than to be thought to be a home-wrecker. While, unlike Katz, McGreevey is verifiably gay, the stigma would seem to be the same whether the rumors are true or false.
I feel obligated to note that while being a home-wrecker would seem to reflect upon character, and being a lesbian would not, neither seem particularly relevant concerning fitness to hold public office. But my real point is that there now seems to be an implicit societal consensus that there are some things which are worse than to be thought of as being gay. And, no matter how perverse the scenarios I’ve used to illustrate this point, this must be regarded as a sign of progress.
There used to be rules about discussing the personal affairs of politicians. In 1980, during Ted Kennedy’s “he may be a drunken murderer who can’t keep it in his pants, but he’s the best hope our party has” challenge to Jimmy Carter’s re-nomination, Michael Kinsley resigned as Editor of “The New Republic” when the magazine refused to print a “think piece” about Kennedy’s “extra-curricular” activities. Now, in the age of Clinton, Foley, McGreevey, Giuliani and outing, the rules are changing faster than they can be broken. It now seems Standard Operating Procedure to out closeted gay politicos who speak, vote or legislate against the interests of the Gay Community. But where does one draw the line? Recently, in “Gay City News”, Allen Roskoff made an unsubtle attempt to out an elected official (who had a perfect voting record on Gay issues) for the crime of not yet having taken a position on same-sex marriage. This was a far cry from planting a blind item in “The Post” against a possibly closeted State Senator who stood accused of having taken lawyers (at least one quite literally), guns (at least figuratively) and money (apparently not enough) from the gay community, and had then voted against SONDA after having promised to vote yes; the only reason to suspect someone other than Roskoff for that particular effort was that the item turned out to be true.
But, as I’ve implied, something is changing, and that is the public’s tolerance, which has evolved over time. Early in the last century, JFK's grandfather, "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, chose not to seek re-election as Mayor of Boston to avoid revelations about his mistress "Toodles". By 1977, one NYC mayoral candidate was the subject of scandalous rumors involving himself and a former Miss America; the scandalous rumor was that they were not sleeping together. Today, nearly every person concerned with politics in the districts of those local legislators thought most likely to be hiding in the closet has heard these rumors, and many believe them to be true. They just don’t care. It is true that many of these constituents would not support these elected officials if they came out of the closet they may or may not be occupying; but it is also true that these constituents will not (and in some cases, have not) be swayed by campaigns making such allegations public. They do not want to know, and they will hold it against anyone who attempts to tell them. They respect the privacy of others and expect others to respect their right not to know. This is hardly a perfect situation, and in a way manifests its own peculiar brand of bigotry, but, it is also progress. And frankly, many people who don’t want to know are not bigots, they merely find discussions concerning sexuality of any sort to be distasteful, and not necessarily because they are prudes. This distaste was manifest in 1998, when in the midst of an impeachment over blow jobs (of apparently low quality), Democrats, then in the sixth year of a Presidency, ended up, against all odds and history, gaining seats in Congress, because Republicans refused to respect the public’s right not to know.
Can we get beyond this? This year, on conservative Staten Island, where support for gays getting married has been largely limited to tolerating gay men marrying lesbians (as long as they agreed to leave town and live in the District of Columbia), Democrat Matt Titone, an openly gay man, stands at least a theoretical chance of election to the New York State Senate in a prohibitively Republican district. Mind you, this is the year of Spitzer, the gay candidate comes from a well-known and well-liked Island family, he’s too conservative to run in Manhattan, and the Republicans and Conservatives each have their own separate and competing candidates, but at one time, no matter what the circumstances, Titone’s election would have been unthinkable, and that it ain’t.
But one must remember, Matt Titone has chosen to make his sexual orientation public. Others have chosen not to do so. Justice Brandeis once spoke of the fundamental right “to be left alone”. Perhaps elected officials have forfeited this right just by seeking elected office. Certainly some, including Alan Hevesi, have done so by putting their conduct into issue in one manner or another. Closeted gay electeds who use their offices to encourage bigotry against homosexuals probably deserve what they get, although it hardly makes such actions palatable. But, one cannot justify public speculation about Melinda Katz merely on the basis of prurient interest (and there seems little else to justify it). And for many other victims of such speculation, prurient interest seems almost beyond the realm of possibility.
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