Despite the economy and New York's ongoing budgetary woes, another issue has popped up to help distract politicians. No, it's not the MTA bailout bill that legislators should be working on.
Instead, it's whether same-sex marriage should be legal in the Empire State. Last year, the Democratic-controlled Assembly passed a bill, but the then-Republican controlled Senate didn't bother to bring the bill up.
Gov. David Paterson, whose approval ratings remain stuck somewhere between 19 and 27 percent, depending upon the poll cited last week gave a full-throated support for gay marriage. Typical of Paterson's timing, it happened when the new archbishop Timothy Dolan was being installed in St. Patrick's Cathedral as the new head of some 2 million Catholics living in the Archdiocese of New York (a very large geographic area which includes Manhattan, Staten Island and parts of Westchester County and Staten Island).
Still, despite Paterson's awkward timing (culturally, in terms of Dolan, and substantively, given that it would make more sense to get the MTA funding headache out of the way first), championing same-sex marriage might not be such a bad idea. When you have barely one quarter of the population on your side, you need to start adding more people to the mix.
Even though his black support -- like the rest of the public -- has been wavering, Paterson probably believes that African-Americans will eventually "come home" to support him if it looks like he's in danger of losing a party primary next year. But, blacks alone won't help him defeat a likely challenge from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. So, what might? How about white liberals -- particularly those inclined to get behind a "civil rights" cause. Thus, the gay marriage legislation.
However. New York Post state editor Fred Dicker interviewed former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani who declared that going after Paterson on the SSM issue could be a winning strategy for a Republican gubernatorial run:
"This will create a grass-roots movement. This is the kind of issue that, in many ways, is somewhat beyond politics," said Giuliani, a two-term mayor who unsuccessfully sought the GOP presidential nomination last year.
"I think gay marriage will obviously be an issue for any Republican next year because Republicans are either in favor of the position I'm in favor of, civil unions, or in many cases Republicans don't even favor civil unions," he continued.
Giuliani, who is slated to address a Republican fund-raising gala in Albany tonight in what is widely described as further proof of his interest in running for governor, said he's committed to the traditional definition of marriage.
"Marriage, I believe, both traditionally and legally, has always been between a man and a woman and should remain between a man and woman," said Giuliani, who has been married three times.
Make no mistake, Paterson is quite vulnerable. But will one of the bluest states in the country really knock out a governor over the issue of gay marriage? Not likely. Not when the economy is still the country's biggest headache. But does this mean that Giuliani is seriously considering being that gubernatorial candidate? Could be. No sooner did he give his interview to the Post, he started to back away from the gay marriage issue he had mentioned just the day before:
"Our party should be built around fiscal competence, fiscal integrity," Giuliani said. "Frankly, right people are going to get elected based on their position on the economy."
Maybe someone reminded him that there actually was a slight majority in favor of same-sex marriage. Or maybe he realized that he was leaving himself open for all sorts of questions about his "different-wife" marriage issues.
Either way, Giuliani emerged this week and got more than a few people wondering what he's planning on doing next year. Goodness knows that that the former mayor would certainly add more than a bit of juice to the race -- whether he is, ahem, wedded to the contest or not.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.