[Marxism] A Green Party mayor

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Mar 28 08:02:13 MST 2004

NY Times, March 28, 2004
Mayor With a Mission

Jason West, the mayor of the little Hudson Valley village of New Paltz 
who married 25 gay couples last month before receiving a court 
injunction to stop, has been thinking about gay marriage for a long 
time. In fact, immediately after taking office last summer, the two 
things the 27-year-old asked his new village attorney to check on were, 
first, the state and local beaver trapping laws, since a dog had 
recently been caught and killed in a beaver trap on the old Bienstock 
property -- a huge New Paltz scandal that was soon labeled Beavergate; 
and second, whether a mayor could perform gay marriages. The attorney, 
Spencer McLaughlin, is a Republican legislator from Orange County and a 
former deputy executive director of the New York City Human Rights 
Commission under Ed Koch. That West would turn to a Republican for 
advice was a surprise to the people who thought the mayor, who was 
elected on the Green Party line, was a radical liberal activist about to 
turn the town into a socialist enclave. In his reply to West, McLaughlin 
noted that the law is unclear. ''That's because the laws were written 
around the late 19th century, and no one ever conceived of wanting to do 
this then,'' McLaughlin said recently. The attorney ended his memo to 
mayor saying, ''That's a very long-winded explanation of why you can't 
perform a same-sex marriage, but does not address the issue of whether 
you should or not.''

Gay marriage was also one of the issues West supported during his two 
ill-fated campaigns for State Assembly in 2000 and 2002 -- along with 
free education to the Ph.D. level and an end to corporate pollution. His 
campaign slogan was ''Forget the Lesser Evil -- Choose the Greater 
Good,'' and as he likes to say, ''I lost by a landslide.'' And back when 
he was in college in the late 90's at the State University of New York 
at New Paltz, he was known as a guy who could always be counted on to 
show up at the latest protest -- resisting the arrival of a new 
Starbucks, for example. In 1998, a local activist and gay rights 
organizer, Gale McGovern, asked West to help her plan a protest against 
a visit to a New Paltz bookstore by Gov. George Pataki, who along with 
state Republicans had criticized the women's studies department at the 
university for a conference it had organized on women's sexuality. West 
decided to serve as host of the event. ''He said to me recently that 
that was when he first started to think about organizing,'' McGovern said.

West has been a house painter since he was 15 -- he paints alone, often 
without even a radio -- and his workday uniform rarely changes: 
paint-splattered pants, T-shirt and worn tan Carhartt jacket that is 
functional as opposed to fashionable. He was an artist in high school, 
though he has the slouchless demeanor of a former jock. He is tall, and 
a cinch to spot on Main Street in New Paltz, a 6,000-person village -- 
of students and small-business owners, college professors and New York 
City transplants -- 80 miles north of New York City along the Wallkill 
River. It has been fertile ground for activism since the Vietnam era and 
even as far back as the Civil War, when abolitionists ran the 
underground railroad in the nearby hills. In town, West waves and is 
glad-handed by restaurant owners and shopkeepers, who have gotten over 
their initial fears that he might ban capitalism -- and he is now even 
semi-memorialized: on the day in early March when he was ordered to 
appear in court on charges of illegally marrying gay couples, the Gilded 
Otter, the local brewery, was selling Get Out of Jail Ale.

It may seem that the gay-marriage issue popped up out of nowhere in New 
Paltz, and that it is becoming more complicated with every news cycle. 
The Ulster County district attorney, Donald A. Williams, who originally 
charged West for marrying without licenses, most recently brought the 
same charges against two Unitarian ministers for marrying couples in New 
Paltz after West decided to stop doing so until the injunction against 
him is lifted. But if you stop the mayor on the street and ask him if he 
ever thought about gay marriage before he performed New York State's 
first gay weddings, he gives you a look that is part incredulous, part 
perturbed; asking Jason West if he has thought about gay marriage is 
like asking him if he has thought about renewable energy sources or the 
evils of global capitalism. ''This is what gets me,'' he said. ''I've 
always been for gay marriage. I mean, it's just the right thing to do.''

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/28/magazine/28MAYOR.html


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