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Clergy give their blessing to Monserrate

Even as his legal team argues that the March 16 special election to fill his seat is invalid and unconstitutional, expelled state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) has mobilized his re-election campaign with the help of a bloc of churches in his district opposed to same-sex marriage.

“The legal arguments and the case are separate and apart from political decisions,” Monserrate said, comparing his situation to that of Harlem’s U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who was expelled by Congress in the 1960s and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. “Those decisions should be made on the law. We believe that the law is very clear.”

Monserrate’s expulsion came after a Senate committee concluded he was unfit to serve based on how he handled the injury of his girlfriend after a December 2008 fight in his apartment. He is running on his own “Yes We Can” ticket against the Democratic nominee, state Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) and Republican administrative law judge Robert Beltrani.

Having alienated his district’s sizable gay and lesbian population by voting against a same-sex marriage bill in the Senate in November, Monserrate is relying on the largely Latino coalition of churches whose parishioners agreed with his vote. Many of them are now volunteering at his campaign office, he said.

“It was a vote of conscience and I believe it is correct,” he said at a news conference in front of Peralta’s district office Monday, lashing out against the Fight Back NY political action committee that has begun sending out mailers condemning Monserrate over the same-sex marriage vote.

The Rev. Ricardo Reyes of El Elyon Christian Church in Corona said he represented 612 churches in Queens that oppose same-sex marriage and praised Monserrate for his record of supporting community groups.

“I have seen a generation sunk down by the gay community,” Reyes said. “If we vote for a gay marriage situation ... we are sending our children to practice something against the Bible.”

Fight Back NY, which is funded largely by a foundation started by the wealthy Colorado-based businessman Tim Gill, is dedicated to helping replace the state senators who voted against the bill. Monserrate is currently their only declared target.

Peralta, who has voted in favor of the marriage equality bill in the Assembly, said Monserrate was using the emergence of Fight Back NY as an attempt to distract voters from other issues of the campaign, like the need in the district for more affordable housing and health care.

“For the last year and a half he hasn’t been able to deliver for his district ... because he’s been so focused on his political soap drama and his personal soap opera,” Peralta said.

Peralta, in turn, is facing criticism from Beltrani for his involvement with a failed nonprofit that was slated to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal funding. Peralta has said the state Legislature has placed holds on that funding until a new executive director can be found and suggested the Republicans were hoping to split the Democratic vote.

“They want chaos because then they can point the finger and say, ‘Hey, look, the Democrats can’t get it together,’” Peralta said.

Monserrate was expelled by a 53-8 vote in the Senate last month. With the assistance of noted civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, he appealed his ouster, arguing the Legislature violated the civil rights of his constituents who voted for him in the 2008 election. Monserrate ran unopposed that year.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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