Mark-Viverito, Williams attend event in home of couple accused of queer-baiting in Queens Council race

By LOUIS FLORES

After a published report raised questions about the conduct of a politically-active Brooklyn couple, Debbie and Naji Almontaser, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem) and Councilmember Jumaane Williams (D-East Flatbush) attended an event at the home of the Almontasers on Wedesnday evening.

The conduct of the Almontasers was questioned in a report about the couple's political work on behalf of the campaign of Rebecca Lynch, a former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City).  Ms. Lynch is campaigning to replace former Councilmember Mark Weprin (D-Bellerose) in the New York City Council.  (Mr. Weprin stepped down from his post to accept a position in support of the Cuomo administration.)

On behalf of the Lynch campaign, the Almontasers were engaged in alleged activities that were intended to incite homophobia against the campaign of Ms. Lynch's chief rival, Ali Najmi, according to the news report written by Duncan Osborne and published by Gay City News.  The Almontasers have reportedly taken issue with Mr. Najmi's pro-equality stance in respect of the LGBT community, and the Almontasers have reportedly been invoking Mr. Najmi's pro-equality support in an attempt to stoke a backlash directed at Mr. Najmi from conservative Muslims, according to the accusations.

The Gay City News report was published on Thursday, July 30.  Six evening later, on Wednesday, August 5, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito and Councilmember Williams attended an event at the Brooklyn home of the Almontasers.

According to photographs published to the social media site, Twitter, by Ms. Almontaser, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito and Councilmember Williams are seen attending the function.  

Anonymous information received by Progress Queens indicates that the event was a fundraiser, but it is not known how much money was raised, and which campaign committees received that money.  In the past, the Almontasers have supported the campaign committees of Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, amongst many others.  Since 2001, individuals with the Almontaser surname living in Brooklyn have contributed over $40,000 to political campaign committees reporting activity to the state's campaign regulatory authority.

That Council Speaker Mark-Viverito and Councilmember Williams still attended the function at the home of the Almontasers several days after the report of their conduct was questioned in the Gay City News report raised some concerns for LGBT activists.

Pauline Park, a prominent transgender activist and chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, said, "If this couple holding the fundraiser did in fact engage in this conduct and if Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilmember Jumaane Williams knew about this conduct before the fundraiser, then, at the very least, they certainly owe the LGBT community an explanation."  

Marlin Foreman, an aide to Council Speaker Mark-Viverito could not answer questions over the telephone and did not respond to an e-mail seeking answers to various questions about either Wednesday evening's event or Council Speaker Mark-Viverito's reaction to the Gay City News report.  Similarly, William Gerlich, an aide to Councilmember Williams could not answer questions over the telephone and did not respond to a text message seeking answers to various questions about either Wednesday evening's event or Councilmember Williams' rationale for having attended the event.

A representative of the Lynch campaign promised to pass along a request for comment to a campaign spokesperson, but no return call was ever received by Progress Queens.

In the Gay City News report, LGBT civil rights activist and political operative Allen Roskoff demanded that Ms. Lynch account for the behavior of the Almontasers.  Besides being campaign workers, the Almontasers are also contributors to the Lynch campaign, according to campaign finance records.

Ms. Lynch is a former registered lobbyist.  Her former clients included Major League Soccer LLC, for which Ms. Lynch was paid to lobby in support of the failed attempt to build a soccer stadium inside Flushing Meadows Corona Park.  To run for the City Council seat recently vacated by Mark Weprin, Ms. Lynch has had to find an apartment in the Council District she is running to represent ; she had been previously living in Manhattan.

The special election in the Democratic Party primary to succeed former Councilmember Weprin takes place on Thursday, September 10.

It was not possible to reach the Almontasers for comment for this report, and Mr. Najmi did not respond to requests for comment for this report.