The crowded race for Manhattan borough president got a little bit more heated this week with charges that a leading candidate has taken donations from the Church of Scientology.
Councilmember Margarita Lopez (Lower East Side) who is running for the seat presently held by C. Virginia Fields, is accused of accepting money from the Church of Scientology. An Aug. 1 New York Post article reported that the Lopez campaign has been given close to $100,000 from Scientologist donors, approximately 25 percent of her election chest.
An Aug. 2 Post article quoted an e-mail sent to Scientologists urging contributions to Lopez campaign because it would “pay dividends.” The campaign manager for Brian Ellner, one of the other candidates for Manhattan Borough President, issued a statement taking Lopez to task.
“Lopez, an openly gay candidate, must explain her relationship with Scientology, an organization founded in part on a hateful, anti-gay philosophy whose founder wrote that gays and lesbians should be ‘taken from the society as rapidly as possible and uniformly institutionalized,’” wrote Ellner campaign manager David Meadvin.
In an April 4 Daily News article, Scientology spokesperson Gaetane Asselin said Ron L. Hubbard, the religion’s founder, disproved of all types of discrimination.
Mr. Hubbard abhorred discrimination in all its forms,” Asselin said. “In today’s liberal society the church encourages any relationship that is ‘ethical.’”
Asselin did also admit, “subjects such as homosexuality and same-sex marriages are not widely debated in Scientology.”
The Post article also suggested Lopez earmarked city dollars for a Scientologist medical program, championed by actor Tom Cruise, called the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project. As reported by a Post editorial, the program was initiated in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In a statement, Lopez defended her support of the program, insisting that it helped her constituents.
“In the aftermath of Sept. 11, I made every effort I could to support the needs of first responders and the people of downtown,” Lopez said. “Many of my constituents as well as officers of the New York City Fire Department came to me urging my support of the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project. They believed then, and continue to believe, that it has improved their quality of life.”
Lopez noted all contributions to her campaign have passed the scrutiny of the Campaign Finance Board and she is not a member of any church.
“The religious beliefs of individuals who donate to my campaign are not my concern, and are protected by the Constitution of this country,” the councilmember said.
The Rev. John Carmichael, president of the Church of Scientology of New York, said the church is not involved in politics and the program was helpful.
“The church didn’t contribute to any political candidate and we have nothing to do with New York politics, but it is a crime when politics prevent real help from getting to the heroes of New York — and by heroes I mean the rescue workers of 9/11,” Carmichael said in a phone interview. “If you talk to rescue workers and their families you are going to hear their gratitude of the help provided by the center. That is the real issue.”
Meadvin does not think Lopez’s statement is enough.
“Councilwoman Lopez has still failed to give us an adequate response,” Meadvin said. “Until we hear from Councilmember Lopez all we can do is wait and keep the pressure on. She has a lot to explain and account for.”
“I don’t agree with her at all on Scientology,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said to the Post. “I do think she would probably make a good borough president.”
This latest flap in the Manhattan borough race has added heat to a campaign that is filled with choices for gay Manhattanites. Aside from Ellner there are other gay-friendly candidates such as Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz (Upper East Side), Assembly Members Adriano Espaillat, Scott Stringer, and Keith Wright; City Councilmember Bill Perkins, former City Councilmember Stanley Michels and Democratic State Committeeman Carlos Manzano.