Marriage Equality Activist Runs for Yonkers City Council
Despite losing the Democratic Party’s nomination, an outspoken advocate for safe schools, marriage equality and eliminating tax breaks for developers announced he will continue his campaign for a seat on the Yonkers City Council.
Michael Sabatino won both the Independent and Working Families Parties’ nomination. He was to have faced former Councilman Dennis Robertson, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor, in the September primary, but Robertson dropped out of the race on Saturday, June 11.
Sabatino believes that his past record of service in Westchester County will help him in his bid for City Council. As the Education Chair of the Yonkers Human Rights Commission, he has worked with the Board of Education to implement an anti-bullying policy in the school system. This includes training for school social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors, and administrators. One of his main areas of focus is the safety of LGBT youth.
"As Human Rights Commissioner for Yonkers, I managed to get a program on bullying implemented in the schools," said Sabatino. "It started out with a guidance counselor training program, and then it will move to school psychologists and social workers. In September, we will train school administrators. After that, will we educate students. All of this is in advance of the Dignity for All Students Act, which will go into effect in July 2012."
Because funding is an issue, Sabatino contacted the National Education Association and had the organization conduct a pro bono training to the city. Bemoaning that "Yonkers gets a bad rap for education," Sabatino said that he has emphasized using Yonkers High School and the area’s other good schools as sources of inspiration for what the county could achieve.
"Even citizens of Yonkers are not aware of these schools, like Yonkers High or our K-12 Montessori school," said Sabatino. "We want to use them as models to improve other schools."
He acknowledged that the budget crunch had resulted in teachers being laid off, and emphasized that a focus on education was central to the city. "If we don’t have a good education system, we can’t keep people here, we can’t bring in new people, and there is even a trickle-down effect to families with small businesses who might not want to move to a place with poor schools," he said. "We need to keep our educational system as top-notch as possible."
He has also served on the board of the Yonkers Committee for Smart Development, which he described as "sensible development that sits in the topography of the terrain it is on." This effort included recently land-marking a historic house.
Peripheral to this struggle is Sabatino’s opposition to granting big tax credits to developers, which he said does not benefit the city. "What I would like to see is some kind of tax deduction made by these big developers partnering with the city and helping us refurbish public buildings like schools and libraries, donating supplies, materials, and maybe man hours," he said. "There may be a way we can partner with them so that they can have an investment in the community."
And of course, Sabatino has been a strong advocate for marriage equality for years. He and his husband, Robert Voorheis, were parties in the Godfrey v. Spano the suit that successfully fought back an attempt to overturn the county’s recognition of nuptials for same-sex couples that were legally performed in other jurisdiction.
"Having been an advocate for so many years on the marriage equality front, I know many of the state legislators, and have gotten an appreciation of how government works," said Sabatino. "I have seen how even one person can change things, and I feel I’m the person to get this seat and make a difference. I’m not just a one-issue candidate; obviously, a lot of issues going on in Yonkers don’t relate to the struggle for LGBT rights. But part of who I am is an advocate, and think my experience is going to help me in being a great City Council member."
Saying that visibility helps us to gain credibility, Sabatino has reached out to the LGBT community for support in his run for City Council, and hopes to win the Victory Fund’s support.
Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.