Brian Ellner, an openly gay candidate for a top New York City office, made news twice in one week: first, when his provocative new advertisement made it on the air, and then when it didn’t.
The 30-second ad, first released August 29, features Ellner, a candidate for Manhattan borough president, posed with his partner, Simon Holloway. It is, according to the Ellner campaign, the first ad in the city’s history to introduce a candidate’s gay partner. The ad also features a photo of President Bush affixed to an unclothed torso.
On September 6, The New York Times reported that New York’s Fox affiliate, WNYW/Channel 5, has refused to run the ad.
The commercial opens with a shot of the president’s face and a voiceover saying: “He says he promotes life, but sends our soldiers to die. He promises to leave no child behind, but won’t fund out public schools. He claims he’s a uniter, but New Yorkers know — the emperor has no clothes.” The commercial then cuts to an image of Bush, sans clothing.
Ellner, in an interview with The Times, described Channel 5’s decision as a violation of his right to free speech. “It’s untenable and in my view it’s anti-American,” he said. According to The Times, the Fox affiliate is the only New York outlet that has refused to play the ad. The television station has not provided an explanation for its decision.
“This is New York City,” Ellner said in an interview with the Forward, held shortly after his commercial first aired. “It is the progressive capital of the country. The reaction has been overwhelmingly favorable.” (The TV spots will continue to air on some 15 network and cable affiliates through September 13, the day of New York’s primary election.)
Including his partner was a given from the start, Ellner said. “Politicians from [New York City Council] Speaker Gifford Miller to President Bush and everyone in between have generally introduced the person they share their life with to the public,” he said. “We were surprised that we were the first.”
Ellner, who describes himself as a “mutt” of Sephardic and Ashkenazic ancestry, grew up in a Reform Jewish household in the Stuyvesant Town housing development on Manhattan’s East Side. “My childhood was Katz’s [delicatessen] and Guss’ Pickles; my grandparents lived on [the Lower East Side’s] Rivington [Street],” he said.
Ellner called his Jewish identity a convergence of religious, political and cultural forces: He supports Israel and is a member of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, New York City’s synagogue for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews. He has, in fact, been trying to help find a larger home for the synagogue, which has outgrown its current space.
Among other things, Ellner supports gay marriage and said he will marry when New York City legalizes it, though he declined to give further details. “Simon’s not going to read about it in the Forward!” he exclaimed.