“He’s coming out soon…” joked Neil Patrick Harris to a roomful of LGBT supporters shortly before President Obama took the stage at the Sheraton on Thursday night. “Out on stage, people!” Harris said as the room burst into guffaws.
With the state Legislature on the cusp of passing same-sex marriage in Albany, and with Obama now openly “evolving” on the issue, no one was quite sure how far the president would advance his views tonight.
“There’s so much electricity in the room!” said one season reporter, seated behind The Observer in the press pit.
The president began with shout-outs to prominent New York political figures–there was smattered applause for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (#1 on The Observer‘s Gay Power List) and rousing cheers for DNC Chair Andrew Tobias (#9!), in case you’re counting. But Mr. Obama’s speech was marked not so much by what he said—mostly recounting his achievements thus far in office–but by his painfully diplomatic statements on the issue of the day.
“I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country,” said Obama, who praised New York for democratically debating the issue.
Joy Tomchin was not impressed.
“What about marriage!” Tomchin yelled, rising from her seat.
“Believe it or not, I anticipated this,” said Mr. Obama, before discussing how marriage was best left to the states. He departed shortly thereafter.
Outside, Tomchin–a 63-year-old former Gay Men’s Health Crisis board member–said she hadn’t planned to heckle the president.
“You did too! With that big chip on your shoulder,” replied her friend, the investigative journalist David France, who’d been her date. (She had invited him to the fundraiser by saying “Let’s go to dinner.”)
Ms. Tomchin had just finished a “hit” with NY1—she wasn’t familiar with the term—and was a bit starry-eyed. “I’m so famous!” she joked. Mr. France had called her son and had him set the DVR.
When Ms. Tomchin stood to heckle the president, some “very nice people from the rear” asked her to sit down. She sat down, and continued to shout. “If I got arrested, I have a son at home alone,” she said.
A few others had joined in, though only a very few. “People congratulated her—she said what everyone was thinking,” France said.
Was he disappointed by the president’s remarks? “We got excited, coming here on this day,” he said. “At the beginning, everybody was like: There’s that guy who’s the president. There was a big expectation he would move out of his rut on gay things. He didn’t do it.”
(In fairness, Albany didn’t either; the state Legislature adjourned a few hours after the president’s speech without bringing same-sex marriage to the floor.)
Others shared Tomchin’s frustration, even if they were less vocal. “I hope he runs on a platform for gay marriage,” said Robby Browne (#10!), a Corcoran super-broker. But didn’t Mr. Obama seem along way from that? “I don’t know about what he said tonight, but he’d be wise to.”
Seth Weissman, the real estate investor (and #18!), told The Observer via email: “I was pleased he was here – clearly he is evolving on the issue and I hope next month he says more .”
Tomchin was not so forgiving. Would she support him in a general election, perhaps as the lesser of two evils? “That’s a cop-out,” she told The Observer. “We need to put pressure on him, to say, We don’t have to vote for you,” she said, offering her own methodology. “Keep yelling!”
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