Daniel Stewart, New York, 1993
Daniel L. Stewart (R)
Born June 30, 1962
Plattsburgh, New York
Elected to the City Council November 1993
Re-elected 1995, 1997
Elected Mayor November 1999
Re-elected 2001, 2004
Statement from the office of Daniel Stewart for Out and Elected in the USA
Daniel L. Stewart is a native of Pawtucket and Cumberland, Rhode Island. He graduated from Cumberland High School in 1980. His graduating class made national news when two classmates were allowed to go to the Senior Prom as a gay couple. This landmark decision was one that Stewart did not support and which he spoke out against at the time because of his closeted fears. Of this he says, “Growing up in such a homophobic society without role models fueled the internalized homophobia I felt as a teenager in the late seventies. It’s a time in my life that I have always regretted.” Stewart left Rhode Island in the summer of 1980 and entered the U.S. Air Force. He served three and a half years at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota and four years at Plattsburgh AFB, New York. Upon his departure from the Air Force, Stewart remained in Plattsburgh and took on a job as a truck driver.
In the early 1990’s, Stewart became active in gay issues. He left the Republican Party because of the rhetoric and hatred being spewed by its leaders and their non-action during the 80s and the AIDS crisis. He started a small ACT-UP chapter in Plattsburgh and staged a Condom Giveaway and a counter protest at a local Planned Parenthood Center. He felt that the Pro-Life demonstrators were inhibiting free confidential access to HIV testing. In 1993 the trucking firm Stewart worked for abruptly shut down with a one-hour notice causing the loss of 4,000 jobs regionally. He decided at that time to pursue an interest he had in politics. Stewart received the Democratic nomination to run for City Council in Ward-6 in Plattsburgh. He said, “It took great courage for the ward committee to commit to my nomination and it was a turning point for inclusiveness in my life.” Campaigning hard all summer, he received a 2-1 margin of Victory. Stewart became the first openly gay candidate in the city’s history to win elective office. From 1996-1998, he served as Mayor Pro-Tem for the Common Council. Early in 1998, Steward bolted from the Democratic Party due to differences with local party leaders. A few months later, he rejoined the Republican Party. He says his decision to rejoin the Republicans was not an easy one. “I had to be sure that the local and State party would understand that my views on issues would not change from my long-held beliefs on gay rights and my pro-choice stand.” He said, “The Republican Party, from the Governor of New York right down to the city committee members, have been nothing less than accepting and inclusive.”
In 1996, Stewart returned to Providence, Rhode Island, to take part in the Gay Pride events. He spoke to a large gathering and publicly apologized for his actions some 17 years earlier – his opposition to the gay couple going to the prom together. It was a moment, he said, “that finally took the last monkey off my back. I had finally come to terms with those who knew me in Rhode Island as a young teen and now had the perspective of how I really was and what it is I do today.”
In 1999, Stewart announced that he would be leaving Plattsburgh politics and moving to Montreal, Quebec to live with his partner. After three months of pressure from the Republican Party leadership, he decided to remain and run for the office of Mayor. He won the race by a thin margin of 104 votes, unseating a five-term incumbent. The victory made him the first openly gay mayor in the history of New York.
Stewart has become a strong voice on issues that relate to gays and lesbians in New York. He helped in the passage of a state Hate Crimes law and participated in efforts to pass a state non-discrimination law for gays and lesbians. In 1992 he asked for and receifed such a law for the City of Plattsburgh. He also helped pass a sexual harassment law there that includes sexual orientation and a Domestic Partnership agreement with the City Police Department.
Stewart was asked to meet with then Governor George Bush during his campaign for President to give him a gay perspective. The group that met with Bush was dubbed the “Austin 12.” Of the meeting Stewart said, “ It was am historic moment for gays in our society to have a Republican presidential candidate invite our community into the discussions of how America could be more accepting and inclusive. I truly felt that Bush was sincere in his attempt to better understand the needs of the gay and lesbian community.
Stewart says he feels his most significant accomplishment has been to face his fears and move forward in the face of adversity – helping to make life an easier road to travel for any young person growing up with the same challenges he grappled with as a closeted gay teen. Said Stewart, “I could have no greater gift in life than knowing I have helped a teenager who doesn’t now life is worth living because they’re gay. It seems strange that I would have ever found this to me my role in society but I accept it willingly.”