Jamestown councilman Rabb on life as an openly gay politician

Special to The Leader

Jamestown councilman Greg Rabb is heavily involved in various areas of city politics, such as finance, public utilities and local development. Additionally he is a licensed marriage officer, opposing other New York state heads of government's views against gay marriage, in which Rabb claims “You do not put a monetary value on rights.” -Colin Frank/Photo Editor

In light of New York Governor Cuomo’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage and President Obama’s end to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, PRIDE and the College Democrats invited Councilman Greg Rabb to speak about LGBT rights and politics. Rabb is the only openly gay elected official in western New York.
Since 2007, Rabb has served as Councilman for the financial council of Jamestown. Additionally, he serves on the Board of Public Utilities, the Jamestown Urban Renewal Agency, the Strategic Planning and Partnerships Commission and the Jamestown Local Development Corporation. He currently teaches government, politics, economics and law at Jamestown Community College.
The opportunity for him to speak informally highlighted the candid humor that he uses to work through his campaigning and what he calls “the game of politics.”
If the mayor of Jamestown leaves the area, Rabb serves as acting mayor. “One time the mayor said to me, ‘Well it helps that you are kind of straight acting, masculine and have this deep voice and you don’t run around in nylons and makeup.’ I said, ‘Well at least not in public I don’t,’” said Rabb. Laughter erupted from the crowd. He added, “You know, I play the game.”
He opened his speech by mentioning that he is a city marriage officer.
“We are having an explosion of same-sex marriages in Jamestown,” he said. Though the two state representatives of New York, Senator Young and Assemblyman Goodell, do not support gay rights, Rabb feels that he gets his revenge every time he marries a same-sex couple. Assemblyman Goodell argued that approving same-sex marriages would cost the state too much money, to which Rabb’s response is, “You do not put a monetary value on rights.”
“There are still a lot of people out there who want to take away our rights,” he said. “We have been successful in New York but it hasn’t been easy.” Rabb, now 60, has seen gay rights manifest from nothing to something. In the 50s and 60s, he felt he was the only gay man alive and was scared to death that anyone would find out. It is amazing to him that he is now an openly gay official.
“I’m still preaching people to be out. People will accept you,” he said.
He continued to talk about his experience campaigning, having ran four times before he won. He spoke this message to the right: “I am staying in until the people throw me out or I drop dead.” He continued to joke about the stubborn nature of being Polish by saying that his people took down the Soviet Union and that he was not backing down.
“The right often wins because they wear the left out,” he said. The people in the community saw his consistent presence and began to vote for him. “Shameless, continuous self-promotion,” he says, “is key to being in a political position.”
Last fall he ran against two Tea Party candidates and won due to his door to door campaigns and handwritten letters. “I love going door to door. You meet all different kinds of people,” he said.
His campaigns are met with some opposition.
“I did have death threats at one time,” he said. “People used to call me threatening to kill me.”
“I had a lady once say to me, ‘Are you running to implement the gay agenda?’ And I looked at her and said, ‘You know I have heard so much about this gay agenda but I have never seen it. Do you have a copy of it? I would like to read it.’ She was stunned and then she started laughing. There is no gay agenda other than I want to be treated like everyone else.”
As President of the financial council, he possesses a liberal demeanor in correspondence to ubiquitous tax policies. “People complain, cut my taxes and increase my services. If you could tell me how to do it, then I’ll do it. People will pay taxes if you explain it to them,” he said. Incidentally, Chautauqua County is experiencing a deficit.
He ended the evening encouraging the support of LGBT rights. “I need some of you who are younger to get in this,” he said.
Present at the speech was Dana Tyrell, a senior double major in visual arts and art history and a Student Association representative. “He was fantastic,” said Tyrell. “I feel as though there needs to be more outed politicians in western New York especially because there is such a large community. Maybe it has to start with Fredonia. This is good to have him here to get things rolling.”
Also present at the speech was Erik Coler, president of the College Democrats and a junior political science major. “I thought the Councilman did great,” said Coler. “I think he is an incredible figure in the county and in democratic politics and a real leader for the LGBT community. I’m glad that the College Democrats could host him with PRIDE. We are glad he came here.”

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