BALLSTON SPA–At a public meeting on May 9, a resident asked Ballston Spa’s openly gay Republican mayor if the village had any plans to celebrate Pride Month in June.
Caught off guard, Mayor Frank Rossi Jr. said he hadn’t thought that far ahead.
That public question came before an email conversation between the Ballston Spa Board of Trustees that Rossi said he found personally offensive. Trustee Ben Baskin, a Democrat, said Rossi is overstating his hurt feelings to manufacture a controversy and score political points.
It all amounted to tense exchanges at the Board of Trustees’ May 23 meeting, during which the body ultimately passed resolutions calling for hanging a Pride flag in front of Village Hall and supporting the LGBTQ+ community in a proclamation. The dispute underscores the bitter and often personal divisiveness that bogs down the Board of Trustees, which features three Democrats and two newly elected Republicans, including Rossi. The dynamic contributes to meetings regularly lasting more than three hours, frustrating residents.
The conflict over Pride Month escalated for Rossi on May 18, when Baskin emailed the entire board, including the mayor, to ask if the village had plans for pride month. Trustee Liz Kormos emailed the board that same night with a request that the village hang a Pride flag in a prominent location, as it has done in prior years.
Baskin called his email “innocuous,” and read from it during the meeting. He also shared the email with The Daily Gazette.
“Hello. I’d like to get on the agenda an acknowledgement/proclamation that June is Pride Month. City of Hazel Park has a nice, short proclamation that I think could [work] here,” says the email, which goes on to ask that an email about Pride Month from a Milton resident be forwarded. “I don’t think we’ve seen it. Thanks for forwarding – Ben.”
Rossi said he felt attacked by Baskin’s email, which shortly preceded Kormos’ email about the flag.
On Tuesday, Rossi said his biggest concern about raising a Pride flag at Village Hall was that the Village currently only has one flagpole in front of the building, meaning the Pride flag would be raised instead of the American flag.
(The resolution passed by the Board of Trustees on Monday called for acquiring a second flagpole that can be used for supplemental flags, such as the Pride flag.)
But beyond fears of supplanting the American flag, Rossi said he took the conversations about supporting Pride personally, calling them “demeaning” and “disappointing” and an affront that tried to dictate how he should be celebrating Pride Month as an openly gay man.
“This could have been a fruitful, positive situation, and it turned into an off-the-rails conversation, where I was really offended and hurt,” Rossi said during the meeting.
Baskin said he isn’t buying it.
“He manufactured offense to create political advantage for himself. It’s baloney,” Baskin said Tuesday. “It’s just too bad he has to conduct himself that way and create controversy when it doesn’t have to be there. He thinks emails about Pride Month are all about him, and he’s the only one who could care about Pride Month. He needs to get out of that narcissism and realize the world doesn’t revolve around him. Pride Month is not just about him, the board is not just about him.”
Rossi said he’d been wanting more than just symbolic gestures from Ballston Spa in support of Pride Month.
“I was hoping for something more than just a proclamation and a handshake–something a little more active,” Rossi said. The mayor said Tuesday that part of his plan included reaching out to local businesses to solicit feedback on how they might want to celebrate Pride Month.
“I was hoping to be the person helping to lead the conversation not to have the conversation directed at me.”
Rossi said he is active in the LGBTQ+ communities in cities across the country, and regularly referees in gay flag football leagues, including at the annual Florida Sunshine Cup in South Florida. Rossi said in his role as a referee, he has helped lead sensitivity trainings and conversations about inclusion.
Rossi said he’d been developing a banner for Ballston Spa that would express the village’s support of diversity and of people who identify as LGBTQ+.
But Baskin said the idea was news to him.
“We asked what he had planned, and he presented nothing,” Baskin said Tuesday. “He provided no information.”
Both sides on Tuesday acknowledged a missed opportunity to unite over a common cause.
During Monday’s meeting, Rossi said he hoped the resolutions passed weren’t just empty words and gestures.
“I challenge all of you to go out and do something more than just feeling content that you hung a flag outside of Village Hall,” Rossi said. “The whole idea here is it is more than flags, it’s more than proclamations, and maybe if we talked about it we would have done more than what every other community does. That’s what I think we missed.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.