|by Hastings Wyman|
|Gay Candidates Aplenty in 2003
This is one of those odd-numbered off-years, but with plenty of municipal elections, there's a good chance of increasing the number of openly gay officeholders beyond the current 241. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund has already endorsed seven candidates this yearin New York City, Chicago (two candidates), Dallas, Alexandria, Va., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Tuckahoe, N.Y.and expects to support more before the year is out.
The May 6 race in Alexandria, a D.C. suburb, is of particular importance to gay people. Association Executive Paul Smedberg is running for city council and has a good chance of becoming the second openly gay elected official in the Old Dominion. His assets include considerable name recognition because of his narrow loss in a 2000 bid for the same office, when he came in eighth out of 16 candidates for six seats. Moreover, as a former Democratic county chairman, Smedberg has some powerful straight support, including state legislators, the commonwealth attorney, and the sheriffyes, the sheriff. Alexandria's current council has four Democrats and two Republicans. There are three vacancies, which makes it easier for non-incumbents. Has his being gay hurt his candidacy? "No, not all," says Smedberg.
Many of the nation's largest citiesincluding New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, and San Franciscowill be holding elections later in 2003 and are likely to have a significant gay presence on their ballots. The big gay race will be on November 4 in San Francisco, where two gay politicians have already filed paperwork to run for mayorappropriate enough for the 25th anniversary of the election of Harvey Milk to the board of supervisors.
The first is Tom Ammiano, former chair of the city's board of supervisors, who ran a last-minute write-in campaign in 1999 against entrenched incumbent Mayor Willy Brown and garnered 25 percent, forcing Brown into a runoff. Recently, Ammiano has been deemed too left-wing for many voters andaccording to media reportshas toned down his rhetoric. He is already glad-handing around the city.
There's also Susan Leal, who was elected city treasurer in 1997 with 58 percent of the vote. Leal, daughter of Mexican immigrants, touts her record as San Francisco's financial officer, noting that on her watch the city's investments outperformed those of other large California cities. She believes her experience can help bring economic development and jobs to the city.
At least two straight candidates are runningex-Supervisor Angela Alioto, daughter of former Mayor Joseph Alioto, also on the left side of the spectrum, and Supervisor Gavin Newsom, a more moderate contender. Other candidates could enter the race by the August 8 filing deadline.
San Francisco will be voting under a new system, with voters indicating their second and third choices for each office. If no candidate gets at least 50 percent plus one vote, then the voters' second and third choices will be added in until someone gets a majority. It's confusing, but it's considered a progressive reform.
With San Francisco's gay vote likely to divide between a gay man and a lesbian, the prospects for electing an openly gay mayor are uncertain. Stay tuned.
More Brouhaha on AIDS Council
The decisionwith White House approvalof fundamentalist Christian Jerry Thacker to withdraw his appointment to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) is not going to end the controversy brewing at PACHA between moderates and anti-gay activists. Thacker's initial appointment was engineered by Pat Ware, PACHA's executive director, who has been a thorn in the side of both the Bush administration and the gay community. Ware gains clout from her double identity as both an African American and as a conservative Christianshe was previously on the staff of the Family Research Council, right-wing 2000 presidential candidate Gary Bauer's old haunt. There are other social conservatives at the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) who also influence AIDS policies. Panel members say Ware delivers anti-gay tirades andthough politically cunninghas little understanding of AIDS policies. She tried to stop one of PACHA's few accomplishmentsendorsing rapid testing methods, which are now being implemented. The White House got her fired last summer, but James Dobson of Focus on the Family mounted a letter-writing campaign on her behalf that resulted in her getting rehired. Subsequently, Ware brought in Thacker, embarrassing the White House once again.
Cornelius Baker, executive of Washington's Whitman-Walker Clinic, "opened the floodgates," says one council member, when, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he decried Christian conservative efforts to blame white gay men for the spread of AIDS in the black community. Baker, an African American and a former member of the panel, called the suggestion "a lie that we cannot buy into."So in the next few weeks, don't be surprised to see AIDS professionals taking on Ware and her allies publicly, forcing President Bush and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to intervene yet again to prevent the presidential panel from continuing as a source of embarrassment to the administration.
Hastings Wyman publishes Southern Political Report, a nonpartisan biweekly political newsletter. He may be reached in care of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth or at HWymanSPR@aol.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 13, No. 1, February 7, 2003.