In face of pastors’ anti-gay efforts, Parker focuses campaign on issues

Posted on 19 Oct 2009 at 8:55pm
By David Taffet | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Lesbian candidate calls on runoff opponent Gene Locke to ‘come clean’ on ethical questions


RUNNING STRONG | Openly lesbian Houston City Controller Annise Parker reacts to the cheers of supporters on Election Day. She faces attorney Gene Locke in a Dec. 12 runoff for mayor. (Dalton DeHart)

HOUSTON — With fewer than 30 days to go before the runoff for Houston mayor, the Annise Parker campaign this week launched a "Come clean, Gene" effort, questioning opponent Gene Locke’s ethics.

The questions concern her opponent’s ties to his former law firm, Andrews Kurth.

In a press release, Parker said that Locke’s firm bills the city at a rate of $640 per hour and earned more than $17 million in the last six years from business with the Houston Sports Authority, Metro (public transit) and the Port Authority. The campaign asked questions including whether Locke would release his divestment and payout plan with the law firm and whether Andrews Kurth’s future income affects the payout.

The Parker campaign asked whether Locke would  retain pension and retirement from the company or would he recuse himself from any business transactions between the city and the law firm. To avoid any appearance of impropriety, she asked if he would prohibit Andrews Kurth from representing the city at all during his term in office.

The Parker campaign challenged Locke to answer within a week.

Late in the week, Locke said he would resign from the firm effective the day he is sworn into office. He did not answer the other claims.

Days earlier, Parker released her tax returns and those of her partner, Kathy Hubbard. Locke has not released his.

Campaign spokeswoman Jeri Brooks said that the Parker campaign was focusing on the issues, and is not responding to efforts by a group of ministers to make Parker’s sexual orientation a factor in the election. Brooks said that Parker "is going to work on the economy, infrastructure and put more police on the streets."

Since the Nov. 3 election, Parker has been dividing her time between her work as city controller and the campaign. As controller, she spent an afternoon this week celebrating the 40th anniversary of Bush Intercontinental Airport and shared a table with former first lady Barbara Bush.

The Bushes, who live in Houston, have remained neutral in the race.

Much of Parker’s campaign time is spent fundraising. The day after the election, she set a one-day online fundraising record.

The Houston Chronicle reported that the Houston Area Pastors Council warned this week about a "gay takeover" of city hall. In addition to Parker, two candidates for at-large council seats, Lane Lewis and Sue Lovell, are also gay.

The group accused Parker of making her sexual orientation an issue, although she rarely mentions it.

Locke had sought the endorsement of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. As city attorney, he wrote the policy that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. After seeking the pastor group’s endorsement, he distanced himself from the group this week.

"I reject any association with the style of campaigning that was the subject of an article in the Houston Chronicle today. We have serious issues to deal with in our city that require us to work together as one Houston," Locke said.

While attacks on Parker’s sexual orientation were not surprising, this type of offensive is often made with stealth robocalls or mailers sent by newly formed citizens groups.

Houston anti-gay activist Dave Wilson sent a mailer to 35,000 people this week. Wilson had two gay uncles die of AIDS-related causes and has a gay brother-in-law. He led an effort to deny partners of city employees health benefits.

The flier claims, "Just because Annise Parker is a lesbian doesn’t make her qualified to be mayor" and "P.S. Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank is holding a fund raiser for Annise Parker in Washington, D.C."

Current mayor Bill White has refuted the only issue claim on the flier, that as controller, Parker "has been as much as one year late in preparing the city’s internal financial reports."

In a letter sent to Dallas Voice by White’s office, the current mayor said, "The controller is not responsible for these delays and the reasons for delays were discussed openly at city council meetings with some frequency."

The Wilson mailer further asserts, "Annise Parker’s greatest failure is not alerting the citizens of Houston to the $1.5 billion operation loss during 2004-2008."

White responded, "The city has not incurred ‘$1.5 billion’ in operating deficits. The city, in fact, has increased cash on the balance sheet during this administration because our revenues have exceeded expenditures."

Denis Dison of The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund said, "You sometimes do see it [anti-gay tactics] that open and blatant, but in places where we’ve seen this, it didn’t work."

Dison said, "Of these two candidates, Parker’s the most experienced and qualified." He said the pastors’ attack shows "they don’t have much left."

He cited two other races this year where candidates were assailed for their sexual orientation. In Akron, Ohio, Sandra Kurt became the first open lesbian elected to city council. In the St. Paul suburb of Maplewood, Minn., Jim Llanas became the first gay Hispanic elected to the city council.

Describing how the Parker campaign was going, Brooks said that they had a strong base with strong volunteer support. Since the endorsement by third place finisher Peter Brown, they have gotten volunteers from his campaign.

A new poll released by the Parker campaign this week shows her 13 points ahead at 47 percent to Locke’s 34 percent. That same polling company accurately predicted the outcome of the Nov. 3 election within three points. A poll released by the Locke campaign also put her in the lead but with a smaller 43 to 39 margin.

The Parker poll found that among all voters, including undecided, 67 percent have a favorable impression of her and 57 percent have a favorable view of Locke. As controller, 62 percent think she has done an excellent or good job.


Houston Chronicle points to elections history, says anti-gay efforts won’t work

The Houston Chronicle calls the gay issue in campaigns "as Houston as facelifts." But they also claim that in their city, it never works.

In 1981, supporters of Kathy Whitmire’s opposition sent a Mailgram to more than 100,000 people. It accused Whitmire of bringing a large number of gays from San Francisco to work on her campaign and that, if she won, she would require all students, beginning in kindergarten, to be taught about the "homosexual lifestyle."

Whitmire is straight. She won with 62 percent of the vote and became Houston’s first female mayor.

In 1985, during a live debate, Whitmire’s opponent didn’t realize a mike was on. He made a "joke" that the best way to fight AIDS was to "shoot the queers."

Whitmire won re-election with 59 percent of the vote. Although she now lives in Hawaii, Whitmire has been campaigning and fundraising for Parker.

In 1997, Rob Mosbacher criticized his opponents for supporting health insurance benefits for same-sex partners of city employees. Mosbacher’s sister is lesbian filmmaker Dee Mosbacher ("Straight from the Heart," 1994, Academy Award nomination) and their father was commerce secretary under George H.W. Bush.

Lee Brown won that election with 53 percent of the vote and became Houston’s first African-American mayor.


— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 20, 2009.

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