Lesbian considered one of 4 viable candidates in race to lead Bayou City; election is Tuesday, Nov. 3
On Nov. 3, Houstonians will go to the polls to decide if the Bayou City will become the first top 10 U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor.
Two years ago, gay city councilmember Ed Oakley made it into the runoffs for the top spot in Dallas but was then defeated by Tom Leppert.
This year, Houston City Controller Annise Parker, a lesbian, is running for mayor there. With four major candidates in the race, recent polls indicate that Parker appears to be on track to make a runoff.
The other top candidates in the Houston race are former City Attorney Gene Locke, City Councilman Peter Brown and Harris County Board of Education Trustee Roy Morales. Seven names will appear on the ballot.
A Lake Research poll of likely voters released Monday, Oct. 26, showed Parker in the lead with 27 percent of the vote. Brown had 21 percent and Locke had 17 percent. The undecideds — 24 percent — could determine the election.
But a poll released Tuesday, Oct. 27, by KHOU, Houston’s Belo-owned CBS television affiliate, put Brown in the lead with 24 percent, Parker second with 16 percent and Locke with 14 percent.
The biggest discrepancy between the polls was the number of undecided voters. In the Belo poll, 41 percent said they had not settled on a candidate.
Jeri Brooks, a spokeswoman for the Parker campaign, said she believes the Lake poll is more accurate because it counted likely voters who have voted in previous municipal elections.
Brooks said she believes many people who voted in last year’s presidential race, who Belo may have counted as likely voters, will not turn out on Election Day, and including them might have skewed the Belo poll.
The Houston Chronicle co-endorsed Parker along with Locke for the first round of voting. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held on Dec. 10.
Parker served as an at-large member of the Houston city council for three terms and has been city controller for three terms. Each of those six elections was a citywide race.
Money could play a big role in the outcome, and the Parker campaign has had less money to spend than the other top campaigns throughout the race.
Brown, who leads in the Belo poll, is a multimillionaire who is financing his own campaign and blanketing the airwaves with commercials. He has spent more than $2.4 million and still has over $400,000 in his campaign account.
“Brown is spending like crazy,” said Brooks. She said he has few endorsements and a huge war chest. “Our base is so much stronger.”
Parker has more individual donors than the other top three candidates combined. Her latest report released last week indicates that she has spent a little more than a half million dollars with $83,000 for the final weekend.
“She’s raised what she was expected to raise. The goal is the runoff,” said Dennis Dison from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which has endorsed Parker and contributed to her campaign.
Parker was in Dallas on Monday night, Oct. 26, for a private fundraiser held by her supporters in the DFW area. Money collected this week is not reflected in her total.
If Parker makes it into a runoff, election law considers that a new race for donation purposes. People who have donated the maximum amount for Nov. 3 can donate again for Dec. 10. her campaign noted.
Dison said he was impressed by the level of energy in Parker’s campaign and the steady stream of volunteers into her campaign headquarters.
“The Annise Parker campaign is a grassroots campaign,” said Brooks.
She said the campaign has had more than 1,200 volunteers knocking on doors and doing phone banking.
On Parker’s Web site bio, she says she has been with her life partner, Kathy Hubbard, since 1990 and they have two children.
Some people believe that anti-gay sentiment, perhaps spurred by articles in the Dallas Morning News, could have played a role in Oakley’s defeat in his race for mayor of Dallas. But supporters say they don’t think Parker’s orientation will affect the outcome of her race.
Oakley had only been elected in a single-member district when he ran for mayor.
“It’s the way she’s lived her entire professional life,” said Dison, who spent time in Houston filming and working with people who were working on the campaign.
“Our advice to candidates is this information is something people don’t care about as long as you’re honest and upfront about it,” Dison said. “Stay on message while never running away from who you are.”
Parker’s issues are fiscally responsible leadership, stronger, safer neighborhoods and cutting waste and fraud in city government, according to her Web site.
Brooks listed other accomplishments. Parker has been a proponent of the arts, worked for the city’s first dog parks, fought for neighborhoods and has a head for business, she said.
Dison said that a main talking point of the campaign is how well Houston has weathered the financial downturn.
As city controller, Parker is largely responsible for that.
“People think the city is running well,” Dison said, and that could translate into votes for Parker, now the second-highest-ranking elected official in the city.
Brooks said that Parker’s reputation and her record certainly work in her favor, too.
“The same thing that makes Annise a role model for the LGBT community makes her a role model for people throughout the city. She’s looking to do the right thing for all Houstonians,” Brooks said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 30, 2009.