City controller, ex-councilwoman would be 1st openly LGBT person elected mayor of a top 10 city, but making history isn’t her motive
HOUSTON — Two years ago, former Dallas City Councilman Ed Oakley nearly became the first openly LGBT person elected mayor of a top 10 U.S. city.
Now, Annise Parker is trying to accomplish the feat in the Bayou City.
Parker, 52, a former city councilwoman who currently serves as city controller — Houston’s elected fiscal watchdog — formally announced her candidacy for mayor on Monday, Feb. 2. The election is Nov. 3.
Parker is considered one of the early frontrunners to succeed Houston Mayor Bill White, who’s term-limited and plans to run as a Democrat for U.S. Senate in 2010.
In an interview with Dallas Voice on Friday, Jan. 30, Parker said it’s critical for the LGBT community to be active and represented in electoral politics. But she said making LGBT history isn’t the motive for her campaign.
"I want to be mayor of Houston," she said, adding that she’s a native of the city and has spent her entire adult life there. "Municipal government is so much about making sure the trash gets picked up and the potholes get filled, that sometimes all that other discussion can be a distraction. Obviously, I have paid my dues in the community and have never turned down an opportunity to stand up for the GLBT community, but right now it’s about representing all of Houston."
Parker, a past president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, already is among the top openly gay city officials in the nation, representing 2.2 million people.
Houston is the fourth-most-populous city in the U.S., while Dallas is ninth. Currently, the largest city where an openly LGBT candidate has been elected mayor is Portland, Ore., which ranks 30th in population, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
"I imagine when we get closer to the election, you will find some interest from national media," said Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Victory Fund, a political action committee that has endorsed Parker. "It may not be a big deal for Houston, [but] I think people looking from the outside would certainly consider it historic."
Dison acknowledged that although she is well known to Houstonites, Parker’s sexual orientation is likely to become an issue in the race.
"I think that it will be hard for people to claim that she is less qualified for the job because she is lesbian, because she’s been so involved in city politics for so long," Dison said. "That said, there are people out there with a vested interested in making sure that gay people are not legitimized."
During his runoff for Dallas mayor in 2007, Oakley faced a barrage of anti-gay attacks, including a last-minute robocall and e-mail, and he later blamed them in part for his defeat.
However, Parker noted that unlike Oakley, who represented one of 14 single-member districts in Dallas as a councilman, she’s been elected six times citywide.
Parker was re-elected to the council twice after first winning an at-large seat in 1997, and she’s in her third and final two-year term as controller, also a citywide office.
Parker’s family has always been a visible part of her public life. She and her longtime partner, Kathy Hubbard, have two adopted daughters, ages 13 and 18, as well as a son, now 32, whom they raised as foster parents.
"I made a point from that first race back in ’97 to put on every piece of literature that I put out that year that I was the past president of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus," Parker said. "It was part of my political resume, and I wanted everybody to know who I was, and I wasn’t going to talk about it. I was going to talk about the needs of the city. And that was a really good decision, and it served me well. Voters know me, they’ve been voting for me, and I think they’re comfortable with me."
Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, the statewide gay-rights group, said if Parker wins, the biggest benefit will be to the citizens of Houston.
"We feel strongly that regardless of her sexual orientation, she’s just the best candidate," Scott said. "The fact that she’s a lesbian will also be a great benefit to the national, local and state LGBT community."
To learn more about Parker, go to www.anniseparker.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 6, 2009.