Gore Nod to Dean Caps Week

Gay & Lesbian Independent Democrats add their vote

Gore Nod To Dean Caps

NYC WeekHoward Dean flanked by former vice Pres. Al Gore and City Councilmember Bill Perkins

John Pettitt/Dean for America

In a week that saw Howard Dean win the backing of former Vice President Al Gore in his bid to capture the Democratic nomination for president, the former Vermont governor also scored support from some of New York City’s Democratic lesbian and gay elected officials and political clubs.

But while Dean’s gay and lesbian backers have been high profile and fervent in their support, whether that support has deep roots in the queer community remains a question.

“I’ve heard a lot from a lot people, a lot of gay people, who seem to be supportive and it seemed to me that, fundamentally, I wanted to beat George Bush,” said City Councilmember Philip Reed who endorsed Dean along with 21 of his City Council colleagues and A. Gifford Miller, the City Council speaker, on December 8.

For Reed, who has not been caught up in the enthusiasm surrounding Dean, beating the Republican president was the primary motivation.

“As I began to look at it, it made sense to me that [Dean] could actually win,” said Reed, an out gay African American who represents East Harlem and a portion of the Bronx. “I don’t think a conventional Democrat at this moment can beat [Bush].”

Dean is not the perfect candidate, according to Reed. He has not yet talked about what he can do for America’s cities, but he is “eminently teachable,” Reed said. Dean has also been faulted for his lagging outreach to African-Americans and Latinos.

“In order for Dean to win he has to get black people excited,” Reed said.

But then there are those hordes of Dean volunteers whose support for the former Vermont governor borders on fanaticism.

“People want to be excited about something,” Reed said. “Dean is offering that. I’m not sure I’ve understood the phenomenon yet.”

Christine Quinn, who along with Reed is one of three openly gay or lesbian city councilmembers, was also among the December 8 endorsers, but only two of the three were there. City Councilmember Margarita Lopez, who represents a part of lower Manhattan, has not yet thrown her support behind any of the nine Democrats who want to challenge George Bush. Lopez is waiting to hear their views on issues such as poverty among Latinos or the increasing HIV infections among black and Latino gay men.

“It happens to be that I am Puerto Rican,” Lopez said. “I’m not just a lesbian. I need to see some clarity on the agenda from the Dean campaign on people of color.”

Lopez had eyed Wesley Clark, a retired general, and Carol Moseley Braun, a former U.S. Senator, but she rejected Clark because he supported the Navy bombing in Vieques and Braun’s candidacy does not seem to be firing up voters.

“Personally I am very interested in seeing a woman become president of this nation, but she has not been able to articulate a candidacy that will excite even women,” Lopez said.

Out gay state Senator Thomas K. Duane, who represents Chelsea and midtown Manhattan, came out for Dean early in the campaign.

“Generally I thought that he had a great message that was going to appeal to a very broad base, certainly to the Democratic base, but also to a broad base of Americans,” Duane said. “I thought he earned my support because he signed civil unions and that changed the debate among all the Democratic candidates.”

But Deborah Glick and Daniel O’Donnell, the lesbian and gay assemblymembers who represent portions of Manhattan, have not yet endorsed anyone.

Glick wants to hear the contenders on a range of issues including “social justice and economic equality,” “reproductive rights,” “equality for the LGBT community,” the environment, affordable housing, healthcare, and education.

The staggering deficit that the Bush administration is running up is also a concern. That should hit $7 trillion by the end of 2004 and the interest on that debt already tops $325 billion per year.

“It would be nice for us to return to a notion that a limited amount of debt is actually preferable to a crushing amount of debt service,” Glick said.

O’Donnell does not expect to make an endorsement in 2003 nor do the announcements by his colleagues give him a sense of urgency. Indeed, he grew annoyed at a question that he felt suggested he should have endorsed by now.

“I don’t feel any pressure at all,” O’Donnell said. “I think there are a number of very good contenders for the job. I think it’s imperative that we beat George Bush. I’m keeping my options open.” While the Gore endorsement generated buzz, many gay and lesbian Democrats also appear to be keeping their powder dry.

Of the more that 80 queer political clubs that belong to the National Stonewall Democrats, a federation of Democratic groups, only four have endorsed in the race and all have backed Dean.

“You’re seeing the LGBT community reflecting the Democratic Party at large right now,” said Dave Noble, executive director of the federation.

The organization has fielded hundreds of calls since the spring from gay men and lesbians who wanted to volunteer for a campaign. Those callers supported every contender. That reflects the candidate’s positions on queer issues, Noble argued.

“All of the Democrats have been tripping over themselves to talk about how great they are on our issues,” he said. “All of them opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment and all of them supported the decision in Massachusetts. We’ve really got an embarrassment of riches.”

New York City’s Stonewall Democratic Club endorsed Dean in September by an overwhelming majority. Minnesota Stonewall and the San Diego Democratic Club gave him their nods earlier this year. Most recently, Manhattan’s Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats (GLID) endorsed Dean on December 10.

(In the wake of the GLID vote, Dean released a statement thanking the club and pledging to “fight for an outright repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy, a repeal of DOMA, and full federal recognition of civil unions or marriages performed in any state of the U.S. or in foreign countries.”)

In interviews prior to the GLID vote, supporters of other candidates said they expected Dean would prevail. That may reflect the emotion behind his candidacy and his campaign’s efforts here.

“I suspect that Governor Dean will get the nod from the club,” said Judy Selby, a GLID executive board member and supporter of Senator John Kerry. “He’s done a lot of work, I think for about 18 months, in New York. He’s done a lot of work with the gay community and I think that is going to manifest itself.”

Generally, club members said that Dean, Kerry and Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) were the main contenders for the club’s endorsement. Only Kucinich and Dean made an appearance before the GLID members. Of course, just as the Dean campaign has fired up many Americans, plenty of gay men and lesbians have joined the Dean machine.

On December 8, longtime queer activist Donna Red Wing joined Marty Rouse and Scott Sherman, Rouse’s partner in a Vermont civil union, in a conference call with gay press reporters to talk about their support for Dean.

“When Howard Dean is in the room it’s extraordinary,” said Red Wing who is on the campaign staff. “People are excited. It’s an event… People have not been this excited since Bobby Kennedy.”

Kennedy, a U.S. senator from New York and the younger brother of President John F. Kennedy, inspired tremendous emotion when he ran for president in 1968. His campaign was cut short by his assassination.

Rouse and his partner are campaign volunteers who traveled to Iowa to talk up the Dean candidacy there.

“Myself, my partner, and my young son have come out here for three days because we feel a personal commitment to Howard Dean,” Rouse said. “I think world history is being made here.”

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