SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – The San Diego mayoral campaign illustrates how much voters’ attitudes have shifted focused on pensions, civic projects and budget woes — is drowning out the fact that the winner could make San Diego one of a few major U.S. cities with an openly gay mayor.
Two high-profile candidates — Councilman Carl DeMaio and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis — are gay Republicans who, if elected, would represent the culmination of an LGBT movement that emerged in the 1970s from the neighborhood of Hillcrest.
The possibility that the region’s most visible political figure could be a homosexual person has been met with a collective shrug from San Diegans, illustrating how much attitudes have changed as more and more gay politicians rose to prominence during the past two decades.
“It’s a great progression by voters in San Diego,” said Delores Jacobs, chief executive of The San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center. “It’s a great story to talk about the ways that the politics of the past are no longer acceptable. It doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally happen in different corners with using sexual orientation in one way or another subtly, but it’s not the body politic’s fight.”
As mayoral candidates jockey for position ahead of the June primary, the topics of sexual orientation and same-sex marriage have received nary a mention in forums and debates. The emphasis has been on public employee pensions, the city’s fiscal challenges and major infrastructure projects such as the proposed Chargers stadium and convention center expansion.
That wasn’t the case five years ago when Mayor Jerry Sanders reversed course and began to support same-sex marriage as his re-election neared. He gave an emotional speech saying he could no longer in good conscience deny that right to his lesbian daughter and gay staff members. The local Republican Party reconsidered its endorsement of Sanders; he barely held on to the endorsement and later won the race handily.
“The Republican Party wasn’t tremendously pleased with my stance in 2007 and now they’re very accepting of both (gay) candidates,” Sanders said. “I think that means San Diegans are judging people on the quality of leadership, the qualities that they provide, rather than any other type of characteristic.”
Another reason is that all four major candidates, which also include Democratic Rep. Bob Filner and Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, are considered gay-friendly. They profess support for same-sex marriage, leaving the LGBT community to make its decision based on other criteria.
None of the candidates can lay claim to being the gay community’s preferred choice. That was made abundantly clear in October when Fletcher won the backing of the Log Cabin Republicans San Diego, a group that supports the party’s principles and pushes for gay equality. The organization picked Fletcher, who is straight, over the two gay candidates from their party.
DeMaio, who has been in a committed relationship with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News Publisher Johnathan Hale for three years, said the mayor needs to be a leader for the entire city and focused on the fiscal crisis, not gay-rights issues.
“I made it quite clear that I’m running on an agenda of fiscal reform, job creation and infrastructure improvement,” he said. “These other issues are just simply not relevant. I don’t think voters care one way or the other.”
Dumanis, who married wife Denise Neleson in 2008 when same-sex marriage was briefly legal in California before voters enacted a ban, said she is standing on the shoulders of those who came before her and changed hearts one at a time.
“In my view, if you feel comfortable in your skin, then people will feel comfortable with you,” she said. “You don’t have to make a big deal out of it. You just do your thing and people respond to that. And as more people have been more comfortable being openly gay, then more people see that there’s somebody in their life that … they now know is gay and it changes views.”
Filner has a long track record in Congress of voting for gay-rights issues, including the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that banned gays from serving openly in the military. He has been endorsed by the pro-gay San Diego Democrats for Equality, which gave him a 100 percent positive rating.
Fletcher, a former Marine, made headlines in 2010 when he delivered an impassioned speech on the Assembly floor to repeal the military policy. He was the first sitting Republican legislator in the state to call for its end.
Fletcher said the mayoral candidates will be judged on their ideas and abilities, not on sexual orientation. “I think it is a good sign that it’s not an issue and it shouldn’t be,” he said.
The city didn’t have its first openly gay politician until Christine Kehoe was elected to the City Council in 1993 to represent the Hillcrest area. She was followed by Toni Atkins and current Councilman Todd Gloria. DeMaio won election in 2008 to represent northern San Diego’s mostly Republican neighborhoods by running as a fiscal hawk.
Kehoe, now a state senator, considered a run for mayor last year before declining. Had she joined the race, three of the top five candidates would have been gay.
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, which tracks gay leaders around the world, lists 10 current elected officials representing all or part of San Diego as openly gay. The list includes Superior Court judges, a school board member and state legislators.
Dumanis, who won her first judicial election in 1994 before becoming district attorney eight years later, said it wasn’t always easy for gay candidates. She recalled one opponent running against her on a “family values” platform, hinting she didn’t have such values as a lesbian.
At the LGBT center, Jacobs said evidence of progress is that such tactics don’t appear on the horizon in this mayor’s race.
“Some of the old-fashioned subtle digs or what some people would call gay-baiting are really not an acceptable part of the politic,” she said.
The candidates are competing in the June 5 mayoral primary for two spots in a November runoff, which will decide the ultimate winner. Should DeMaio or Dumanis be victorious, San Diego would rank second to Houston as the largest U.S. city with an openly gay mayor. The mayor of Portland, Ore., also is openly gay.
from The Union-Tribune
San Diego Considers An Openly Gay Mayor