ELECTION 2009: Gay Candidates Score Visibility and Victories in Southern Races

ELECTION 2009: Gay Candidates Score Visibility and Victories in Southern Races

No big lessons or grand narratives emerged from yesterday’s off-year elections
– but there were lots of interesting local stories that reveal the conflicted
reality of the Purple South and country.

Here are some updates and themes coming out of the key races Facing South reported
on yesterday and more:

OPENLY GAY CANDIDATES GAIN VISIBILITY, VOTES: As gay marriage
was being voted down in Maine, several openly gay candidates in the South scored
victories:

* Houston Mayor: City Controller Annise Parker didn’t win
outright, but she led a competitive 4-person field with 31% of the vote, forcing
a run-off with runner-up Gene Locke – setting up a race between an openly gay
city veteran and an African-American former civil rights activist. The outcome
will depend on who can woo voters who went for the eliminated candidates: Peter
Broun, whose base was wealthier whites, and Roy Morales, who courted conservatives.

* St. Petersburg City Council: Republican Bill Foster won
a tight mayoral race, but the city also elected its first openly gay city official,
city councilman Steve Kornell. It was an important moral victory for the city’s
large gay community, which has faced opposition to pride events.

* Chapel Hill Mayor: It IS Chapel Hill, but the victorious
mayoral race of death penalty activist Mark Kleinschmidt was still hard-fought.
Another landmark: Kleinschmidt was a “voter-owned” candidate, drawing
on a program that provides public financing for qualifying candidates who forego
dependence on special interest dollars.

* Atlanta Area: A record-breaking 15 openly gay candidates
ran for offices in the Atlanta metro area. Four of them won: incumbents Brian
Bates in Doraville and Melanie Hammet and Kathie de Nobriga in Pine Lake, and
challenger Johnny Sinclar for Marietta City Council. Nine lost, and two are
headed to run-offs.

CHARLOTTE GOES BLUE: Democrat Anthony Foxx’s victory in
the Charlotte mayoral race was big on several levels. He’s the first African-American
and first Democratic mayor of the city in two decades (the previous on both
counts was Harvey Gantt). His candidacy was also an important litmus test for
Democratic politics in a booming but economically devastated major Southern
city.

VIRGINIA GOES RED: One of the most-hyped races may tell
us the least. Moderate Democrat Creigh Deeds’ loss to staunch conservative Republican
Bob McDonnell was no suprise, but it’s certainly a blow to Democratic hopes
of solidifying a “blue Virginia” and a boost to Republicans. One reason
to avoid too many comparisons between VA ’08 and VA ’09: the youth vote – 20%
of the total electorate in 2008 and so critical to Obama’s victory – dropped
by half in Virginia this year, while voters over 60 doubled. But more ominous
for Democrats is that McDonnell led a sweep of state-wide offices.

Overall, 2009 sent a mixed message. The bigger question, then, is this: How
did these and other races position both parties for 2010?