by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Openly Lesbian Annise Parker was elected mayor of Houston in a runoff election on Saturday, December 12.
Parker won by a convincing margin, 53.6% to 46.4%. Pre-election polls had consistently shown her ahead by up to 13 points.
"This election has changed lives for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community," she said at her election-night rally, to cheers from supporters both Gay and straight.
The audience cheered again when the new mayor introduced her partner of 19 years, Kathy Hubbard, along with their three children and her mother.
"I understand that I am a role model for my community, but my job is to represent the citizens of Houston," Parkers said in her speech.
She added that high interest in her campaign across the country was because Houston is America's fourth-largest city, and "we have a great impact."
Parker becomes the first openly Gay or Lesbian person elected mayor in one of the country's top 10 cities. With a population of more than 2.25 million, Houston is the nation's fourth-largest city.
About 60,000 Houston residents openly identify as LGBT.
Sue Lovell, an openly Lesbian Houston City Council member, won re-election in Saturday's runoff, but Lane Lewis, a Gay candidate for another council seat, was defeated.
Parker and her opponent Gene Locke were virtually tied among early voters. But on Election Day, Parker's huge get-out-the-vote organization made the difference in the final tally, and her campaign workers remained confident of victory throughout the evening.
Locke conceded the election at 10 p.m., congratulated Parker, and urged the city to move on.
"Here's what our city needs now: It needs unity. It needs us to come together and heal like we've never healed before, and to move forward under a new administration," he said.
The final weeks of the election had been contentious, with right-wing forces circulating anti-Gay direct mail pieces, and Parker accusing her opponent's campaign of illegally financing them.
The week before the election, anti-Gay activist Steven Hotze sent out a mailer attacking Parker's sexuality.
Locke tried to distance himself from the mailer, but Parker's campaign discovered that two Locke campaign committee members contributed $20,000 apiece to finance it, in violation of Texas campaign finance laws.
Polling done just before the mailer controversy gave Parker a five-point lead. A poll taken after the story broke increased her lead to 13 points.
Dennis Dison, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund that backed Parker, was ecstatic about the win after recent defeats in Maine and New York.
"This has been a bittersweet year for LGBT Americans," Dison said Saturday night. "It's nice to be able to smile this broadly."
Openly Gay Fort Worth City Councilmember Joel Burns and his partner, J.D. Angle, are close friends of Parker, supporting her throughout the campaign, including hosting fundraisers for her in Fort Worth and Dallas.
"J.D. and I have been active in Annise's race because Annise is the kind of smart political leader that we want to see elected, not only here in Houston but throughout Texas," Burns said Saturday.
"People have come together from all over the country, all over the state, and all over Houston to elect someone of Annise's caliber. It is an example of Houstonians and Texans and Americans supporting talented and qualified LGBT candidates," he added.
Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, suggested that Parker's win shows that voters care more about a candidate's qualifications than about the candidate's sexual orientation.
"I think tonight shows that despite the negative attacks, Houston voters were able to elect the most qualified candidate," Scott said. "We try to remind people that it's qualifications that count. This is proof that the divisive issues projected in this campaign won't work."
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