Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Houston voters chose Annise Parker to replace Bill White as the next mayor of the fourth-largest U.S. city by population.I make a point of saying the article was reproduced in full because you'll notice nowhere does it say that Parker is a lesbian. That fact distinguishes her as the gay candidate to win the mayoralty of the largest American city to date. (Openly gay, that is; see: Koch, Edward.) If you are cheered by what her election demonstrates, as I am, you may be further cheered that a major news wire service needn't mention the fact of her orientation--a testament to the progress we've made as a nation on this count.
Parker won by a margin of 53.6 percent to 46.4 percent for Gene Locke, according Harris County election data. Parker, 53, is in her third term as city controller. Locke, 62, is a Houston attorney and former chief of staff for U.S. Representative Mickey Leland.
White isn’t running after serving the limit of three terms. He has been at odds with Parker about the size of the deficit in the city’s budget. Parker said the city faces a $103 million revenue shortage, while White put the potential gap at $25 million after a series of cost reductions.
Parker and Locke were forced into a runoff in November after Parker won 31 percent of the vote and Locke won 25 percent, according to the city secretary’s office. Two other candidates, Peter Brown, a city councilman, and Roy Morales, a retired air force officer, were eliminated in the primary.
Parker served on the city council for six years and worked in the oil and gas industry for 20 years.
Houston’s mayoral candidates don’t run as representatives of any political party.
Now, many other reports during the campaign mentioned or discussed Parker's sexual orientation. And there were last-ditch efforts by anti-gay groups to cite her orientation as an electoral disqualifier. But still, this is progress. Though we may have to qualify the victory as a result of a run-off between two Democrats, the other of whom is an African American, Houston is not San Francisco.
Parker's win may also testify to the power of people voting their pocketbooks despite attempts to distract them with divisive, culture-war politics. Because the run-off between Parker and Gene Locke divided Democrats, with white liberals favoring Parker and black Democrats favoring the African American Locke, as the New York Times surmised on the eve of the run-off, the race would therefore be decided by less liberal whites.
“White liberal Democrats are behind Parker, and African-Americans are going to go with Locke” said Marc Campos, a consultant to the Locke campaign. “Moderate Republicans, fiscal conservatives — they’re going to be the ones who decide this.”But even if black turnout in the run-off was low, had the lion's of moderate-to-conservative Republican votes gone to Locke, Parker couldn't have won. Yet she did.
One open question is whether conservatives will come out to vote against Ms. Parker because she is a lesbian, strategists said. The dynamics of the race mirror the vote against same-sex marriage last year in California, in which black voters joined with conservatives to approve the ban, some political scientists say.
But Ms. Parker’s sexuality was not an issue in the election, and it is unclear how much impact the anti-gay groups have had.
Richard W. Murray, a political scientist at the University of Houston, said the turnout among blacks, which was low in the general election, might be critical. To offset Ms. Parker’s apparent advantage among white liberals, Professor Murray said, Mr. Locke needs a large turnout by blacks, a majority of whom supported him in November.
“Virtually all the white Democrats are going to Parker, and she’s very competitive among Republicans,” Professor Murray said. “Locke is particularly behind the eight ball unless there is robust black voting.”
Now, I suppose the dimmer, alternative view is that whites would rather vote for a white lesbian than a straight black man. But I'll opt for the more comforting conclusion, which is that Houston does not have a problem with being represented by a gay mayor.