October 31, 2013 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Miami Beach mayoral candidate among LGBT hopefuls
Michael Gongora, Miami Beach, Victory Fund, gay news, Washington Blade

Miami Beach City Commissioner Michael Gongora is one of several Victory Fund-endorsed LGBT candidates hoping for a win on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Miami Beach City Commissioner Michael Gongora is considered to have a shot at becoming that city’s first openly gay mayor on Tuesday despite the fact that former President Bill Clinton has endorsed one of his three opponents.

Gongora, Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, who’s running for re-election; and Washington State Sen. Ed Murray, who’s leading in the polls in his race for mayor of Seattle, are among a record 54 openly LGBT candidates running nationwide in an off-year election.

Each of the candidates has been endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national LGBT advocacy group that raises money and provides logistical campaign assistance to openly LGBT candidates for public office.

Like Gongora, Murray would be the first openly gay mayor of Seattle if he beats incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn. Murray finished ahead of McGinn in a multi-candidate open primary in August, prompting political observers to predict Murray would emerge as the winner in the general election on Tuesday.

Most political observers in Houston consider Parker the frontrunner in a nine-candidate race. But they say it’s possible that her lead rival, millionaire attorney and philanthropist Ben Hall, could win enough votes to force Parker into a runoff election in December.

Most of the remaining 54 LGBT candidates backed by the Victory Fund are running in county and municipal races, including seven openly gay or lesbian candidates running for re-election or election to the New York City Council. Each of seven candidates, all Democrats, is expected to win their races in heavily Democratic districts.

In the Miami Beach race, Gongora, an attorney and environmentalist, received the endorsement of the Miami Herald and several of his fellow city commissioners. He’s running in a hotly contested race against a millionaire real estate developer, Philip Levine, whom Clinton endorses; and former comedian and entertainer Steve Berke. A fourth opponent, Raphael Herman, is considered by observers as a fringe candidate who isn’t expected to be a significant player in the race.

According to the Miami Herald, Levine has contributed more than $1.5 million into his campaign and is believed to be behind a series of negative ads attacking Gongora. Some of the ads point to Gongora’s 2002 drunken driving arrest that was lowered to a reckless driving charge.

“I made a mistake, and it’s not a mistake that will impact in any way, shape or form my ability to lead the city as mayor,” the Herald quoted Gongora as saying.

Gongora has fired back at Levine, pointing out in his own campaign ads that Levine gave money to the 2010 campaign of Tea Party Republican Marco Rubio when Rubio ran in the GOP primary against then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist for an open U.S. Senate seat, which Rubio won.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Miami Beach by a wide margin and Levine’s support for Rubio in 2010 could hurt him, even though he’s a Democrat.

Victory Fund spokesperson Jeff Spitko said another candidate — along with Parker, Murray and Gongora — running in what the group considers this year’s 10 “groundbreaking” races for LGBT candidates is lesbian Celia Israel of Austin, Texas. Israel is running in a special election for an open seat in the Texas House of Representatives in a four-candidate race.

She would become the second openly LGBT member of the Texas Legislature if she wins her race on Tuesday.

Israel, a progressive Democrat, worked as an aide to former Texas Gov. Ann Richards before starting a public policy consulting business in Austin, where she and her partner of 18 years live. She’s running against two other liberal Democrats, Rico Reyes and Jade Chang Sheppard, and Republican Mike VanDeWalle in a majority Democratic district. She received the endorsement of the Austin Chronicle.

Spitko said the Victory Fund has dispatched staff and board members along with volunteers to work on the get-out-the-vote effort for Israel, Parker and Murray. Victory Fund Executive Director Chuck Wolfe will be in Seattle helping with the Murray campaign; the group’s political director, Lucinda Guinn, will be in Houston helping on Parker’s campaign; and Deputy Political Director Mike McCall will be in Austin helping Israel, Spitko said.

“And a large part of our office [in Washington] will be here late into the evening following the election results and we’ll be posting the results on our blog, gaypolitics.com,” said Spitko, where activists throughout the country can keep track of the outcome of the races where LGBT candidates are running.

A total of 85 openly LGBT candidates backed by the Victory Fund emerged in races throughout the country earlier this year. Out of that total, 18 have won primaries and advanced to the general election on Nov. 5; 14 have won in general elections already held; and one emerged as a winner in a run-off election. Nine candidates backed by the Victory Fund lost their races in primaries earlier in the year.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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