The mayoral contests in Seattle and Houston are being watched closely by LGBT advocates from across the country because the outcome on Nov. 5 could be the election and re-election of openly gay mayors in two prominent U.S. cities.
In Seattle, most political observers believe Washington State Sen. Ed Murray is in a strong position to unseat incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn to become that city’s first openly gay mayor. Murray, 59, won election to the Washington House of Representatives in 1995 and was elected to the State Senate in 2006.
He’s been credited with taking the lead in pushing for the successful passage of the state’s LGBT non-discrimination law and for approval in the legislature of the marriage equality law that voters subsequently passed in a 2012 referendum.
In a development that raised eyebrows among Seattle’s political establishment, Murray beat McGinn by a narrow margin in the city’s multi-party “top two” primary in August by a margin of 30 to 29 percent in an eight-candidate race. Under the city’s election rules, the top two vote-getters in the primary advance to the general election in November.
Murray’s supporters were quick to point out that 70 percent of the voters cast their ballots in the primary for someone other than McGinn, a sitting mayor. And two of the primary candidates, both members of the City Council, who received 16 percent and 15 percent of the vote respectively, have endorsed Murray.
The most recent public opinion poll conducted by the Seattle-based communications and research firm Strategies 360, which isn’t backing any of the candidates, showed Murray ahead by a margin of 51 percent to 34 percent among likely voters. The remaining 15 percent either declined to disclose who they planned to vote for or were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percent.
With McGinn expressing strong support for LGBT rights during his career as an attorney, environmentalist and community activist, observers say LGBT issues aren’t at play in the election. Instead, the issue on the minds of most voters in a city known as a bastion of liberalism and progressivism is who is most capable of running the city to continue its current strong economic base and progressive agenda, political commentators have said.
In Houston, most consider incumbent Mayor Annise Parker, an out lesbian, as the frontrunner in a nine-candidate race. But they say it’s possible that her lead rival, millionaire attorney and philanthropist Ben Hall, could capture enough votes to force Parker into a runoff election, which would take place in December. Under the Houston election law, a mayoral candidate must win at least 50 percent of the vote in a multi-candidate race to win the election outright without a runoff.
Parker’s supporters say she is well known and well liked in a city where she has served six years as an elected City Council member and another six years as city controller before being elected to her first two-year term as mayor in 2009. Should she win in November she would enter her third and last term under Houston’s term limit law.
Some observers say that Hall, who is black and obtained a master’s of divinity degree before becoming a lawyer, could make inroads into Houston’s black vote, including socially conservative blacks, who comprise as much as 30 percent of the city’s voting population.
Hall has expressed opposition to same-sex marriage and has declined to say whether he would support legislation to ban discrimination in Houston based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to Noel Freeman, president of the Houston LGBT Political Caucus. Freeman said Hall declined an invitation by the group to meet with its members to discuss LGBT issues and refused to fill out a questionnaire on LGBT-related issues that the caucus gives to all candidates running for public office in the city.
Campaign finance records show that Hall has contributed more than $2 million of his own money to his campaign.
Sue Davis, the Parker campaign’s communications director, said Hall, while attacking Parker on various non-gay issues, has so far not raised LGBT issues or Parker’s sexual orientation in the campaign.
“Annise has said all along she is not going to be the gay mayor but the best mayor,” Davis told the Blade.
A poll released in early September by Houston’s CBS TV affiliate showed Parker leading Hall by a margin of 34 percent to 13 percent, with more than 40 percent of respondents saying they were undecided. The remaining seven candidates had a combined total of less than 10 percent.