by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
The Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) hosted 16 candidates for major Puget Sound political races at the Red Lion Hotel on September 23. The GSBA Candidate Forum, an 11:30 a.m. luncheon attended by 120 members, was unique in that it brought together the candidates in one place in order to address the needs of the Seattle-area LGBT community, business and residents.
The morning began with GSBA's Executive Director Louise Chernin thanking the candidates and GSBA members for supporting the important political meeting between the politicians and LGBT Seattle business owners. Washington State Senator Joe McDermott (D) of the 34th Legislative District was in attendance, as well as City Council member Sally Clark.
Following Chernin's introduction, GSBA member Mona Smith PLLC, led the group in a moment of silence for Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who passed away last month. In her speech, Smith reminded attendees of the tireless work Kennedy did for the nation and the Gay community.
The roughly two-hour candidate forum, moderated by retired talk-radio host Deborah Bryant, was light on campaign rhetoric and heavy on the candidates' overwhelming support for the LGBT community. The rules were simple: each candidate would give a one-minute opening, have one minute to answer a GSBA approved question, and one minute to close. Bryant said candidates had not seen any of the questions in advance and that there would be no rebuttals.
Participating candidates were: Dow Constantine and Susan Hutchison, King County Executive; Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn, Mayor of Seattle; Tom Carr and Pete Holmes, Seattle City Attorney; Richard Conlin and David Ginsberg, Position 2; Sally Bagshaw and David Bloom, Position 4; Jessie Israel and Nick Licata, Position 6; Mike O'Brien and David Rosencrantz, Position 8; and David Doud and Rob Holland, Port of Seattle Commissioner Position 3.
The GSBA extended the invitation to the candidates, and all of them accepted. Perhaps the most important thing achieved on Wednesday was the fact that every single candidate had to publicly state his or her support for the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign. This November, during the General Election, Washingtonians will be asked if they want to approve or reject the domestic partnership law, which grants same-sex domestic partners and the elderly the same rights and responsibilities as married couples. Each candidate was put on the spot, and in most cases they expounded on why they support keeping Washington's domestic partnership law, and what they plan to do, if elected, for Seattle's LGBT community.
All 16 candidates agreed that Referendum 71 should be approved this November.
Washington Families Standing Together (WAFST) Chair Anne Levinson approached the podium and gave a spirited speech about the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign. WAFST is the Gay advocacy group leading the fight to keep the domestic partnership law in place. Again and again, Levinson asked, "How are we going to vote?" Each time the audience yelled out a raucous, "Approve!" Levinson told GSBA members, "Do not assume victory." She asked everyone to get the word out, through word-of-mouth, phone banking and on social sites. Levinson said, "We must do all we can to approve Referendum 71." The community leader's speech commanded the longest applause from attendees.
The GSBA has been the LGBT and allied business and professional chamber of commerce since 1981. With over 1,000 members, GSBA is the largest business chamber of its kind in the United States.
The GSBA may not seem like an activist hub, but activism is often at their core. The politically aware and community vested members could be seen taking notes and intently listening to every word the candidates had to say. Certain themes were prevalent throughout the forum - mainly the economy, environment, and LGBT rights - but in the end, it was the approval of Referendum 71 that stole the show, and undoubtedly will receive approve votes and support from the GSBA members.
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