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Houston mayoral race turns ugly - Religious right targets Lesbian candidate
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Houston mayoral race turns ugly - Religious right targets Lesbian candidate

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Houston's mayoral race turned ugly last week as a group of conservative Texas ministers accused one of the candidates of planning a 'Gay takeover' of City Hall.

Openly Lesbian Annise Parker came in first in a field of five candidates on November 3, earning a spot in the December 12 runoff. Two candidates in the five City Council races to be decided are also openly Gay.

The Houston Area Pastor Council, a group of some 200 conservative pastors, expressed the fear that Parker and other city officials would seek to overturn a 2001 City Charter amendment that prohibits the city from providing benefits to the domestic partners of Gay and Lesbian employees.

"The bottom line is that we didn't pick the battle, she did, when she made her agenda and sexual preference a central part of her campaign," said Houston Area Pastor Council Executive Director Dave Welch.

"National Gay and Lesbian activists see this as a historic opportunity," Welch said. "The reality is that's because they're promoting an agenda which we believe to be contrary to the concerns of the community and destructive to the family."

In her campaign, Parker has stressed that she is not running as a Lesbian candidate, but as a qualified city official who has won election six times.

In a TV debate last month, she stated she had "no current plans" to revisit the City Charter amendment if elected, although she said Houston will need to offer benefits to the same-sex partners of its employees "at some point."

Responding to the same question, Parker's opponent Gene Locke said that same-sex domestic partner benefits allow governments and businesses "a competitive advantage." Locke added he "would favor that," although it would not be the first item on his agenda.

Locke had previously distanced himself from homophobic attacks on his opponent, but he appeared at the Pastor Council's annual gala on November 6, and was encouraged several times by featured speaker State Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) to stand for conservative values.

Locke has also met with and asked for endorsement from Dr. Steven Hotze, a longtime local kingmaker in conservative politics and creator of the "Straight Slate" in 1985, a slate of eight City Council candidates he recruited to run on an anti-Gay platform.

POSTCARD HIT PIECE
Parker was also the target of a mass mailing hit piece sent out by well-known Christian conservative gadfly Dave Wilson.

Wilson mailed some 35,000 postcards to Houston voters, depicting Parker and her partner at a swearing-in ceremony with the caption "Is this the image Houston wants to portray?"

Wilson's postcard goes on to say:

"I have nothing but compassion, respect and sensitivity towards those trapped in homosexual behavior. I have family members and friends who have been ensnared in this behavior, and I know something of the incredible pain and sorrow it has brought to them and their families. With God's grace, I carefully balance this love and respect for these individuals with warnings about the promotion and demand for legal and political approval for homosexual behavior that will stifle religious freedom and trap millions of more people in its deadly grip. Therefore, I would ask you to vote against Annise Parker for Mayor."

"I'd like to energize the conservative Christian base in Houston, and get them to vote," Wilson told Houston's Channel 11 News reporters.

"The openly Gay lifestyle leads to extinction," he added. "You can't reproduce."

NEW POLL NUMBERS
In spite of the attacks, new polls show Parker maintaining a healthy lead over her opponent. A Lake Research Partners survey released November 18 showed her leading Locke 47% to 34% with 19% undecided.

Because Locke is African American, the poll simulated high turnout among African American voters. The sample was comprised of 54% Anglos, 30% African Americans, and 12% Latinos. Parker still ran 13 points ahead.

Parker remains the best-known and liked candidate in the race. Sixty-seven percent of voters have a favorable impression of Parker and 62% think she has done either an excellent (21%) or good job (41%) as City Controller. Fifty-seven percent of voters hold a favorable view of Locke.

In the mayoral primary November 3, Parker surprised pollsters by coming in first. Brown had consistently led the pre-election polling. In pre-primary head-to-head polls, Parker beat Locke by small but statistically significant margins.

Parker is a Democrat, as is her opponent, Gene Locke. Parker has been endorsed by the third Democrat in the primary, City Council member Peter Brown.

Parker was elected Houston City Controller - the second most powerful city office - in 2003, and was reelected without opposition in 2005 and 2007. She served on Houston's City Council from 1997 to 2003.

Locke was formerly Houston City Attorney, and is now in private practice. His law firm's relationship with public entities in the Houston metropolitan area, which he might control or influence as mayor, has been an ongoing issue in the campaign.

This week Parker released her own and her partner's tax returns. Locke has not.

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