Houston Elects Lesbian Mayor

City comptroller bests former city attorney by margin a Bloomberg would envy

Annise Parker, the out lesbian Houston city comptroller, was elected mayor in a runoff against former City Attorney Gene Locke, a longtime civil rights activist, on December 12.

Parker’s margin of victory was 52.8 percent to 47.2, a wider spread than New York’s Michael Bloomberg achieved this fall in his $102 million bid for reelection to a third term. Parker finished first in the preliminary round last month, edging Locke out 31 to 26 percent. The Houston Chronicle reported that only 16.5 percent of voters turned out for the Saturday runoff in the nation’s fourth largest city. Houston becomes by far the largest US city to elect an openly LGBT mayor.

According to the Chronicle, Locke was the “hand-picked candidate of Houston's business establishment,” but the newspaper also noted that the race this year lacked any “strong conservative mayoral contender.” The newspaper reported that exit polls found that voters were impressed by Parker’s stewardship of the city’s $4 billion budget.

Parker worked for several decades in the oil industry before her election to the City Council in 1997. She has been the city controller since 2003, and sits on the board of the Holocaust Museum Houston. Locke served as city attorney in the 1990s, and had been chief of staff to Houston Congressman Mickey Leland, who was head of the Congressional Black Caucus at the time of his death in a plane crash in 1989.

The Chronicle reported that Parker’s sexual orientation was largely not an issue until after the preliminary election on November 3. At that point, right-wing groups began waging a mail and email campaign claiming that the runoff was a referendum on gay rights, despite what the newspaper termed Parker’s insistence that she did not intend to use the mayor’s office to pursue broader gay rights goals in the city.

According to the newspaper, whose editorial page endorsed Parker, Locke tried to cobble together a majority with the votes of African Americans and Republicans. Associated Press reported that Locke’s finance chair as well as a member of his finance committee each contributed $20,000 to a group sending out anti-gay mailings, even as a campaign spokesperson said the candidate was “disappointed and wishes” those donations had not been made.

Parker, who has now won seven elections in Houston, had strong backing from the Washington-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which works to elect out LGBT candidates.

“This is a watershed moment in American politics,” said Chuck Wolfe, the group’s president. “Annise was elected by fair-minded people from across the city because of her experience and competence, and we're glad Houston soundly rejected the politics of division. This victory sends a clear signal that gays and lesbians are an integral part of American civic life, that we're willing to lead, and that voters will respond to candidates who are open and honest about their lives.”

Parker takes office on January 1.