Annise Parker defeats Gene Locke in a December runoff to become mayor of Houston, the first openly LGBT person elected to that office in a top 10 U.S. city.
Annise Parker wins in Houston: When Annise Parker was elected in December, Houston became the largest U.S. city with an openly gay or lesbian mayor.
Parker had won six previous citywide elections. She served three terms as an at-large city councilmember. She followed that with three terms as Houston controller, the city’s second highest elected official.
Parker has been with her partner, Kathy Hubbard, for 19 years. They have a foster son, Jovon Tyler, and two adopted daughters, Marquitta and Daniela. Her family stood proudly at her side on stage at her victory party.
During her term as controller, Parker gained the reputation as a fiscal conservative, and in her campaign, Parker stressed fiscal responsibility along with plans to add police to protect neighborhoods and to deal with flood control. While she never hid who she was, she always stuck to campaign themes.
Denis Dison, vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund in Washington, D.C. said that Parker ran a classic campaign. He said the group advises candidates to be open and honest about whom they are and stick to the issues.
With 30 percent of the vote, Parker came in first, but was forced into a runoff with former city attorney Gene Locke. Both candidates in the runoff were Democrats and had strong credentials in the LGBT community. As city attorney, Locke had written Houston’s anti-discrimination ordinance.
But to gain an advantage, he approached the city’s conservative leaders. Parker began her political career heading the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. But her sexual orientation did not become an issue in the mayor’s race until two groups sent mailers in the final weeks of the runoff.
First was a poorly worded postcard that said, "Just because Annise Parker is a lesbian doesn’t make her qualified to be mayor" as if simply being a lesbian would normally qualify someone. News outlets spent more time criticizing the senders than discussing sexual orientation.
The second attack came from a more insidious source, Dr. Steven Hotze. This anti-gay campaigner had been active in Houston politics since the 1980s and was even better known around the city for his racist mailers. To discredit liberal whites, Hotze’s tactic is to send a mailer of the candidate with black politicians. His endorsement of Locke, who is African-American, was considered cynical.
Locke never officially embraced the Hotze nod. But the week of the election, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Hotze mailer was paid, in part, by donations from Locke campaign finance committee members.
The effort backfired. Before the Hotze mailer was sent, Parker was 5 percent ahead in the polls. Later that week, after the mailer received widespread news coverage, her lead grew to 13 percent.
For the Dec. 12 runoff, Parker received the sole endorsement of the Houston newspaper.
The weekend before the runoff, volunteers from Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley made more than 10,000 get-out-the-vote phone calls on her behalf. The Washington D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund endorsed the campaign and made it a high priority by sending volunteers to work in Houston. Equality Texas, based in Austin, also helped with volunteers.
In the end, Houston voters elected the candidate with the most experience. Election day was cold and rainy. Turnout was light. A rare snow in Houston affected early voting earlier that week. Only 15 percent of eligible voters came to the polls.
She was elected with 53 percent of the vote.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 1, 2010.