Sunday, December 13, 2009

Annise Parker elected Houston's next mayor
Nation watches as city becomes the largest

in U.S. to choose an openly gay leader

From the Houston Chronicle:

Annise Danette Parker was elected mayor of Houston on Saturday, winning her seventh consecutive city election and becoming both the first contender in a generation to defeat the hand-picked candidate of Houston's business establishment and the first openly gay person to lead a major U.S. city.

Parker, Houston's current city controller who first emerged in the public arena as a gay rights activist in the 1980s, defeated former City Attorney Gene Locke on an austere platform, convincing voters that her financial bona fides and restrained promises would be best suited in trying financial times. Parker, 53, will replace the term-limited Mayor Bill White on Jan. 1.

Her victory capped an unorthodox election season that lacked a strong conservative mayoral contender and saw her coalition of inside-the-Loop Democrats and moderate conservatives, backed by an army of ardent volunteers, win the day over Locke, a former civil rights activist who attempted to unite African-American voters and Republicans.


Instead of being turned off by a politician reluctant to promise the world, voters responded to Parker's straight talk about all that might not be possible in the coming years.

Dozens of Houstonians interviewed by the Houston Chronicle said they appreciated her often blunt answers that made Locke's proposals seem vague.


While some voters acknowledged it was a matter of concern, many saw no problem voting for a gay candidate, especially given Parker's assurances that she did not intend to expand gay rights through her position as mayor.

Ray Hill, the dean of Houston's gay activists, saw victory in more ways than one.

“For me, it means 43 years of hard work has finally paid off,” Hill said. “For Houston, it means we have finally reached the point where being gay cannot be used as a wedge issue to divide the community and prevent us from reaching our aspirations. Annise Parker is not our mayor — she is the city's mayor.”


Wow. I didn't know my hometown was capable of this.

In all honesty, I must admit that I'm pretty terrible when it comes to understanding local politics. I mean, I guess I've got a decent macro understanding of how Houston works: real estate developers and business, big and small, essentially own the city, and run it to best suit their interests. That's why it's so fucking sprawling. That's why it buys culture from New York City rather than supporting the many talented individuals who actually live there and labor in obscurity. That's why the pollution is so bad. That's why the only thing worth doing, if you're not into corporate chain entertainment and dining, is inside the Loop. That's why mass transit is so shitty and irrational. And on and on. So yeah, I've got an understanding of Houston politics, but I'm woefully uninformed when it comes to the nitty gritty nuts and bolts of how things get done in the Bayou City.

On the other hand, compared to my understanding of local politics in New Orleans, which are just impenetrable, my views on Houston are f'ing brilliant. But that's still not saying much. Anyway, keep all that in mind as I make a few observations on this mayoral win in Houston:

1. Yeah, it is quite significant that H-Town elected an out lesbian as Mayor. Sure, Houston has a relatively huge gay community, but it's also Texas. The steers and queers thing is really just a joke. Historically, there's been a lot of homophobia in the city of my birth. I really can't believe she pulled this off.

2. It's also worth noting that her runoff opponent was an African-American man. That is, the two choices here were historically oppressed minorities, no white men at all. If we've got shit like this going on in Houston, you know, Bush country, and a black man occupies the White House, I think it's safe to say that we really are becoming a more diverse country. Way cool.

3. I think it's probably a good thing that Parker beat the business candidate, if only because business, as a special interest in H-Town, has been far too dominant for far too long. And it's not as though Parker was a tax-and-spend California liberal, either, not as though Che Guevara was forcing ship channel workers onto collective farms. It's simply that cities have more concerns than commerce, and hopefully Parker gets that.

4. I like that Parker's rhetoric avoids promising a chicken in every pot, and that voters are attracted to that. It's refreshing to hear someone from the political class shoot straight--it's been so long since John McCain was that guy, I'd almost forgotten what it was like.

5. The article kind of implies that conservatives might be losing power in Houston. This may be true, but remember to keep in mind that liberals ain't what they used to be, and a liberal in Houston usually gets along well with a conservative from New England. That is, Houston may be moving into an era when it will simply be less far right, rather than more liberal.

6. Along those lines, is Houston going to become the San Francisco of the Southwest? Absolutely not. Not in a million years. I mean, this is Texas we're talking about.