Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Does the Gay Vote Matter?

Not many candidates trolled for votes at Pride, but maybe there’s a reason
By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

This is a huge election year, both nationally and in Maryland. The direction of the country and the state is at stake as never before. Many tight elections are forecasted, so every vote counts. Every vote matters.

Or does it?

With huge throngs on hand at both the Pride parade-block party event and the festival at the park, a golden opportunity was afforded to local candidates to seek votes from the lgbt community and its allies. The crowds were surely large enough to troll for votes. A phone call to GLCCB executive director Craig Wiley to obtain crowd totals was not returned as of press time. The GLCCB is the producer of the Pride events.

On Saturday, I only saw U.S. Senate candidate Allan Lichtman meandering through the crowd, although Baltimore City Councilman Kieffer Mitchell was at the parade route along with Douglas Gansler, candidate for Maryland Attorney General. But the intense crowds of Saturday’s block party plus the fact most of the people are strictly there to socialize and party wasn’t conducive to normal campaigning and would be likely to be resistant to such activity.

The sultry Sunday at the park presented a better opportunity for candidates. A more laid back crowd is easier to deal with than a partying one. Hundreds of votes or contributions are to be had— just demonstrate your support for lgbt equality and not be Bush and you have a shot. But it was surprising that so few candidates for elected office took advantage of this major event.
Congressional Democratic candidates Paula C. Hollinger and Andy Barth actively worked the masses in pursuit of votes, if not name recognition. They are in a crowded field seeking the 3rd Congressional district seat currently held by Rep. Ben Cardin, who himself, is running for U.S. Senator along with Kweise Mfume, Michael Steele and the aforementioned Lichtman.

Neither Mfume nor Cardin made an appearance although volunteers from both camps handed out stickers to the festival-goers. And Steele wouldn’t dare set foot on rainbow ground; his anti-gay positions would render any campaigning at the festival as seemingly a waste of time. Mfume has been a supporter of lgbt equality and strongly opposes any attempt to enshrine discrimination in either the state or Federal constitutions, as does Lichtman. Cardin has been less forthcoming but opposed the Federal Marriage Protection Act.

The gubernatorial race is hot and is likely to get hotter. But only Martin O’Malley bothered to come to the festival and made brief remarks, which were amply ignored or not heard by the largely politically apathetic crowd. Neither Doug Duncan nor Governor Ehrlich was there, although no one would have expected the latter’s appearance. This despite the startling firing by Ehrlich of an appointee, Robert Smith, from the Metro Transit Board for characterizing homosexuality as deviant behavior.

According to a statement released by Governor Ehlrich, "Robert Smith's comments were highly inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable. They are in direct conflict to my administration's commitment to inclusion, tolerance and opportunity." The Governor’s memory is short or has an unusual definition of "inclusion;" he fully supports an amendment to the state’s constitution that would ban same-sex couples from marrying. And "tolerance" is not where we want to be. We are seeking full equality.

Ehrlich’s firing of Smith may have appealed to some in the lgbt community and to moderates, while pissing off such conservative bigoted organizations as the American Family Association, which condemned the governor.

To my knowledge, besides O’Malley and perhaps Hollinger, no major candidate bothered to press flesh with the gay voters attending the Pride events. It may not have been a snub though. It was Father’s Day, and other events could have been scheduled as well. Candidates and their staffs must prioritize and allocate their available time.

Given the degree of political apathy that characterizes our community, I believe the other candidates made a calculation that attending the event and working the crowd would not be productive. O’Malley needed to be there to at least try to mend fences with the community for his "marriage is between only a man and a woman" comment. The others probably saw little value to show up in person.

It wasn't that long ago when fiery, passionate political speeches and activism dominated the Pride speakers'stage at various cities. Alas, it’s all about entertainment now, which caters to this community. Perhaps politicians are beginning to take notice of that.

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