Fred Karger returned home to Chicago Dec. 18 to meet with family, friends and supporters.
"It's kind of a full circle, particularly having been in the closet when I was [last living] here," he said minutes before a fundraiser and book-signing, held at the downtown home of Mary Lu and Ken Roffe. "My heart still pounds a little, because this is still new, even at 61. All of these steps that I am taking are very important for me personally and, more important, for the community that I'm hoping to help."
Karger, after all, is running for president of the U.S., although he is certainly realistic about his chances.
"I hope to be able to send the message to people that, yes, you can do anything that you want to do, regardless if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual [or] transgender. You can even run for President of the United States," said Karger, who grew up in suburban Glencoe and graduated from New Trier High School. "It's always nice coming home."
Karger's longest of long-shot dreams now stands at twotwo ballots, that is. He is on the ballot for the New Hampshire primary Jan. 10, where he has focused his campaigning, and in Michigan Feb. 28, along with 11 other candidates.
"Every state is different [for getting on its primary ballot]," he said. "Some are very costly, so I'm picking and choosing which states to [try to] get on the ballot because we have limited resources."
Still, Karger said, "the response has been incredible," to his ambitious dream. "In New Hampshire, I'm tied with Rick Santorum in one poll. I was tied with Michele Bachmann. I'm hoping to do better than one or both of those [candidates] in New Hampshire."
Karger's biggest obstacle, or at least one of them, is notorietyor the lack of it. In fact, his campaign slogan is, Fred Who?
Consequently, he's yet to be allowed into a debate.
"Just let me in one debate. What that could do with name identification" is immeasurable, he said.
"I don't expect to win [the New Hampshire primary], but, if I could beat a couple of these other candidates or do respectable, coming out of there, I could do OK."
The New Hampshire primary was rescheduled a month earlier from its original date of Feb. 14.
"I've always said, I'm not delusional; I don't think I'm going to win [the presidency]; however, if I get in the debate, [who knows what can happen.] This field now is just mediocre. One person rises, then comes crashing down. Then there's a new flavor of the week," Karger said. "Since day one, I've said that I want to send a message, particularly to younger people."
To that, he visited Minibar [Lounge & Café], among other Lakeview bars, Dec. 17.
"I'm hoping for a celebrity endorsement," Karger added. "There are a few things that, anyone of them, could be a real game-changer for me. But, nonetheless, this has been an incredible experience for me."
Karger's campaign trail to this point has been focused on high school and colleges, plus grass-roots campaigning, he said. Karger has been going door to door, meeting voters, particularly in New Hampshire. He will be back in New Hampshire from the day after Christmas through the primary.
Karger's campaign trail has spanned the past 22 months, and he now boasts a combined six full- and part-time supporters, plus consultants, he said.
Fred Karger on multiple subjects:
President Obama, from an LGBT perspective:
"I give him about [a grade of] a C. He had his opportunity [during] his first two years [in office] with a Democratic Congress, and yet all we got was the Matthew Shepard Act, [signed in October, 2009.] That was the easiest of his four [LGBT initiatives]. Don't Ask Don't Tell, he gave up on that, absolutely. Instead, it was [Senators] Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman who got that done. If not for them, it would not have happened.
"I love what [Obama has] done on DOMA, [the Defense of Marriage Act.]
"I am still hard pressed to believe that HRC endorsed him without getting his agreement to come out [in support of same-sex] marriage. He supported [same-sex] marriage in 1996, filled out two questionnaires and supported it. Now he's gone the other way.
"Something that affects so many lives, he shouldn't compromise on. That's something I don't do. Sure, I'm in a very different position [than Obama], but I stick to my guns and though people don't agree with everything that I say, I think they respect me because I'll tell them what I feel on issues."
Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech in early December on International Human Rights Day:
"That was one of the proudest moments to be watching her speak. It was total shock and awe to be coming out of [the mouth of] our Secretary of State, at the UN, in Geneva. That was such a significant message and a courageous effort. I do commend Obama for that; obviously that would not have happened without his OK."
Karger said he's singleor, as he said laughing, "Confirmed bachelor."
"I am singularly focused on this [campaign]," he said. "I've dated plenty, been in a few great relationships and consider myself very lucky to have had those, which a lot of people don't. Right now I'm very content being single."
Who is Fred Karger?:
"I am a fighter … a nice guy, but don't cross me … very aggressive … I'm fun. I love people, especially kids. I love watching the excitement in what I'm doing. I love watching the displeasure in what I'm doing. I love going into meetings where people are uncomfortable, especially if they're meeting who they think is the first gay person they've ever met. … I'm a complex individual, but I'm loyal and just feel that I'm doing this for all the right reasons.
"For the first time in my life, I'm able to sit here without any palpitations, talking to anyone, because I had a secret that I was hiding for so long [about my sexual orientation]. It is so freeing to be completely out, to wear this rainbow lapel pin everywhere I go. It is the greatest feeling I've ever had."