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LGBT candidates win 55 percent of races nationwide
by Lisa Keen, Keen News Service

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Tuesday was a good night for LGBT candidates and an historic one for transgender candidates. There were at least 72 openly LGBT candidates in 23 states. Of those, 55 percent won, 35 percent lost.

Lesbian Jenny Durkan handily won election as mayor of Seattle, one of the fastest growing cities in the country and the eighth largest container port in the U.S. Durkan replaces Seattle's first openly gay mayor, Ed Murray, who resigned in September after allegations surfaced from five men who said Murray sexually abused them as teenagers. (Murray denied the allegations.) The Seattle Post Intelligencer said Durkan's opponent tried to link her with Murray. Though her opponent has not yet conceded the race, results suggest Durkan took more than 60 percent of the vote. She was the first openly gay person President Obama appointed as a U.S. attorney.

Also in Seattle, lesbian challenger Mitzi Johanknecht, 58, appeared to defeat incumbent John Urquhart in a race for King County Sheriff. Johanknecht is in charge of one of the sheriff office's precincts and ran against Urquhart, saying he mistreated employees, especially women. She's been on the force for three decades, and Urquhart had recently accused of rape by a former female deputy.

Danica Roem won a stunning victory to the Virginia House of Delegates against a candidate who had made a name for himself trying to ban transgender people from public restrooms. According to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which was supporting 61 of the 72 LGBT candidates Tuesday, the win in Virginia made Roem the first out transgender person to win and serve in a state legislature and the only out transgender state legislator in the U.S. (A number of sources subsequently have pointed out that Althea Garrison, a Republican of Boston, was the first African American transgender person to be elected to a statewide position. She won election to, and served a term in, the Massachusetts State House in 1992. Garrison has never voluntarily identified as transgender, but following her election, a Boston Herald reporter outed her after finding a birth certificate indicating she had been identified as male at birth.)

In Minneapolis, another Victory Fund backed transgender candidate, Andrea Jenkins, won 70 percent of the vote to become the first transgender woman of color elected to office in a major U.S. city. Jenkins won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council. Vote counts in that city (which allows voters to indicate first, second, and third choices) are still underway and Wednesday morning, the Star Tribune says another transgender candidate, Phillipe Cunningham, still has a chance to win a seat held by the current Council president. Lesbian activist Jillia Pessenda is also in a very tight race for a seat. (Cunningham has been declared the winner, having won 51.7 percent of the vote. The victory makes him the second African American transgender member of the Minneapolis City Council. Pessenda's opponent eeked out a 51 percent vote to secure his seat.)

Tyler Titus became the first transgender candidate to win elective office in Pennsylvania. He won a seat on the school board for Erie.

There were only five LGBT candidates for state legislative offices Tuesday; three of them were incumbents who won re-election: Tim Eustace and Reed Gusciora of New Jersey and Mark Levine of Virginia. Danica Roem was the newcomer who won in Virginia. And Luis Lopez advanced to a run-off for a California Assembly seat representing Los Angeles December 5.

Mayoral races

Of the 72 LGBT candidates Tuesday, 67 ran for local offices —12 for mayor, 41 for city council seats, seven for local school boards, and seven for various other local positions.

Only five out of the 12 mayoral candidates won Tuesday night —newcomer Jenny Durkan in Seattle and four incumbents (Alex Morse in Holyoke, Mass.; Sean Strub in Milford, Pa.; Lydia Lavelle in Carrboro, NC; and Patrick Wojahn in College Park, Md.).

— In Atlanta, long-time lesbian activist and politico Cathy Woolard came in third among 12 candidates for mayor. Woolard, a former Atlanta City Council president, garnered 17 percent of the vote behind the second place winner. The top two vote getters will battle it out in a run-off December 5.

— In Hoboken, New Jersey, Councilman Michael DeFusco, 35, failed in his bid to become the city's first openly gay mayor. The six-person race was marred near the end when anonymous flyers tried to portray the campaign leader and eventual winner, a Sikh, as a terrorist. The flyer included De Fusco's name in a way that made it look like his campaign created the ad. But DeFusco's denounced the flyer as racist and "disgusting."

— Paul Prevey, a former openly gay member of the Salem City Council, came up short in his bid to unseat three-term incumbent Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem, Massachusetts.

Major city contests

— In Atlanta, Councilman Alex Wan was the top vote-getter in a race for City Council president, but he must now face the second place candidate in a run-off. Lesbian newcomer Liliana Bakhtiari almost won a Council seat from an incumbent. At midnight, she was leading with 54 percent of the vote, but by morning, she had garnered only 49 percent and the incumbent had enough votes to avoid a run-off. But two gay male candidates, Bill Powell and Kirk Rich, fell short in their bids for Atlanta City Council seats. And Josh McNair came in third in his bid for a seat on the Fulton County Commission.

— In Boston, newcomer Mike Kelley, an aide to former Mayor Tom Menino, came within 500 votes of winning a Council seat against the son of another former Boston mayor, Ray Flynn. The seat represents the district that includes heavily gay South End. In Cambridge, Mass., long-time incumbent Denise Simmons, the first openly lesbian African American mayor in the U.S., appears to have easily won re-election to her ninth term on the Council.

— In Cincinnati, openly gay Ryan Messer was the top vote-getter out of 13 candidates vying for four seats on the city's board of education. Lesbian candidate Renee Hevia appears to have come in fifth place, just 100 votes behind the fourth place winner. (The vote is so close, there may be a recount after provisional ballots are counted.)

— In New Orleans, gay candidate Seth Bloom has won the right to a run-off November 18 against another challenger for a vacant seat. Bloom was the top vote-getter, with 40 percent of the vote. His run-off challenger garnered 27 percent, and four other candidates split the remaining 33 percent.

— In Lansing, Michigan, openly gay school board member Pete Spadafore won an at-large seat on the City Council, while newcomer Jim McClurken lost a bid for a district Council seat.

— And in Palm Springs, voters gave their two vacant City Council seats to a transgender woman and a bisexual woman. Lisa Middleton's victory makes her the first transgender person to win a non-judicial elective office in California. Middleton and Christy Holstege, who is married to a man but identifies as a member of the LGBT community, were the top two vote-getters in a field of six candidates.

— A gay candidate for City Council in Cape Coral, Florida, found a flyer on this front door in August, threatening him with a "nice visit" from the Ku Klux Klan. James Schneider, 54, said, "I'm a gay, Jewish, German man" and that he considers the flyer a hate crime. The flyer said, "We know where you live faggot….quit now…." He told the local News-Press that photos of him with gay slurs have also been posted on Facebook in the area. Meanwhile, another local paper, the Cape Coral Daily Breeze, endorsed Schneider's opponent. The opponent won with 68 percent of the vote.

© 2017 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

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