Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2019-10-02
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor

  BLACKLINES

Palm Springs Elects its First Gay African-American Mayor in 'Lavender Sweep'
One on One With New Mayor
by Ed Walsh
2003-12-01

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Pictured: Ron Oden, Palm Springs Mayor-elect. Photos by Ed Walsh

Palm Springs made history this month when a GLBT majority was sworn in to its city government and a gay African American man took the reins of the mayorís office.

"It's the second lavender sweep in the State of California," said Palm Springs resident and political advisor Jean Harris, reflecting on the so-called lavender sweep in San Francisco in 1990. That election swept in gay candidates Carole Migden and Roberta Achtenberg to the Board of Supervisors and Tom Ammiano to the school board.

In the Nov. 4 election, Palm Springs voters replaced incumbent mayor Will Kleindienst, 50, with Ron Oden, 53, an 8-year veteran of the Palm Springs City Council. Oden is the city's first gay mayor and city's first Black mayor. About a third of the Palm Springs population is estimated to be gay but the African-American population is only about two percent.

Oden's election has generated international media attention. After he talked with this reporter, he was scheduled to be interviewed later that day by Franceís largest newspaper, Le Monde, and by the Washington Times. He said he has mixed feelings about the headlines that refer to him as Palm Springs' first openly gay African-American mayor.

"I don't resent it because I am African American and I am gay," he explained. "It's part of who I am. However, the way it's presented is that somehow you don't see a person in that. You spend a lot of years developing who you are and that title or partial title doesn't cover it."

Oden explained that his message resonated with voters because he represented change. Like another famous Palm Springs mayor, the late Sonny Bono, Oden was voted into office on a pro-business platform.

The other winning gay candidates, Steve Pougnet and Ginny Foat, also took a strong pro-business stance. The Palm Springs City Council consists of five members including the mayor, who is considered the fifth council member

Oden said voters didn't support him or the gay City Council candidates because of their sexual orientation. He said people voted for change and against a government that was perceived to be unfriendly to business.

"The gay thing was a non-issue," agreed Michael Green, co-owner along with his partner, Stephen Boyd, of the historic Triangle Inn. Green serves on the boards of several Palm Springs business associations. He said the election results came as welcome news to most small business owners who have often been at odds with city hall.

Palm Springs Facts

Area: 96 Square miles, about twice the size of San Francisco

Population: 43,800 permanent residents, with a total winter population of about 75,000.

Number of gay inns or resorts: 37, including two lesbian resorts

Number of Tourists who visit Palm Springs each year: 1.6 million

Drive time from Los Angeles: About two hours.

Source: City of Palm Springs and the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism

Interview

EW: Why were you elected?

Oden: People know me and they trust me. I don't think people voted for me because I'm African-American nor did they vote for me because I'm gay. I believe people voted for me because they have confidence in my leadership and my ability.

EW: What does it say about how far we've come that a gay African-American man can be elected mayor of a major city?

RO: It says a lot about the progressive attitudes of the people of Palm Springs for sure. Someone recently asked me if I thought this particular election could have taken place in other cities. I said absolutely. You will see more of this in other cities and soon it will be inconsequential, the person's race or their sexual orientation, because those aren't issues.

And it wasn't just the mayor. We also elected a council that is majority gay, but that certainly wasn't an orchestration. Out of the nine candidates, the community looked at the people running and elected people they thought were the best and two of them happened to be gay.

EW: Were you prepared for all the media attention?

RO: I was prepared for the local stuff but the national press is on an entirely different level that I was not prepared for. I think the swearing in will be quite an ordeal for the city.

EW: I read that you won't run for reelection after serving your four-year term as mayor, is that true?

RO: I'm only elected for one term. We will see how this all works out but at this point I'm just looking to finish the four years. I don't know what tomorrow holds for us. I think you have to know when to move on and what's best for the city. If in four years, they think it's best for me to stay longer, I will be open to that. It's a matter of evaluation.

EW: Any thoughts of running for higher office?

RO: I won the 2000 Democratic nomination for Congress. I did better than any other Democrat has in this area. I didn't have the party support but I still did better than the candidate that they endorsed.

EW: What do you hope to accomplish?

RO: One of the first things I want to address is to make the city business and people friendly. That's from our local residents to people who wish to locate or relocate their business here to the city of Palm Springs. We have a reputation (for being unfriendly to business), a shadow that's been lingering over us for a number of years. While we have vast opportunities that lie ahead of us, if we don't address that concern, those opportunities will be limited.

EW: Will business be your focus?

RO: We're looking at a $4 million deficit. And we only have one industry, tourism. So it's important that we enhance our identity as an inviting tourist destination. While at the same time, we are bringing in or creating an environment to bring more businesses into the city so that we expand our tax base. So that if, God forbid, anything should happen to tourism or to the economy which directly affects tourism, we will have something else to fall back on.

There's another component. We have more year-round residents in Palm Springs than we ever had. So we have to balance our identity as an inviting tourist destination with the quality of life for our residents. We have a very delicate balancing act to perform.

EW: How important is gay tourism to the economy of Palm Springs?

RO: I think it's very important. Currently, gay visitors are bringing in a significant portion of tourism dollars and we are looking at whether or not we need to invest more money in what we know is working for us. It's not just the success of our gay hotels but the slipover effects because there are a lot of gay tourists who stay in the mainstream hotels.

EW: What percentage of the city is gay?

RO: We're better than 30 percent. I've heard 40 or 50. We're not 40 percent but it might be moving to 35. A lot of people think the political clout is commensurate with the economic clout, and it is not, because for a lot of people who live here, it is their second home, so they don't vote here. The appearance of the power and influence of the community is different from its actual impact.

EW: Do you get the sense that some people fear that Palm Springs will turn into a gay city, that gays are taking over?

RO: People have not verbalized that concern. But it would be the same if this community became a third Black, or a third Latino, or a third Jewish.

But in the very near future, I am going to have a meeting with the clergy from Palm Springs and I am going to say to them quite pointedly that these are some issues that you are going to have to talk to your congregation about. And for some of them, I know it's a non-issue but for others, it's a major issue.

EW: What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in the 14 years you've lived in Palm Springs?

RO: We've been pretty stable overall in population of about 42,000 to 43,000 people, but there's been a complete overturn of the population. I did a poll two years ago that found that 30 percent of the people who lived in Palm Springs lived here for five years or less. But what was astounding to me is that 60 percent lived here for 10 years or less. While the whole population is stable here, there's been a complete overturn in terms of the population itself.

EW: How has the business climate changed?

RO: It hasn't changed that much. It was negative when I came on the City Council (eight years ago). In spite of the fact that we've made a lot of changes, the perception is that we're not business friendly and so the perception is the reality for the perceiver. We've never addressed the perception. I've been saying that on the council consistently for the past four years and it fell on deaf ears. There are some very specific things that need to be changed and until we do those things no one is ever going to believe that things are different.

EW: What are some of those things?

RO: We need to make some adjustments of management. One area is our legal staff. If you sit down to talk to any developers, or people who contract with the city, they say our legal staff is the most difficult legal staff that they've ever dealt with. People have said to me that I will not come to Palm Springs as long as you have that legal staff. That's wrong. And we've heard that over and over again, yet we haven't done anything about it.

EW: With your strong emphasis on business, you sound like a Republican, why are you a Democrat?

RO: I'll tell you why I'm a Democrat. At the last convention, as I walked through the Staples Center, I saw America. I saw rich, poor, every race, color, every sexual orientation seated side by side talking about the democratic process in this country.

Somehow people think that to be a Democrat means that you're not fiscally responsible or that you're not pro-business and they see them as the antithesis of one another and I completely disagree with that. Completely.

But I will tell you that Republicans have been trying to recruit me for a long time.

EW: I read somewhere that you're an ordained minister, is that accurate?

RO: What?!

EW: Gottcha. (laughs)

RO: Yes, I am an ordained minister and I pastored for a number of years. I was married. I have two children and I have a grandchild.

EW: Where's your family from?

RO: My former wife and kids are from New Orleans.

EW: They must be very proud of you.

RO: They are.

EW: Do you have a partner?

RO: I've been single now three years. You know it's better to be single than to be (long pause) dead. (laughs).

I have a difficult life. When you go out, all of a sudden everyone is talking to you, no one ever says anything to your partner. There are so many demands, and finding someone who understands that life. When I was married, when I was a minister, it was the same way. So everything I've ever done in life has been like that.


facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Gay Fox anchor steps away from network 2019-10-11 - In a sudden move on Oct. 11, Shepard Smith said that after more than two decades at Fox News, he was stepping down ...


Gay News

NATIONAL Marriage advocate divorcing, Black gay couple, trans death 2019-10-08 - A Utah state lawmaker who filed a lawsuit that successfully overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage is separating from his husband, U.S. ...


Gay News

Mayor Lightfoot issues Bisexuality Day proclamation 2019-10-02 - Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a proclamation Sept. 23 recognizing the International Day of Bisexuality Visibility in Chicago. In the proclamation, Lightfoot acknowledged community ...


Gay News

Suburban high school has gay homecoming king 2019-10-02 - Anthony Arnori—an openly gay senior and hockey player at East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, Illinois—was voted homecoming king, The Advocate reported. ...


Gay News

Black community called to recognize Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2019-09-27 - Washington, D.C.— In recognition of the 2019 National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day ( NGMHAAD ) and to call public attention to the ...


Gay News

Chasten Buttigieg, Mayor Lightfoot headline Victory Fund event 2019-09-22 - Chasten Buttigieg—husband to presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg —headlined the Victory Fund's 2019 champagne brunch in downtown Chicago on ...


Gay News

Mayor, first lady launch youth commission 2019-09-22 - Following in the steps of cities ranging from Sioux City, Iowa, to Charleston, South Carolina, Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and First Lady ...


Gay News

Mayor Lightfoot announces final Budget Town Hall 2019-09-19 - CHICAGO — Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot today announced a fifth and final Budget Town Hall to be held Wednesday, October 2 from 6-8 ...


Gay News

20th Anniversary of International Day of Bisexual Visibility gets mayoral proclamation 2019-09-19 - The AIDS Foundation of Chicago is hosting an official reading and signing of a proclamation in recognition of International Day of Bisexual Visibility ...


Gay News

REELING FILM FESTIVAL Gay filmmaker takes the crown in 'Pageant' 2019-09-17 - In Pageant Material, a teen dreams of becoming a queen—a drag queen, that is. Rodney ( Hart Morse ) is seventeen, out of ...


 



Copyright © 2019 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor


 



About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.