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Race becomes an
issue in lesbian candidate's Alabama election

Race becomes an
issue in lesbian candidate's Alabama election

Patricia Todd is openly gay, and she expected her sexual orientation to be an issue when she ran for a legislative seat in Alabama to represent a majority black district. What she didn't anticipate was the fight that broke out over the fact she is white.

Todd, who defeated a black candidate in a runoff election last month, goes before a Democratic Party subcommittee on Tuesday to defend her 59-vote runoff win in House District 54, an area that includes both the richest and poorest neighborhoods of Birmingham. A challenge filed over Todd's victory will turn solely on what happened during the vote and state election law, according to Joe Turnham, the state party chairman.

But the issue people are talking about is whether a white woman should get to represent a mostly black district in a state where blacks couldn't vote two generations ago and where race is still an overriding factor in carving out election districts. A black Democratic leader urged black voters to support Todd's black opponent, Gaynell Hendricks, on the basis of race, and Todd fears racial politics may taint proceedings before the subcommittee.

"When do we get past this?" said Todd, who would become the first openly gay member of the Alabama legislature. "I can't believe that in 2006 we're still electing people on the basis of race."

An attorney representing Hendricks in the election challenge said the case will center on claims that Todd tried to keep voters from knowing about a $25,000 donation to her campaign from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. "She was trying to mislead the voters," said Hendricks's lawyer, Raymond Johnson. "Race isn't the issue here."

Winning the Democratic nomination is tantamount to election since no Republican is running in district 54, which has a slight black majority. Composed of an odd demographic mix, the district includes both impoverished communities that are virtually all black and a trendy neighborhood called Crestwood, where many white yuppies and gays have located.

Todd, associate director of AIDS Alabama, narrowly led Hendricks, a community activist, in primary balloting. They were vying for a seat held by retiring black representative George Perdue, and Todd said she won partly by getting more crossover racial support than Hendricks in a district that is 52% black and 48% white. (AP)

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