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.
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."
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."
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.
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%