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keep grass roots gay

Local candidates
keep grass roots gay

Gay men and lesbians sought office this election cycle in almost every U.S. state. Many scored groundbreaking victories at the primary level, helped by strategic advice and timely funding from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund in Washington, D.C.

In Oklahoma, Al McAffrey stands to become the state's first openly gay state representative. Patricia Todd eked out a primary victory in Alabama that survived a peculiar race-based challenge from the state's number 2 Democratic official. Missouri's Jolie Justus expects to become her state's first out state senator. All are Democrats in strongly Democratic districts.

In Seattle, Jamie Pedersen, a lead attorney on Lambda Legal's failed bid to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington State, was expected to win the state assembly seat vacated by Ed Murray, who hopes to advance to the state senate. Both are gay men running in safe Democratic districts.

We watched a few other races that give a glimpse into how out gay men and lesbians are running for office to shape a better, more tolerant America from the grass roots up.

In California's fast-growing San Benito County, former newspaperwoman Tracie Cone waged a tough runoff battle to unseat incumbent county supervisor Reb Monaco. The once-bucolic county just south of Silicon Valley faces heavy pressure from development, and politics there is complex and intense.

As publisher of the weekly Pinnacle, Cone made headlines in 2001 by ferreting out and then suing the source of viciously homophobic Web sites targeting her and her partner, Anna Marie Dos Remedios. They were traced to none other than a local councilman miffed at Cone's slow-growth editorials. Hollister city councilman Joe Felice left office shortly after his hate-filled sites appeared--and Cone, after selling the paper she and Dos Remedios had made profitable and respected, was inspired eventually to seek office herself.

In rural Minnesota, first-term Republican state senator Paul Koering faced unexpectedly strong opposition in his primary from a self-styled "values" candidate after he came out as gay. He did so, he said, because rumors flew after he became the only Republican to join Democrats in opposing an effort to force a floor vote on a constitutional same-sex marriage ban. Koering's resume runs the gamut from baling hay and raising dairy cows to running a hearse service. Aside from marriage rights, he tends to toe a traditional conservative line.

And on New York's Staten Island, gay attorney Matthew Titone is the Democratic candidate for New York State senate in a district that had the same GOP senator for 52 years. Titone got lucky: He thought he would be a "sacrifice" candidate, a placeholder for Democrats, but a week after Titone agreed to run, incumbent John Marchi announced his retirement. Titone hoped to help Democrats retake control of the state senate in Albany. In its endorsement, The New York Times praised his "high-energy, idea-filled campaign" and called him "a leader in promoting awareness, prevention, and treatment for HIV/AIDS." (Barbara Wilcox, The Advocate)

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