Houston mayor Annise D. Parker has won reelection despite low approval ratings and antigay rhetoric leveled against her by a challenger.
Avoiding a runoff, Parker received 51% of the vote while her nearest competitors struggled in the mid-teens during an evening of low voter turnout. The victory did not come as a surprise to Houston political observers: Parker had led the field in campaign spending by a considerable margin — $2.3 million versus negligible sums raised by her opponents.
But as with her 2009 mayoral bid, Parker faced a series of antigay attacks during the campaign. Dave Wilson, who assailed Parker for her sexual orientation, garnered just 12% of the vote. “Being homosexual is one thing, but using your position of power to promote the homosexual agenda is quite another,” Wilson wrote in a May campaign mailer.
Speaking with The Advocate Wednesday, Mayor Parker said the bigoted tactics aimed at undermining her reelection did not come as a surprise. “They will use them until we prove that they don’t work,” she said of antigay political groups. “They will use them until the GLBT community and our allies decide that we’ve had enough. There are still too many of us who can’t be bothered to vote.”
Parker, who received congratulatory calls Tuesday evening from Vice President Joseph Biden and Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said that her reelection and the victories of many openly gay candidates nationwide last night indicate a trend toward greater acceptance of LGBT elected officials.
“That doesn’t mean it’s easy,” Parker said. “If the only thing [voters] know about you as a candidate is that you’re openly gay or lesbian, it’s a negative. But if it’s only one of a series of data points about you, then they can filter that along with all of the other points.”
Despite a current approval rating that is the lowest of any Houston mayor in recent history, according to the Houston Chronicle, Parker has worked to extend LGBT rights in a city that continues to prohibit domestic-partner benefits for gay municipal employees — the result of a voter referendum several years ago. In 2010 she issued an executive nondiscrimination order inclusive of gender identity (sexual orientation had been covered in a previous policy order by former mayor Bill White).
“I’m hoping that we have an opportunity to take that back to the voters,” Parker said of city domestic-partner benefits. “I would certainly be supportive of an initiative” to overturn the previous vote, she said.
Also last year, Parker appointed to the municipal bench Phyllis Randolph Frye, who became the first openly transgender judge in Texas.
Asked about the presidential aspirations of Texas governor Rick Perry — who has supported a federal marriage amendment and told ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour in a Sunday interview that he would “comfortable” reinstating “don’t ask, don’t tell” as commander in chief — Parker replied, “Rick has now taken a hard turn to the right since he became a national candidate.”
She added dryly, “I would certainly hope that the rest of the country will send our governor back home so we can continue to enjoy him.”
Next month Parker hosts the 27th International Gay & Lesbian Leadership Conference in Houston. “It’s a great opportunity for elected and appointed GLBT leaders from around country, and the world, to get together and share tips support each other,” she said.