The Other Gay Contenders

The Other Gay Contenders

Wisconsin congresswoman Tammy Baldwin — who might run in 2012 to become the first out U.S. senator — isn't the only LGBT person with political ambitions. Numerous lesser-known gay candidates, most completely new to politics, are running for elected office. In the first of an occasional series, The Advocate profiles young overachievers who want your vote this year and next. Here are some of the best and brightest:

- Ed Potosnak
- Democrat
- Running for New Jersey’s 7th congressional district seat

Baldwin’s potential 2012 bid for retiring Sen. Herb Kohl’s
seat has many LGBT politicos excited with the prospect of an openly gay
senator. Yet should she run — and win — the number of gay congressional
reps could be whittled down from four to three. Ed Potosnak, a former
high school teacher who runs a private construction business and serves
as an adjunct professor at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of
Education, is stepping up to fill that possible void by running for New
Jersey’s 7th congressional district seat — his second bid after losing
the race in 2010.

Potosnak’s education and student antibullying
emphases have particular resonance at Rutgers, his alma mater. Potosnak
served as a hall director in the same dorm where Tyler Clementi lived:
Last September the 18-year-old freshman jumped to his death from the
George Washington Bridge, one of several LGBT youth suicides that
ignited mainstream media attention on a longstanding and tragic issue.
“As a member of the Rutgers family I was deeply saddened,” Potosnak
recalls. “It was a reminder to all of us how incredibly important it is
to make sure our LGBTQ youth are supported in school, home, and society.
"I will continue to work and champion safe spaces and schools."

2010, Potosnak lost the 7th district race to incumbent Leonard
Lance, who won with 59% of the vote to Potosnak’s 41% during a midterm
election that saw sweeping House victories for the GOP. The 18-point
margin hasn’t dissuaded a second bid for the 39-year-old resident of North Plainfield. “They ran on uncertainty and
they’ve provided more uncertainty than we had going into the 2010
election,” Potosnak asserts of the GOP. “The House is failing to do
anything in a bipartisan fashion to move our country forward.” —Andrew Harmon


- Democrat
- Running for Lansing, Mich., city council

Rory Neuner is the kind of talent bleeding from Lansing, and most of central Michigan. While many high school and college graduates up-and-leave Michigan for greener pastures — according to a recent study — Neuner is staying put, and as a candidate for Lansing City Council, she hopes to make Michigan's capital a more livable place for all people.

"I am running to break the stalemate on a number of challenges facing our city," Neuner tells The Advocate. "Lansing needs positive, professional leadership. I have a deep background in public policy and urban planning and work by day as an advocate on transportation policy issues here in the state capitol. Voters here want change, and I am the only challenger in this race with experience crafting public policy."

Neuner, who lives with her partner of six years in Lansing’s Moores Park neighborhood, is active in numerous organizations, including the Ingham County Women’s Commission, the REO Town Commercial Association, the South Lansing Community Development Association, the Moores Park Neighborhood Organization, the Lansing Area Economic Partnership, and she's a public service board member for the city of Lansing. Issues pertaining to biking and public transit are important to Neuner, and she's lobbied to pass legislation that wpuld benefit pedestrians and cyclists.

The ambitious young woman says her community is ready to embrace an honest civil servant, regardless of whether that person is gay or straight.

"Lansing is a diverse, welcoming community," Neuner says. "Voters are accepting me for who I am — an active, engaged member of the community, and a highly-qualified candidate that wants to make this city great." —Neal Broverman 

RORY_NEUNER.jpg- Luis Lopez
- Democrat
- Running to represent California's 45th state assembly district

politics are not for the faint-hearted, but Luis Lopez just may have
the chops to effectively take on such an unwieldy beast. Running next
year to represent California’s 45th state assembly district, Lopez
currently serves as a planning commissioner for the funky, diverse L.A.
neighborhood of Silver Lake, where he lives with his partner. Lopez, 38,
is also part of a parks oversight committee for the city, cochaired
his neighborhood council, and started a Latino LGBT political action
committee (his full-time job is as a communications director for a
health center).

Aside from that impressive résumé, Lopez has some
powerful friends who will help him when he faces a primary in June.
Jackie Goldberg, a lesbian who represented the Democrat-friendly 45th
district from 2000 to 2006, is supporting Lopez in his race, and Lopez’s
good friend John Perez, the out California Assembly speaker, will
likely endorse him as well. It’s not yet clear who Lopez will face off
against as the current assemblyman, Gilbert Cedillo, is termed-out next
year and possible candidates are still coming forward.

“We need
to look at leaders who’ve earned the respect of their peers,” Lopez
says. ”People who are respected can move an agenda along — there were many
times when my colleagues on a given board haven’t agreed with me, but
we were still able to make decisions.”

Protecting labor is
paramount to Lopez, who grew up in East Los Angeles and started working
not long after his mother passed away when he was eight. Voters in his
district, which stretches from Hollywood to Chinatown to East L.A. and
includes thousands of diverse gay people, are in line with his platform,
he says.

“When you have an economic recession, obviously you have
an environment where it’s easy to point blame and find scapegoats,”
Lopez says, referring to the assaults on the pensions and other benefits
of public workers. “But what we need to remember is that we can’t
balance our budgets on the backs of working men and women. Especially,
when you have companies like GE that manage to shield their earnings and
essentially pay no federal taxes — that’s just not right.” —Neal Broverman

- Democrat
- Running for mayor of Holyoke, Mass.

Alex Morse talks a mile a minute. When we caught up to him this week, the 22-year-old was busy knocking on doors so Holyoke, Mass., residents can attach a face to the name they've been seeing in newspapers. Morse grew up in this city of about 40,000 knowing he would eventually aspire to political office. His growing hunger to bring a youthful vitality to the city sparked the idea to run for mayor now, as opposed to waiting to reach the age of the other challengers in the race: Daniel C. Boyle, who was already a successful businessman by the time Morse was born, and Daniel C. Burns who ran for mayor when Morse was honing his motor skills in 1993.

Morse won't trash the incumbent mayor, Elaine A. Pluta, but he feels confident that he can take the city to another level by enticing young people to move to and stay in Holyoke and by reforming its public education system. So far his energetic grassroots campaign has garnered the support of local politicians and the National Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. The former Point scholar says he is thinking outside of the box, compared to his fellow challengers, by also engaging the Puerto Rican population in Holyoke, which has reportedly one of the highest concentrations of Puerto Ricans outside of the Caribbean island. And despite his age, he finds that older voters are taken with him.

"They say young people are the future, but the older folks here in Holyoke have been encouraging me a lot," he said.

Morse's high energy just may carry him through the September 20 primary election, the November 8 general election, and possibly his goal of staying on as mayor for the next decade. But for him to get there, he and his grassroots campaigners still have many doors to knock on. —Michelle Garcia

- Democrat
- Running for reelection as state representative for Illinois's 14th district

Kelly Cassidy has spent her career fighting for social justice causes, but she’s just started doing so as a member of the Illinois state legislature, and she intends to continue.

Cassidy, 42, of Chicago, was appointed to the state House’s 14th district seat in April to fill a vacancy left by Harry Osterman’s election to the Chicago City Council, and she plans to run for reelection next year. The district includes the north side neighborhoods of Andersonville, Edgewater, and Rogers Park, and after redistricting will get a slice of suburban Evanston. The area has a diverse population, including many LGBT residents, and the overwhelming majority of its voters are affiliated with Cassidy’s party — the Democrats.

Cassidy began her career as legislative director for the Chicago chapter of the National Organization for Women in the early 1990s, then worked for state senator John Cullerton, and spent the past 14 years on staff at the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, first as deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, then as director of programs and development. “It gave me the exposure and the desire to really make change from the legislative side,” she says of her experience.

Reform of the criminal justice system will be one of Cassidy’s priorities in the legislature. “Having spent the last 14 years in the criminal justice system, I had a lot of opportunity to look at the things that are working and the things that aren’t,” she says. For some offenders, she says, treatment and intervention can be effective alternatives to conventional punishments, and these reforms will help make citizens safer in the long run.

Her priorities also include working for full equality for LGBT people, reproductive and other rights for women, and social justice in general, she adds.

Cassidy, who is in a relationship with Kelley Quinn and is the mother of three sons, is one of three openly gay or lesbian members of the legislature. The others are fellow House members Greg Harris and Deb Mell, both also from Chicago. —Trudy Ring

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