Both LGBT Council candidates in both parties were lucky enough to get great ballot positions: Cohen was No. 5 and Lazin was No. 2. Cohen had almost no Democratic Party support, while Lazin was endorsed by the Republican Party. In a low-turnout election, races are won by how many ballots you appear on throughout the wards in the city. Lazin, with party support, appeared on almost all. Cohen, on the other hand, appeared on very few. Turnout also plays a part. In a low-turnout race, usually the party-endorsed candidates win and win big — with the exception of a candidate who tries to be high-profile or is involved in some sort of scandal.
Add to that the LGBT element. In the Republican at-large race, Lazin almost ran away from the LGBT community, angering many. While Cohen embraced her LGBT roots, Lazin rarely mentioned it — but these are Republican voters. He had overwhelming support from the Republican elite. So how did that playbook work for each?
Cohen came within a whisper of winning an at-large nomination with little party support in a party election. Her support came from a host of reform groups and the LGBT community, which she embraced. In the Democratic race, where the winning candidates received around 45,000 votes, she came in sixth and lost by only 1,600 votes. This is a huge surprise and wake-up call to the Democratic Party. Four years from now, an LGBT candidate supported by a united LGBT community should easily win a council seat. Cohen made that point clear in this election. Thanks to Cohen, the party is on notice. Cohen should be that candidate in 2015.
In the Republican at-large race, you only needed 7,000 votes to win. Lazin came in short by about 230 votes, also coming in sixth. This is a rather weak showing after almost compete support from the Republican Party and endorsements from both the Daily News and Inquirer. With his ballot position, Lazin should have just sailed in like the number-one person on the ballot, Michael Untermeyer, who placed fifth and was not endorsed by the party. The difference is that it seemed Lazin made a point of putting himself out there as the fiscally responsible candidate and ran away from his base in the LGBT community. His campaign website doesn’t mention “gay” — though it state he is founder and executive director of “Equality Forum, a national and international nonprofit organization” — but prominently has pictures of him with George H. Bush and Nancy Reagan. At the tail end of the campaign, it became apparent that Lazin’s past financial issues were in stark contrast to the fiscally responsible profile he put out there. Republican voters literally skipped over Lazin — the No. 2 ballot position — to vote for someone else. Could this be tied to homophobia on the part of Republicans? No, all the other winning candidates for at-large had pro-gay positions. Was Lazin a casualty of the civil war in the Republican Party? No, both sides supported him. Lazin lost because of Lazin. He miscalculated his community. Making himself the center of attention did not help. It just made voters look deeper.
So what are the lessons learned in this primary? It doesn’t matter if you are gay; it matters if you are embraced by your own base — that base raising the needed funds and an outreach to the political party. The future is bright for LGBT candidates.
Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org