The LGBT community is just bursting with political candidates of its own this year, and some are already openly preparing for next year’s City Council race. No matter how you slice it, this is good news. More people from our community should run for office, but here’s the question: Just because they are LGBT, does that mean we have to automatically support their candidacy? The answer is no — and unfortunately for two current challengers, they chose the wrong elected officials to run against.
First, let’s make a few points. Being LGBT does not alone garner the community’s support. They must have a base of support in our community meaning they have walked the walk and talked the talk. And that alone isn’t enough: They also need to have worked with grassroots organizations in the geographic area. Then they need competent and experienced campaign staff and a plan to raise the funds to make their campaign credible. The best example of this was the successful campaign by Dan Anders to be a Court of Common Pleas judge.
There are two openly gay candidates running for state representative in separate districts. Let’s take a look at them.
Gregg Kravitz is running for the Democratic nomination in the 182nd District. He has a long line of political experience in his short life. He knows how to put a campaign together, and he has the personality and fire in the belly that will make him a future leader in this community. But unfortunately, he’s a new face and his opponent is state Rep. Babette Josephs, arguably our strongest supporter in the state House. You don’t toss out someone who’s stood with the community for decades just because the challenger is LGBT.
The same holds true in the 175th District, where state Rep. Mike O’Brien has an LGBT candidate challenging him. Daryl La Fountain — who seems to use his sexual orientation as an issue — hasn’t walked the walk thus far.
Mike is a proud Irish Catholic who loves to debate members of the House on LGBT issues. How many state reps do you know who had a fit when he wasn’t asked to speak about gay rights at a Harrisburg press conference on marriage equality? Usually, we can count on one hand those who show up. What’s more, O’Brien has been with us for over a decade. In his former position as chief of staff for Marie Lederer, he literally argued her from a homophobe to a supporter of gay rights. Now he lectures priests on gay issues when they testify before House committees.
It is my intention to urge members of our community to run for office, but let’s not target our friends and allies. How about targeting a homophobe? Learn from our community’s history. In 1991, we targeted a city councilman who was homophobic. His name was Francis Rafferty and he was the most popular elected city councilmember, having come in first in the previous election. If you ever wondered where our political strength comes from, listen up. We, the LGBT community, took him on ourselves in a citywide election. The Democratic Party endorsed him, and so did all the other candidates. By the time the dust settled, something happened in Philadelphia that had never happened before. The LGBT defeated the reelection of a sitting city councilman and replaced him with the gay-friendly Jim Kenney.
While I’m not discouraging those running, I’m encouraging them to learn from their experience and consider other races in the future. In this election, most of us will be loyal to those who have gone out of their way, at times almost committing political suicide, just to support our rights.
Babette Josephs and Mike O’Brien have earned and deserve our support.
Mark Segal is PGN publisher. He can be reached at [email protected].