Ode to Rue Landau

City Council member at large elect Rue Landau raises her arms in the air while smiling in front of a podium. The front of the podium has a sign that says
Rue Landau declared victory for an at-large City Council seat during an election night party at Cockatoo on Nov. 7. With this seat, Landau is the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to Philadelphia City Council. (Photo: Kelly Burkhardt)

Rue Landau made history this week by becoming the first OUT person to be elected to Philadelphia City Council. You might think of this as a local story, but it’s actually a lesson for other LGBTQ+ candidates around the country. Let’s take a deep dive.

As we learned during this election, the key for Democrats to win at this time in history is one word: abortion. But more than just being right on the issues, Rue’s victory spotlights an almost flawless campaign and the path for others.

It all starts with the right candidate who understands what seat to run for and what the interest of those constituents are. The right candidate has to have a life story that people can relate to. Having the right story is not about what makes us different, but rather about showing that you can do the job and that people can relate to you. Over many years, Rue has worked for numerous social justice causes, including housing issues and ending discrimination in every form, and she did it in every part of the city. She did something else. At every campaign stop, she made it clear that she was an OUT member of the LGBTQ+ community. She won the endorsement of The Democratic City Committee, as well as labor and community groups throughout the city. No group publicly voiced opposition to her. They might have left her off their ballot, but her likability, known progressiveness and proven leadership helped her overcome such challenges. Not only does she know the issues, but she’s able to speak about them with heart. She also put together an incredible campaign staff — and her wife, Kerry, and their son, Eli, were fully onboard and involved.

My personal view: Rue and I sat down to chat during Election Day after a long campaign. I asked her what were the many lessons she had learned. She stated quickly “not believing that the people who support you will come through.” It was the first thing I had told her, and the first thing she disagreed with me at the time. It also marked the first time she admitted I was correct. Rue, like me, is opinionated, confident and stubborn. So how did it start?  Rue called me about two years ago and said she wanted to run for office. For the office she initially wanted to run for, I believed she would have lost and wasn’t the one she actually should aim for. When we spoke, she told me she really wanted my support. My response: Not for that office. Her response was that I’d change my mind. My response was, “No, you will.” This was the start of my mentoring Rue through this election, and our first debate. There were other disagreements. We actually had shouting sessions, which were comical since we both had the same view. I’m sure her wife, Kerry, enjoyed those late-night calls, since she was on speaker phone. It had me being the bulldog of the campaign.

I have never enjoyed going to war for an LGBTQ+ candidate more than I did for Rue — late-night calls to ward leaders, attending events, strategizing, and, at times, being pushy.  Through all of this, she and her staff did the grassroots effort, which created an amazing coalition. They did what you’re supposed to do when you run for office: build bridges with everyone you possibly can. This victory is not only for the LGBTQ+ community. It’s Rue’s drive and inspiration that drove all of us. It’s a staff that creates the field work, but most importantly, it’s her family. Her wife, Kerry, and son, Eli, gave her the security of coming home at the end of the day to a home full of love. Rue, you’re on a list of almost 50 years of people that I’m proud to call mentees, people who have changed history. Philadelphia is about to learn how special you are.

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