There’s one thing I can say for sure about Annise Parker’s election as Houston’s and the nation’s first gay mayor: As my colleague and fellow Texan Sara Mosle noted , the news means a lot more outside my adopted home town than inside. Once again, I’ve had to endure the national media’s shock and awe that we backward Houstonians have done something that would have been considered (almost) the norm in New York or Los Angeles. As Sara noted, we are the fourth-largest city in the United States. Surprise! Houston also has the second-largest gay population in the nation. If you live here, you aren’t so shocked about Parker’s victory-after all, she’s been in public office here for 12 years and never once during that time was in the closet.
I have to say, the race did restore my faith. Or rather, reaffirmed my faith in my adopted hometown. There are a lot of reasons why Parker won, and they have very little to do with her sexual orientation. Anyone who watched the debates knew she not only had more knowledge of the city but was better prepared than her opponents. Parker went to Rice University, and if you live anywhere near the place or have met anyone who went there, you know Rice grads are not only very smart but do not suffer fools. While the other major candidates, African-American corporate attorney Gene Locke and independently wealthy city councilman and architect Peter Brown, blathered and babbled, respectively, city controller Parker not only knew what she was talking about but also showed that she had actually prepared. In other words, she was a girl, and unlike the overconfident boys in the race, she had done her homework. Undoubtedly, this resonated with the Republican soccer moms on the west side. (One of the many mistakes made by Locke, who faced Parker in the runoff, was dissing some of the wealthy, powerful white women the current mayor Bill White had brought to city hall in paid and volunteer positions. They didn’t like him, and they made it known.)
As has frequently been said, Locke also didn’t really have a platform. He was the guy simply anointed by the downtown business interests-the lawyers, bankers, and, most of all, developers who gave us the woefully ineffective Lee Brown when they decided it was time for a black mayor. That didn’t sell so well as a platform to galvanize anyone beyond that small group. Next, they tried law and order -“I will keep Houstonians safe,” Locke said over and over-but the fact is that crime has gone down in Houston, so that didn’t track so well either. Meanwhile, Parker painted Locke-actually a nice, smart guy-as a bumbling city attorney who was in it for the money, while sticking the city with the bill for stadiums we never needed. Further, she ran a good campaign-her people aren’t just loyal, they are fervent, and they are organized-while Locke flailed and never had the black votes needed to guarantee a win in Houston.
The biggest mistake Locke made was allowing two members of his finance committee to give $40,000 to an anti-gay campaign that tainted the runoff with hatred and bigotry. Even though he tried to distance himself from the gay bashing, it wasn’t lost on many Houstonians that Locke was a former civil rights activist himself, and didn’t have any business mucking around in the gutter that way. It might come as a big surprise to outsiders that Houston has no tolerance for intolerance, but if you’ve lived here as long as I have, you see it every day. This is still a big, brawling, wide-open city; people come here from all over the world to do what they want-to realize their dreams, in the best parlance-and as long as you work hard and don’t interfere with anyone else’s, you are allowed to go for it. Parker worked hard, and had proved her competence every which way. The business guys were out of touch and lost the fight because of it.