Friday, August 25, 2006

Alabama Dems Deny Election Win To Lesbian

Patricia Todd became the first lesbian to win a state legislative race in the state of Alabama after she defeated another Democrat in a runoff election for a Birmingham district on July 18, or so she thought. A Democratic Party committee voted 5-0 last night to disqualify her and her runoff opponent because both candidates failed to provide a copy of their financial disclosure forms to the party. To be sure the party's actions had everything to do with the fact that Todd is a white lesbian, no other Democratic candidate in Alabama has complied with the rule in question since 1988 without consequence. The AP reports:

Todd said she believes the challenge has nothing to do with the fact she is gay, but is about the fact that she is white and won in a majority black district.

"Of course if I was black I don't think they would have contested the election," Todd said. She blamed the contest on Joe Reed, longtime chairman of the black Democratic caucus, who wrote a letter before the election urging black leaders to support Hendricks because of her race and stressing the need for keeping the seat in black hands.

It is particularly disturbing that all five Democratic Committee members who voted to disqualify Todd are African-American. The district which Todd won is predominantly African-American. These party officials are upset that a white lesbian took a seat in the legislature away from their African-American candidate. Her opponent's mother-in-law filed a complaint against her for filing her campaign financial statement with the secretary of state's office late, claiming that Todd deliberately did so to hide the financial support she was receiving from a national gay rights group, which contributed $25,000 to her campaign. With Todd and her opponent out of the way, the party leaders can handpick their own choice, which obviously won't be a white lesbian.

Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend, who is an African-American lesbian, is angered by the Alabama's Democratic Party's action. Spaulding writes incitefully of the recent developments:

The mess and self-destruction of Alabama's Democratic party in its decision to disqualify white (and out lesbian) Patricia Todd, who legitimately won the House 54 seat, and black challenger Gaynelle Hendricks) is now complete.

The people's vote doesn't matter. It's about party kingmakers, sore losers and race, with the added spice of gay demonization. At the core of this issue is district 54, central Birmingham, is being gentrified. When Kate and I drove through the district on a recent visit, it was plainly apparent that Crestwood, in particular, is an area that is undergoing demographic change. This is no different than what many in-town neighborhoods are experiencing, as property is being bought by gay (and mostly white) urban homesteaders who remodel delapidated housing, attract new businesses and breathe life into those neighborhoods. What it also brings, with the rise in housing costs is displacement of the urban poor, change in voting patterns -- and the power and influence of kingmakers like party vice chairman Joe

It's the loss of Reed's political control that was driving this insanity. It's not as if Patricia Todd didn't have black support -- she had to have a good amount in order to win -- those who supported her have had to deal with taunts and charges of "Uncle Tom" and "sellout." Reed and company are tossing a political temper tantrum and illegitimately tossing out the race card, hoping that noise and rage will overpower actual voting results. And yes, that still works in Southern politics, particularly in this case.The anti-gay spin has been downplayed in coverage, but the fact of the matter is, as the NYT article notes, anonymous fliers were posted calling Patricia Todd a "confessed lesbian." No one needs to ignore this and let it slip below the radar. The black homophobia should not be swept under the rug.

And so, with the disqualification over an arcane rule that no Dem in a certified race has followed, this is a statement that "if we can't have the black winner we want, we'll sacrifice both of them to get the white lesbian out of the picture.

"Gentrification and its impact on a district's representation is a worthy topic to discuss; using party machinery and backroom bigotry to toss out the legitimate results of an election is a travesty and embarassment. It's as if Reed and company have a short memory -- that they are reveling in the chance to take away the vote of the people now that blacks have gained political power is a sad state of affairs. It wasn't that long ago that party machinery was used against blacks; table-turning on an ally like Todd is self-defeating and racist in turn.

Spaulding is right to emphasize the role anti-gay bigotry in the Alabama's African-American community is playing in the Democratic Party's actions, and that this issue is being downplayed in the media coverage. You can bet that if a group of white Republicans had taken similar action against an African-American candidate, the news media would have played up the race issue big time.

The question now is whether Alabama's state Democratic Party, with encouragement from the DNC, will step in and overrule the local party leader's actions. If they don't, then our U.S. Justice Department should do its job in enforcing the Voting Rights Act and overrule the local party's actions. Somebody needs to act quickly; otherewise, we're simply allowing a bunch of bigoted sore losers to make a mockery of the very laws which were created to ensure fair elections for minorities.

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