Five win local offices, setting an Ohio record
Voters around Ohio elected five of the six openly gay and lesbian candidates seeking office on Tuesday--the most in Ohio�s history.
Columbus elected Mary Jo Hudson to her first full term to the city council seat she has held since her appointment 14 months ago.
Cleveland�s Ward 14 will be represented by Joe Santiago, who defeated a two-term incumbent.
Nickie J. Antonio will serve the city of Lakewood as an at-large member of council.
Mark Tumeo will take the seat of the anti-gay Jimmie Hicks Jr. on Cleveland Heights� city council.
In Dayton, Joe Lacey became the first openly gay school board member in Ohio.
In Toledo, gay council at large candidate Dave Schulz finished 10th of 12, in a race where the first six were seated.
Though the races were not without �whisper campaigns� trying to spread fear of electing gays and lesbians, there were no blatant attempts to gaybait or smear the candidates as has been the case previously.
All the candidates were open about their sexual orientation, in many cases, campaigning with their partners and including affiliation with GLBT organizations on their campaign literature.
All except Tumeo were endorsed by the Lesbian and Gay Victory Fund of Washington, D.C., which raises money for openly GLBT candidates it considers to be viable.
Victory Fund spokesperson Dave DeCicco credited the unprecedented victories to strong candidates who are well-trained and have credentials to lead.
�It�s also a sign that the Ohio GLBT community is standing up and getting involved in electoral politics,� said DeCicco, �and that will be what creates long term change in Ohio--gay and lesbian people running and winning.�
DeCicco pointed out that Ohio is one of 22 states with no gay or lesbian state legislator, and that the Victory Fund will be looking to �build the bench� of possible state candidates from these victories.
�A door closes, and a window opens,� said Hudson, who got 56,159 votes, putting her well ahead of three Republican challengers and comfortably in third place behind two long-time incumbent Democrats. Hudson is the first openly gay elected official in Columbus.
�Last year in every corner we saw blatant discrimination. It was a referendum on a minority and it wasn�t a fair fight, and it wasn�t done for the right reasons,� said Hudson, referring to the 2004 Ohio constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. �And I think that offended peoples� core sense of fairness.�
�I think [the anti-gay forces] caused people to look at us and see that when it comes to civic involvement, we�re no different from them.�
�Over the past 14 months, I have assured folks in the entire community that it�s about the work, not about who I am,� said Hudson, and Columbus people have responded to that.�
Hudson said she will continue to work on economic development and job creation, �now that I know I will be around another four years.� That includes a minority business initiative and a youth employment program.
Santiago, who beat two-term incumbent Nelson Cintron 51.9 to 48.1% to become Cleveland�s first openly gay official, said his election broke barriers. Only two incumbent council members were defeated.
�People care about who�s going to do the job,� said Santiago, who will inherit an area of the city in economic transition and badly in need of better services and more empowerment of its residents--all themes of his campaign.
Santiago says he wants to be part of a coalition of council members and newly-elected mayor Frank Jackson to educate others on the GLBT community, eventually leading to passage of a domestic partner ordinance.
Santiago is on the board of the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center and a member of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats. Both, he says, will also be part of that effort.
Antonio finished a solid third behind two popular incumbents and ahead of three others with 4,279 votes to take an at-large seat as Lakewood�s first openly gay official.
�It�s so bizarre that in 2005, we�re saying we�re people, too,� said Antonio, whose campaign was about unifying the sometimes divided inner-ring suburb.
Her campaign crossed every racial, ethic, socio-economic, and age demographic in the city, which she says she feels the best about.
�In Lakewood, we�re better than what the [2004 marriage] vote reflected in Ohio,� said Antonio, adding that her campaign was �about fair minded people working to take their community back.�
�I am elected to serve the entire community,� said Antonio, �and whatever we bring up is really about how we treat people fairly and equally.�
Antonio said that eventually she is committed to passing a domestic partner ordinance in Lakewood. Earlier attempts at it have failed.
Arguably, no council race in Cuyahoga County got more attention than Tumeo�s.
Though he insisted that Jimmie Hicks, Jr. was not his opponent, and that he was running as one of five to take four seats, most people saw the two as each others� opposition.
Tumeo got 6,773 votes, or 19.2%, to Hicks� 5,158, or 14.6%. Incumbent mayor Ed Kelley and council members Nancy Dietrich and Bonnie Caplan were re-elected with percentages in the low 20s.
Hicks twice divided the community over GLBT equality. First, when he opposed the 2002 domestic partner benefits ordinance and organized a group to try to repeal it by referendum, then when he sued the city to try to block the domestic partner registry created by voters in 2003.
In total, Hicks� anti-gay crusading cost the city $120,694 in legal and administrative fees, which the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats pointed out in a mailing to Cleveland Heights voters.
�People are getting tired of the divisive campaign tactics of the right,� said Tumeo, �and I think we�re seeing a shift toward inclusiveness and diversity.�
Lacey got 18,105 votes, making him the third-highest vote-getter in the field of five seeking four seats, replacing one incumbent and topping another.
Lacey, who was gay-baited in both his 2000 Ohio Statehouse race and again in his 2001 unsuccessful run for school board, says he�s grateful to the GLBT community for the support in this race.
Lacey becomes the second gay official in Dayton. Former city council member Mary Wiseman was the first.
Lacey said the Victory Fund and GLBT volunteers made the difference for him this time.
�Now I know I have high expectations to meet,� he said.
Lacey said having the Kerry campaign�s list of GLBT contributors also helped him raise the money needed to go against well-funded incumbents.
Lacey�s campaign was based on what he considered to be the school system�s wasteful spending as they modernized facilities.
Lacey said he will also work on adopting a safe schools policy in the district that will help protect GLBT students and teachers.
�This is something Dayton schools have put off for too long for no good reason,� said Lacey.
�It was a fun ride,� said Schulz the day after his loss.
Schulz said he will remain active in the political arena and may form a political consulting company.
�And I will run again,� he said.
The statewide GLBT political advocacy group Equality Ohio came into being in the middle of the campaigns. Its director Lynne Bowman noted their significance saying, �The voters are smart enough to judge candidates by their strength of character and service to community, and that is what is most important. It is a win for our community, and based on the skills of each of these highly qualified candidates, a win for Ohio voters.�
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