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Chicago mayoral candidates court city’s LGBT voters

by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jan 21, 2011

With only a month to go before Chicago's mayoral election, the campaign has taken a series of headline-grabbing turns while candidates continue to court the city's LGBT voters.

The field has narrowed from the 20 candidates who had initially filed petitions to succeed outgoing Mayor Richard M. Daley to the four who will appear on the Feb. 22 ballot. Rahm Emanuel, Carol Moseley Braun, Gery Chico and Miguel Del Valle all have relatively strong pro-LGBT records, including support across the board of marriage equality-an issue also championed by Daley. While Emanuel remains the frontrunner in both polls and fundraising, many of the city's leading activists continue to urge LGBT Chicagoans to closely follow the campaign.

A coalition of LGBT leaders, including representatives from many of the city's leading service and advocacy groups, organized a series of three community forums held in November and December that allowed Chicagoans from across the city to provide input on a questionnaire distributed to each of the leading candidates.

Responses to that comprehensive questionnaire-which addresses HIV/AIDS funding, homelessness, police harassment and other issues-have now been posted on Equality Illinois' Web site in advance of one final community forum tentatively planned to be held in the Loop sometime in early February.

The candidates are expected to attend, but organizers have resisted making specific endorsements. Bernard Cherkasov, chief executive officer of Equality Illinois, said his group's PAC is currently in the midst of discussions about whether they will do so and will announce any endorsement in the coming weeks. Cherkasov declined to comment former public policy director Rick Garcia's personal endorsement of Chico late last year-the only endorsement a major LGBT leader or group in the city has yet made in the contest.

Cherkasov told EDGE the next mayor will play an important role not only in taking action on issues affecting LGBT Chicagoans, but also in advocacy beyond the city's borders. Many leaders applaud Daley for doing the same during his tenure. And the candidates' "sincere interest" in addressing LGBT issues in their campaigns has impressed Cherkasov.

The questionnaire responses have accompanied the efforts of many of the four leading candidates to address LGBT concerns in their recent campaigning. All but Del Valle have issued LGBT platforms through their campaign websites in addition to appearing at many community events to speak specifically with queer voters.

"We will look to the next mayor to be a player and an articulate advocate for the full inclusion of LGBT people in society," he said. "I'm really excited for the level of commitment from the leading candidates to move forward with the city in an inclusive and welcoming way."

Kim Hunt is the executive director of Affinity Community Services, another of the organizations that has participated in the forums and questionnaire development. While acknowledging the current mayor's leadership on LGBT issues, Hunt hoped Chicagoans will "take advantage of the first opportunity in some generations to vote for somebody whose last name isn't Daley for mayor."

"My stance is that no matter who becomes mayor of Chicago, our community still has to keep that person accountable," she said, "And the best way to show we're going to do that is to get out and vote."

Some of the city's LGBT activists remain concerned over whether the mayoral campaign has been as inclusive as possible, particularly as the LGBT outreach efforts of some of the candidates have focused on the city's North side.

Rosa Yadira Ortiz, board president of Amigas Latinas, an organization that serves lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer Latinas and is also part of the LGBT mayoral coalition, was impressed with organizers' efforts to build coalitions into the process. She remains somewhat apprehensive, however, about how the campaigns have not engaged some of her organization's constituents as often as they have with other groups.

"I think there needs to be a lot more information communicated with our community members. The election will be here very quickly," said Ortiz. "I wouldn't say that community is ready and there's a lot more work that needs to be happening."

Anthony Martinez, co-founder of LGBT Change and executive director of the Civil Rights Agenda, are also active in the mayoral election process. He acknowledged Ortiz's concern and emphasized he hopes Daley's successor the next mayor will represent LGBT Chicagoans throughout the city-and not just those who live in the North Side and Lakefront neighborhoods.

"What we've been telling the candidates is that we want to make the city one that is truly inclusive of LGBT people across the city," said Martinez. "We have one of the largest LGBT communities in the nation and world and we are everywhere, all across the city. We have people in every ward that need representation and resources."

Martinez added he hopes LGBT Chicagoans will take the time and effort to educate themselves on the mayoral candidates' campaign platforms-and make sure they make it a priority to vote. Pundits largely credited LGBT voters with ensuring Gov. Pat Quinn's narrow defeat of anti-marriage equality Republican Bill Brady. And weeks following the November election, Quinn helped lead the charge to pass a measure that extended civil unions to same-sex couples in Illinois.

"We showed in the last election that the LGBT community is a very big force in Chicago and throughout Illinois, and we should leverage that," said Martinez.

A Chicago Teamsters Joint Council 25 survey found Emanuel led Moseley Braun 42 to 26 percent. Chico and Del Valle received 10 and 7 percent support respectively. The poll only surveyed 500 "likely voters" and had a 4.4 percent margin of error. Most other polls have found roughly 30 percent of voters remain undecided. And a runoff mayoral election is expected to follow the Feb. 22 vote, unless a candidate is able to attract more than 50 percent support.

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.


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