Houston Is Largest City To Elect Openly Gay Mayor

City Controller Annise Parker has won the mayoral runoff in Houston, making the 53-year old Parker the city's first openly gay mayor. With all votes counted, Parker received 53 percent of the vote in Saturday's election to 47 percent for attorney Gene Locke.

Parker had been on the receiving end in recent days of an anti-gay campaign by the city's religious conservatives, an effort from which Locke had distanced himself but one in which two members of his finance committee had contributed to the group's mailings.

Perhaps more important than her sexual orientation, writes the Houston Chronicle's Bradley Olson, is that she is the first candidate "in a generation to defeat the hand-picked candidate of Houston's business establishment":

Parker [ran and won] on an austere platform, convincing voters that her financial bona fides and restrained promises would be best suited in trying financial times. ...

Her victory capped an unorthodox election season that lacked a strong conservative mayoral contender and saw her coalition of inside-the-Loop Democrats and moderate conservatives, backed by an army of ardent volunteers, win the day over Locke, a former civil rights activist. ...

In many ways, the race was framed by the financial anxieties voters have experienced over the past 18 months. At the polls, voter after voter cited Parker's experience watching over the city's $4 billion budget as a primary consideration in their choice.

Instead of being turned off by a politician reluctant to promise the world, voters responded to Parker's straight talk about all that might not be possible in the coming years. ...

Locke had the seemingly unlikely task of trying to unite African-American voters, who usually account for a third of the turnout, and conservative whites. Both candidates are Democrats in what was officially a nonpartisan race.

Houston will become the largest U.S. city ever to have an openly gay mayor. Other cities with gay mayors include Portland, Ore.; Providence, R.I.; and Cambridge, Mass. But, as the New York Times' James McKinley points out, Parker's victory "came in a conservative state where voters have outlawed gay marriage and a city where a referendum on granting benefits to same-sex partners of city employees was soundly defeated."

The incumbent, Bill White, is term-limited. He is running for governor in 2010.

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