Houston Mayor-Elect On Victory

Houston Mayor-elect Annise Parker says though she is openly gay, her sexual orientation is not something she will lead the city with. Over the weekend, Houston became the largest U.S. city to pick an openly gay person as mayor.

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Houston is now the latest and largest American city to elect an openly gay mayor. This past weekend, Annise Parker, a three term city controller, defeated her fellow Democrat, former city attorney, Gene Locke, in a runoff election. And Mayor-elect Parker joins me now. Welcome to the program.

Ms. ANNISE PARKER (Mayor-elect, Houston): Thank you. I appreciate the chance to visit with you.

BLOCK: You said on election night in your acceptance speech that the voters of Houston have opened the doors of history by electing you mayor. But the turnout was really small, about 16 percent of registered voters there. Do you think that undercuts in any way the historic nature of what happened?

Ms. PARKER: Clearly the voters in Houston knew who I was and knew my personal life. So, while the turnout was small, all of the citizens of Houston had a front row seat in the election and understand that this is a turning point in the city, although my campaign was focused on the overall issues affecting the city of Houston.

BLOCK: Your sexual orientation became an issue, really, only in mailings sent out by the opposition that I was looking through, anti-gay, anti-same sex marriage. And there were ties, apparently, to two members of your opponent's finance committee, who gave money toward those mailings. Do you think they backfired?

Ms. PARKER: I don't know whether they backfired. I have been in elective office in Houston for 12 years. When I ran 12 years ago, being the past president of our local gay political organization was part of my resume. And it was sort of the subtext to the campaign, although it's never something that I have run on.

In this mayor's race, there was an element of shock when those mail pieces first came out. And I think it offended people, who maybe scratched their heads and said, well, we already know that about her. Is this the image we want to send to the rest of the world about Houston? No, let's get over that. And I believe I picked up support in, particularly, in Republican areas of Houston.

BLOCK: Is there now pressure on you from some of the gay rights groups who supported you, now that you have been elected mayor of Houston to promote issues that are important to them, such as same sex benefits for city workers, which was soundly defeated, as I understand it, in a referendum in Houston already?

Ms. PARKER: Well, the last time there was a referendum on domestic partner benefits, it barely passed. The antis own 51 to 49. So, it was a squeaker. I was very clear to my supporters and to the public at large, when I was running, that being gay is part of who I am. It's not all that I am and it is not anything that I want to lead with as mayor of Houston. Domestic partner benefits would require a citywide referendum vote. I'm not planning on initiating that.

There are too many critical issues facing the city of Houston to get sidetracked. I would, of course, support domestic partner benefits for city employees and I'd love to have them from my own spouse of 19 years, but my focus is going to be on what's in the best interest of the city of Houston.

BLOCK: You said on election night that you hope your election will change people's minds about Houston. What do you think needs to be changed in people's mind?

Ms. PARKER: A lot of Americans have an image of Houston as a, perhaps, stuffy, conservative, southern city. We are a huge, sophisticated, international city. We are one of the most diverse cities in America. And we clearly value people more on what they can do than who they are. I do believe that my election will cause people to give Houston a second look as a place where they might want to live and work.

BLOCK: Annise Parker, congratulations and thanks very much.

Ms. PARKER: Thank you.

BLOCK: Annise Parker is the Mayor-elect of Houston.

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