The Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsed Sylvester Turner for mayor on Saturday, hoping he can deliver votes to help save HERO in November.
Turner, a longtime Democratic state lawmaker, won out over several other gay-friendly candidates as Caucus members argued that Turner can influence African-American voters to back the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which will also be on the Nov. 3 ballot.
At one of its most heavily attended meetings in recent memory, the Caucus voted 142-85 to bestow its highly sought after endorsement upon Turner, after rejecting a screening committee recommendation to get behind former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. The Houston Chronicle reports:
"I want to win the HERO ordinance," longtime caucus member Kevin Hoffman said to a packed hall in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union building, in northwest Houston. "We need every single vote. If we don't endorse Sylvester Turner, who can bring the African American vote and coalition with us, we are going to fail."
Sue Davis, a spokeswoman for Turner's campaign, touched on the significance of his support for HERO in a recent email to this reporter:
"He has been a vocal and staunch supporter of HERO, speaking out at press conferences, working to educate conservative faith leaders on the issues in the law and working with Mayor (Annise) Parker to gain support for the law among African American leaders and other leaders. Rep. Turner is often questioned about his support for HERO and he takes the time to explain his position even to HERO’s most ardent detractors."
Turner applauded the endorsement and after, continued stumping for LGBT support.
In addition to Turner and Garcia, other candidates who received significant support among Caucus members included former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell and Houston City Council member Stephen Costello. All four leading candidates support HERO, but not receiving the Caucus endorsement came as a particularly damaging blow to Bell, a longtime LGBT ally who has the least money in the bank.
After the vote, Bell criticized Turner for purchasing 76 memberships in an effort to sway the endorsement process. The Chronicle reports:
"I'm not terribly surprised based on what we knew going in about memberships having been purchased," said Bell, who according to his campaign did not purchase memberships but did actively encourage supporters to join.
Turner countered that all candidates had an opportunity to purchase memberships, and said such criticism only serves to minimize the endorsement:
"This is a major step to the finish line," said Turner, seen as a frontrunner in the crowded mayor's race. "This is a race about the future of the city versus its past, and this group represents a vital component of Houston's family."
In backing Turner, Caucus members showed they were willing to forgive some of his anti-gay votes as a member of the Texas Legislature, including those in favor of banning same-sex marriage in 2003 and prohibiting gay foster parents in 2005. Turner, who was the subject of gay rumors during his 1991 mayoral campaign, has said he's evolved on LGBT rights since those votes.
Caucus member Daniel Williams, who's worked closely with Turner as legislative specialist for Equality Texas, wrote of the group's endorsement:
"Concerns about Turner were largely confined to his earlier legislative record. One speaker made an oblique reference to old rumors that Turner was gay and in the closet and suggested he shouldn't be trusted as a result, however, the body reacted very negatively to that argument and at least one person I spoke to decided to support Turner in response. The general temperament seemed to be that Turner had evolved on LGBT issues and that personal journey should be respected and that he would be able to bring together a coalition in support of HERO that needed the support of the Caucus. I believe some members also found statements from Turner about concrete actions he had taken in support of LGBT Texans during the last legislative session compelling."
Williams said the screening committee's recommendation to endorse Garcia was rejected due to frustration over pro-LGBT jail policies being rescinded after he stepped down as sheriff, as well as a death in custody during his tenure and his handling of immigration issues.
Other Caucus endorsements
In addition to Turner, the Caucus voted to endorse three openly gay candidates for City Council: incumbents Robert Gallegos (District I) and Mike Laster (District J), as well as Lane Lewis (At-Large Position 1). Lewis beat out transgender candidate Jenifer Pool to receive the endorsement for the open seat. Pool has criticized Lewis for entering the race after she had already declared her candidacy, accusing him of dividing LGBT voters.
Below is a full list of the Caucus' endorsements:
City of Houston
- Mayor: Sylvester Turner
- Controller: Chris Brown
- Council member, District B: Jerry Davis
- Council member, District C: Ellen Cohen
- Council member, District F: Richard Nguyen
- Council member, District H: Roland Chavez
- Council member, District I: Robert Gallegos
- Council member, District J: Mike Laster
- Council member, District K: Larry Green
- Council member, At-Large Position 1: Lane Lewis (second photo)
- Council member, At-Large Position 2: David Robinson
- Council member, At-Large Position 3: Doug Peterson
- Council member, At-Large Position 4: Amanda Edwards
- Council member, At-Large Position 5: Philippe Nassif
Houston Community College System
- Trustee, District III: Adriana Tamez
- Trustee, District VIII: Eva Loredo
Houston Independent School District
- Trustee, District II Rhonda Skillern-Jones
- Trustee, District III Ramiro Fonseca
- Trustee, District IV: Jolanda Jones
- Trustee, District VIII: Juliet Stipeche