Meet the gay activist running for City Council

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A neighborhood activist, longtime Delta Air Lines employee and gay softball player wants to help marshal the resources of an Atlanta suburb to boost its economy and hopes voters elect him to office to do just that. 

Ken DeLeon, 49, has launched his third bid for a seat on the East Point City Council, this time aiming for the Ward B position of Council member Lance Rhodes. The lone openly gay member of the City Council is retiring after three terms.

DeLeon says that his experience working on several boards and commissions in the 15 years he's lived in East Point shows him that the small suburb southwest of Atlanta hasn't taken full advantage of the resources around it – including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, MARTA and two interstates – to bolster its economy.

“When you live in an area that you believe has so much potential and is sitting in a location and hasn't taken full advantage of it, it frustrates you,” DeLeon said. “The City of East Point could be the next Decatur.”

The former Marine Corps Reserve member has served on the Fort McPherson Planning Local Redevelopment Authority, the city's Storm Water Advisory Committee and the Building Authority. DeLeon says that provides him the experience to pursue his campaign platform of economic development, safer neighborhoods and more efficient city government once on the council.

“Whenever elected officials have asked me to serve on various boards and commissions, I've tried to answer the call,” DeLeon says.

“I have a close understanding of what it takes to get things done – private investment, political will, community support and market realities – to support these developments and for them to actually happen,” he adds.

DeLeon's civic activism also includes founding the Southern Softpaw League in 2009 (second photo), a mostly gay softball league that raises funds for animal charities, and helping to launch Latino LinQ, a group that offers counseling, health and human support services to LGBT Latinos.

'We all want the same things'

 

DeLeon is running for the seat that Rhodes used to blaze a trail for LGBT equality efforts in East Point over three terms, becoming the city's longest-serving openly gay elected official. Rhodes became the council's second openly gay member when he was elected in 2003. He first lobbied to offer domestic partner benefits to employees and in 2009, successfully pushed the council to expand the city's anti-bias policy to include LGBT people. In 2010, council colleagues voted him mayor pro tempore, the city's second-highest ranking elected official, and Atlanta Pride named him among its honorary parade grand marshals.

But Rhodes says he won't seek a fourth term and will instead throw his support behind DeLeon.

“Ken DeLeon is certainly someone I support and I will be endorsing him in the race,” Rhodes says. “He will do very well. He's got a great deal of experience and he'll do really well for us.”

Rhodes says he expects that DeLeon would continue supporting LGBT equality efforts in the city and the initiatives he's successfully passed during this three terms. 

“It's been an exciting opportunity and I am going to miss it a great deal,” Rhodes says.

DeLeon says he's committed to the LGBT initiatives Rhodes and the council have passed and will use the City Council seat to continue fighting for equality. But he also has a diverse district with a variety of needs to address.

“I'll use the platform to continue to fight for human dignity and human rights. But I will not be a one-issue candidate. When I talk about civil rights, gay rights and minority rights, it all falls under one large umbrella – human dignity,” DeLeon says.

“We all want the same things – safe neighborhoods, the opportunity to provide for our families, government services and one that is accountable in spending our tax dollars wisely and is open and transparent,” DeLeon adds.

DeLeon has twice run for East Point City Council and lost. In 2009, he and gay attorney Eric Morrow lost their bids for the council. Two years later, in 2011, he lost to incumbent Myron Cook, 51 to 37 percent.

But DeLeon says he's learned tough political lessons from those earlier campaigns and that, combined with running for an open seat rather than challenging an incumbent, provides a better path to victory in November. It doesn't hurt that the Ward B seat DeLeon seeks includes the gay-heavy Jefferson Park neighborhood.

“It is a very diverse ward and that is something the city is very proud of. It is fundamentally a different race – a different ward and an open seat,” DeLeon says.

DeLeon is already campaigning, expecting to face at least three other candidates once qualifying is held in late August. But a formal kickoff is being planned for late July or early August, he says.

DeLeon is among at least three openly gay candidates who have announced campaigns in metro Atlanta. Josh Noblitt and Rafer Johnson are both running for the Georgia House.

“At the end of the day, you want to make a difference in people's lives,” DeLeon says.

UPDATE | This story has been corrected to reflect that Lance Rhodes was not the first openly gay person on the East Point City Council. Alex Prince was elected to the Ward B seat in 1999 and Rhodes won that same seat in 2003. The council has had two other gay members – Bobby Carnes was elected in 1999 and Kevin Hudson was appointed to the Ward A At-Large post on the City Council in May 2007. Hudson declined to run for a full four-year term in 2009.

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