Friday, July 06, 2007

Club Endorses Whitburn for Third District Council Seat

Queer Democrats Pick Their Ex-President Over Susan Davis’ Aide


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Photos, top to bottom: Stephen Whitburn, Todd Gloria, John Hartley, Rocky Neptun

As expected, the predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club endorsed its immediate past president, Stephen Whitburn, in his race for the District 3 seat on the San Diego City Council at an unusually well-attended three-hour meeting June 28. The club made its decision after hearing from four candidates in the race, openly Gay Democrats Whitburn and Todd Gloria, an aide to Congressmember Susan Davis; a non-Queer Democrat, former City Councilmember John Hartley; and Rocky Neptun, an openly Queer candidate whose Green Party affiliation made him ineligible for the endorsement.

In endorsing Whitburn, the club brushed aside pressure from the Gay & Lesbian Times newsmagazine, which had published an editorial in its June 28 edition saying “the club’s motion to endorse is too soon” and calling on the club to wait until the first financial reporting period in the race, which ends July 31. “A huge lead [in money-raising] by one of the three Gay candidates could be just the indicator needed to get behind one truly viable Gay candidate,” the editorial said.

The paper hasn’t made its own endorsement in the race yet, but Gay & Lesbian Times columnist Nicole Murray Ramirez has endorsed Todd Gloria. Indeed, Murray Ramirez has repeatedly called for Whitburn and all other Queer candidates to withdraw from the race so the community can rally behind Gloria the way it did behind the current District 3 Councilmember, Toni Atkins, after her predecessor, Christine Kehoe, was termed out in 2000. In addition to its own literature, the Gloria campaign distributed the Gay & Lesbian Times editorial, reprinted as a flyer on lavender paper, at the June 28 endorsement meeting.

Gloria got to speak first in the candidates’ forum, and based his appeal on his deep roots in San Diego. “My family came to San Diego in the 1920’s,” he said. “My mother grew up on Wilson Avenue. My parents were married in Kensington. My family is the Third District. I serve as a San Diego housing commissioner and I’ve helped provide 2,000 affordable housing units. I worked on the Mid-City Prostitution Panel with Susan Davis’ office. I try to find solutions to local problems, including parking on Adams Avenue and restoring Chollas Creek.”

Hartley, up second, stressed neighborhood activism and his Queer-friendly record during his previous tenure as a City Councilmember from 1989 to 1993. “I started in 1988 with the Campaign for District Elections,” he said. “The next year, with GLBT [Queer] help, I ran for the City Council and won. I led the campaign to pass the Human Dignity Ordinance [San Diego’s basic law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which after Hartley left the Council was amended to cover gender identity as well]. I also got the first block-grant funding for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center. I led the fight for a Human Relations Commission and I hired Christine Kehoe and encouraged her run for the City Council in 1993” (when Kehoe became the first openly Queer person elected to office in San Diego County).

“I came out in 1969 a few blocks from Stonewall, and in 1976 I spoke publicly against the Los Angeles Police Department after they raided a private ‘slave auction’ at a Gay bathhouse,” Neptun said. “Our campaign will offer bold new ideas, like Harvey Milk’s. It will address the stress the city is putting on the environment and on the community’s buckling under high rents and low wages. At City Hall there’s a failure to care or take risks.”

“We have stood up for democratic values,” Whitburn said. “I bring real-world experience to this campaign. I was a journalist for many years, and today I work for the American Red Cross.” Whitburn boasted that when he was president of the San Diego Democratic Club, “we increased memberships and revenues, and opened up our first-ever campaign office.” He mentioned his endorsement by City Councilmember Donna Frye and added, “I have been working on the ground for our neighborhoods, against crime and for equality. You have seen me at every LGBT [Queer] rally.”

Club members’ questions to the candidates avoided Queer issues, perhaps because there was no difference between them: all four candidates at the meeting filled out the club’s questionnaire on Queer issues and got 100 percent on it.

Only one question even touched on the main issue which has dominated San Diego city government in the past three years: the city’s basket-case financial condition resulting from the pensions voted for city workers without money in the city’s coffers to pay them. Jeri Dilno, the club’s vice-president for political action, lumped the question on the city’s finances in with other questions dealing with current mayor Jerry Sanders’ attempt to use the strong-mayor charter reform to run the city’s finances himself and cut popular programs without City Council approval.

Hartley said he understood the city’s crisis started under former mayor Susan Golding, “when she diverted city money to the Republican convention.” He added that because of the crisis, “we have to run the city in a frugal way and pay as you go.” Hartley also criticized what he described as giveaways to well-connected developers like Corky McMillin and sports-team owners like Alex Spanos of the Chargers, and said the city needs to “fight tooth and nail to make sure special interests pay their way.”

“A large part [of solving the city’s financial crisis] is new blood and new life on the City Council,” Gloria said. “I want to spend more time in the neighborhoods than in City Hall. We need to hire an auditor. With regard to the mayor’s budget, he shouldn’t cut funds for neighborhoods without input.”

Whitburn said that, as a journalist, “I covered municipal government and asked the tough questions. Integrity will start with me. I have testified before the City Council four times on the mayor’s budget cuts, and I support Donna Frye’s recommendation that these cuts be put before the people for a vote.”

“We rely on politicians, and they make promises and don’t deliver,” said Neptun. “We want a participatory budget process in which we make the decisions on the budget instead of delegating them to elected officials.”

Other questions covered issues such as how to handle the city’s growth, whether to build large new multi-story apartment or condo buildings in Hillcrest (all four candidates opposed the controversial 301 Project, a 12-story condo development at 3rd and University, which Atkins supported), so-called “mini-dorms” (apartments or houses occupied by college students, a frequent source of complaints from neighbors complaining of loud music, general rowdiness and worsened traffic congestion from them), whether the city should continue to spend money to preserve the Mt. Soledad cross (all four candidates said no), and the controversial 180-foot building built by the Sunroad company near Montgomery Field in blatant violation of Federal Aviation Agency restrictions on the height of buildings near airports.

The four candidates also had a chance to discuss conversion of old apartment buildings to condos and the effect these have on San Diego’s already meager stock of housing accessible to people with disabilities. (Three people in wheelchairs were at the front of the room and at least one deaf person was also at the meeting.) Whitburn said the condo conversion issue was important to him personally, as a renter; “I’ve been condo-converted out of three apartments, one in Hillcrest and two in North Park.” He also said that making sure new buildings are accessible “shouldn’t be an afterthought; it should be a priority.”

Gloria said the disability issue “has become personal” since his mother became disabled. “We have to start planning and funding” for improvements in city buildings to meet the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for accessibility, he said. “Access to units for new construction is important. It’s difficult to account for condo conversions,” he added.

“Government should represent all people, with no one left out,” Hartley said. “What’s particularly troubling to me is a lack of curb cuts. People in wheelchairs actually have to drive in the streets. We had an issue about the bathroom in the Kensington library, and we made it accessible.”

“As the director of the San Diego Renters’ Union, I deal with these issues every day,” Neptun said. “The city’s condo conversion ordinance hasn’t been approved, and [access for people with disabilities] should be part of that.”

Other questions more broadly addressed the candidates’ political philosophies, including whether they would accept endorsements from Mayor Sanders or conservative Republican City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer (they didn’t think such endorsements would be forthcoming) and whether they were closest politically to Susan Davis, Toni Atkins or Donna Frye. Neptun was booed when he compared Davis to Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and called them both “Right-wing Democrats” — even though Davis voted against the 2002 resolution allowing President Bush to go to war against Iraq. All the candidates pledged to support whoever wins the Council primary against a likely Republican or conservative opponent.

The San Diego Democratic Club made three changes in its usual endorsement procedures for the District 3 race. First, the club insisted that all questions to the candidates be submitted in writing instead of asked aloud from the floor. Second, it allowed members to show up at the start of the meeting, cast their vote for one of the three eligible candidates (Whitburn, Gloria or Hartley) or for no endorsement, and then leave — a procedure the club has used before in electing its own officers but never for an endorsement.

Third, one declared candidate was flatly disinvited to participate in the forum: James Hartline, self-proclaimed “ex-Gay” turned radical Christian activist and darling of Right-wing media figures like San Diego Reader publisher James Holman and talk-show host Roger Hedgecock. Dilno announced at the beginning of the forum that the club’s board had voted not to invite Hartline because of his record of attempting to disrupt Queer community events, and asked the members present to ratify that decision. They did, with only one member opposed.

Under the club’s procedures, members first have to vote on whether or not to endorse in the race at all. With only members actually present eligible to vote, the motion to make an endorsement in the race passed with 117 in favor and 47 against. Because members had the option to cast a vote and then leave, the total number of ballots cast in the endorsement vote was larger — 254 — but the outcome was similar, with 175 votes for Whitburn, 65 for Gloria, four for Hartley and 10 for no endorsement. Whitburn’s total was 68.9 percent of the vote, well above the 60 percent threshold needed to endorse under the club’s rules.