Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lights Go Out at Whitburn for Council Fundraiser

Frye Explains Her Controversial Vote on Marriage Case


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

Just as San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye was starting to speak in the Odd Fellows’ Hall in North Park, around the corner from Claire de Lune coffeehouse, at a September 15 fundraiser for Stephen Whitburn’s City Council campaign, the P.A. system being used there overloaded the building’s old and frail wiring and a fuse blew, plunging the room into darkness. A few people took out flashlights and cell phones to provide some illumination, but if anything the darkness seemed to make the 70 people in attendance less inclined to chatter amongst themselves during the speechmaking, and more attentive to what Frye had to say.

Frye’s appearance at the event took place at an odd time in her relations with San Diego’s Queer community. Though she’d run as a staunch supporter of Queer equality, and her previous voting record on the Council had backed up the claim, she had disappointed many Queers on September 4 by refusing to vote to support the city’s filing an amicus curiae brief in the marriage equality lawsuit currently before the California Supreme Court. The case, which arose out of the attempt of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to circumvent state law and have his city marry same-sex couples in February and March 2004, seeks to have California’s legal definition of marriage as between one man and one woman thrown out as a violation of the state constitution.

Though Frye stressed that she supports marriage equality for same-sex couples, she voted against it on September 4 because she felt there hadn’t been enough notice to the public and the Council’s agenda had allowed only 30 minutes for people to speak on the issue — 15 minutes for each side. “Never has the public been limited to a half-hour to talk about matters of this importance, and of this level of controversy,” Frye explained, citing other, similarly contentious issues — the city’s contract with the Boy Scouts, the Mount Soledad cross, the living-wage ordinance and affordable housing — on which the Council had taken public comment for hours before debating and voting.

Frye said she asked San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera, who came to San Diego to address the Council September 4, what was the deadline for San Diego to join the case. Herrera said it was September 26. Frye asked that the vote be delayed one week to hear more public comment, and Council president Scott Peters — a key supporter of the proposal — announced that he would be out of town on September 11 and therefore Frye had to accept a two-week delay, to September 18. Frye told the audience at the Whitburn fundraiser that she fully intended to vote to join the case on the 18th, and indeed she did. Mayor Jerry Sanders, who’d been expected to veto the measure, stunned the city by announcing the next day that he would sign it, mentioning in a tear-filled press conference that he had a Lesbian daughter and didn’t want to send her the message that her relationship was unequal to his own with his wife.

“I would ask you,” Frye said, “had the matter been to file an amicus brief in opposition to same-sex marriage, and had our side been given less than 15 minutes, and the vote was going to go the other way, wouldn’t every single person in this room be screaming bloody murder about the process? You know it, and I know it. You would be so damned mad right now, saying, ‘Why in the world, on a matter of this importance, weren’t we allowed to state our case and speak on this issue?’ And as much as you might not like it, and as painful as it may be, the other side also deserves the right to be heard.”

Frye’s speech — and the intensity of the controversy surrounding her September 4 vote — somewhat overshadowed Whitburn’s own remarks. “This is our city,” Whitburn said as the rhetorical spine of his speech, adding that “for far too long, our city government has served the interests of too few. Deals and deception have taken too much of the people‘s money and lined the pockets of too few.” Whitburn blamed the city’s financial problems on years of giveaways of tax money to developers and sports-team owners, and said his proposals can be financed “if we spend more of our tax dollars on the needs of our citizens, regain the confidence of investors, and build a tax base the size of other major California cities.”

Whitburn cited his background as a journalist, where he covered local government in another city for eight years before moving to San Diego, as well as his current job for the American Red Cross, where among other duties he teaches a class in Spanish on the workings of U.S. blood banks. Noting that over 40 native languages are spoken in City Heights alone, Whitburn said he was committed to “full equality for all the citizens of San Diego, our Gay and Lesbian citizens and our Transgender citizens. I will stand up for those who are not visible. We want real equality for people who are not white men: women, Latinos, African-Americans, Somalis, Ethiopians and all citizens of San Diego.”

In what appeared to be a veiled reference to the proposed 12-story development at Third and University in Hillcrest — which incumbent Councilmember Toni Atkins championed and the Council approved 7 to 1 with Frye the only dissenter, but which a court has since ruled violated the city’s planning guidelines for the area — Whitburn said, “This is our city, and we have to decide how our neighborhoods develop. We want affordable housing and developments that reflect the character of our neighborhoods. We want to make it a priority that our streets and sidewalks be in good repair and be safe.”

Whitburn is one of three openly Gay candidates in the race to succeed Atkins. The others are Todd Gloria, currently on the staff of Congressmember Susan Davis; and Rocky Neptun, landscaper, Green Party activist and Zenger’s contributor. (Since this article was originally published in the Zenger’s print edition, Neptun has withdrawn from the race to concentrate on a bid for Mayor of San Diego in 2010.) Former City Councilmember John Hartley is also running, as is self-styled “ex-Gay” James Hartline, who led the public opposition to joining the marriage equality lawsuit at the City Council September 4. Other candidates may also emerge before the filing deadline next year.