HOUSTON—You wouldn’t know it based on the low voter turnout but the race for Houston’s next mayor is gaining national interest. This week alone, one of the candidates was the focus of national network news reports, The New York Times and the Associated Press.
Annise Parker stands an even chance of becoming the first, openly gay mayor of a large American city. Interestingly, that statement triggers little more than a shrug in Montrose, the heart of Houston’s gay community.
Twenty-one-year old Katy Perry, a U of H psychology student, says "There’s no shock and awe to it. It’s kind of a non issue."
Maybe at home, but nationally Annise Parker’s sexual orientation has captured headlines.
Longtime Gay Activist Ray Hill, noted "The New York times called…The L.A. Times called yesterday. Of course it’s a big story."
He helped start Parker’s career and is still working on her behalf. "I’m calling in chips that have been on the table for years. Now is the time to call these things into play. I mean I have waited 40 years for someone from my community to reach where Annise is now."
For all the pride and politics, Parker has never played up her sexual orientation. Questions about the subject seem to give the seasoned politician pause. On election night, reporters asked about the national focus on her sexual orientation. She struggled for five seconds in silence during the interview before managing, "I understand I have responsibilities and I am a role model."
The next day she added to her response, "My family appears with me everywhere. My life partner appears with me everywhere but this race is about who can do the best job as mayor."
She denies deliberately avoiding the subject as a campaign strategy, but the national attention has highlighted it particularly for gay political groups.
11 News Political Expert Bob Stein believes, "She can benefit from it if it means she gets more notoriety, more coverage, conceivably more fundraising, but I don’t believe either candidate (Parker or Gene Locke) wants to make it an issue."
Parker, age 52, and her partner have adopted two children. The former city councilwoman and current city controller says, "Houstonians have elected me to office six consecutive times citywide, they know me."