Poor Largo, Florida City Commissioner Mary Gray Black found out this week that political gay-baiting doesn't work as well as it did in this week's "Man Bites Dog" story.
Her opponent, Michael Smith, sent out a campaign flier showing him with his arm around a female friend who's holding her baby. Black charged that Smith was being duplicitous and trying to hide his sexual orientation from voters. She apparently thinks that residents should worry Smith will be thinking about his next flower arrangement during zoning ordinance meetings.
"I feel that my opponent has been very deceptive in his presentation of himself to you," Black told the crowd of about 50, which included Largo business owners, city officials and a few students from local schools.
"I'm going to challenge my opponent to be truthful to you, to give you all of his endorsements, to give you his background and what he truly believes," said Black, 72, who has held office since 2005 and in parts of every decade since the 1970s. Her own mailer identifies her as a Christian, married to Bruce J. Black for 48 years, with two children and four grandchildren.
"I think what she is referring to is that I happen to be gay. I'm not running as a gay commissioner, I just happen to be gay," said Smith, a senior library assistant at the Pinellas Park Public Library.
But here's where the story gets good. So far, we've watched this scene play out countless times as LGBT people start running for public office.
When the event ended, former chamber chairman Keith Bailey approached Black to express his anger at her. Bailey felt that Black, a longtime friend he has voted for in the past, was trying to incite homophobia among Largo voters.
"It has to do with transparency, the truth and not being misleading," Black told Bailey. "If you're a drunkard, that's your lifestyle ... He can be whatever he wants to be."
"Why did you ask us to look up his endorsements and campaign donations?" Bailey asked. Not satisfied with Black's answer, he interrupted with his own.
"It's the Stonewall group, isn't it? That's what you want us to see," Bailey said.
The Pinellas Stonewall PAC gave Smith $500 in September, according to his campaign filings.
Bailey, 52, said after the meeting that he had always voted for Black, or abstained from voting in races where he knew and liked her opponent. That will change this year, though.
"I just thought it was inappropriate, and people need to take a stand against homophobia," he said. "I'm shifting my support to Michael Smith."
Bailey isn't the only person quoted in the article saying that Black's antiquated gay-baiting had lost her a vote.
Black succeeded in making Smith's sexual orientation a campaign issue where there had been none before. Appropriately enough, the attention is going entirely to her passive agressive insinuations that being gay is dishonorable and should exclude someone from public service. The media report on this story alone is probably more than would have been paid to her candidacy normally.
But, hey. At least she wasn't "misleading." Now everyone knows that she's stuck in the past instead of looking to the future.
(Imgsrc. Credit: David Halliwell)