Thursday, August 9, 2007

Dem Party Head Seeks Gay Donors

Dean Does Fire Island: Party Head Seeks Gay Donors for ’08
by Michael K. Lavers
EDGE New York City Contributor
Thursday Aug 9, 2007

With the 2008 presidential campaign heating up faster than the east Coast weather this summer, Howard Dean made his sixth annual Fire Island Pines pilgrimage on Sunday, Aug. 5. The head of the Democratic National Committee has been coming to the Pines since running for president. He most recently headlined a DNC fundraiser at philanthropist Brandon Fradd’s bayside home.

The reason for coming to Fire Island Pines is the answer Willie Sutton famously gave for why he robbed banks: It’s where the money is. The Pines, along with Provincetown and Palm Springs, offers the greatest concentration of monied gay men and lesbians of any community in the nation. And the Pines has a history of activism. It is the summer home of, among others, Andy Tobias, the treasurer of the DNC.

(Unfortunately, Dean’s staff chose to bar this reporter, despite allowing the community columnist for the Fire Island Tide, a local biweekly newspaper; and Michael Musto, the gossip columnist for the Village Voice, who happened to be on the island that weekend. In previous years, staffers allowed this reporter, who covered the event for the Fire Island News, access. In his column, Musto admitted, "I was told that press attendees couldn’t write up the event.")

At the meeting, according to various sources, Dean reiterated his party’s support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" in the military, and other LGBT-specific legislation. More than 75 people paid $250 to hear Dean give the party line on gay issues.

The former Vermont governor, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2004, said that Democrats need to talk about equality and other so-called universal values he concluded would resonate with straight voters. "We’re developing a core message that we can run on anywhere in the country based on our core values of fairness, toughness and fiscal responsibility," Dean told EDGE in a pre-fundraiser interview.

Dean used this platform to further highlight the DNC’s 50 State Strategy. The plan seeks to help Democrats win local and statewide elections during this election cycle. Dean also applauded Democratic presidential candidates who continue to support LGBT rights in comparison to their Republican counterparts.

"They are putting into action our party’s commitment to promoting equal rights and protections for every Americans," he said. "You don’t see that kind of leadership from Republicans in Washington or many other places."

Dean further blasted President Bush and the majority of GOP candidates for his continued support of the Federal Marriage Amendment despite Congressional inaction on the proposal last June. The DNC’s platform explicitly opposes the FMA but calls upon each state to define marriage.

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska remain the only two candidates in the Democratic presidential field who have publicly endorsed marriage for same-sex couples. Alan Van Capelle, the executive director of New York State’s major gay-rights political action group, and other LGBT activists have criticized U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and other Democratic frontrunners’ perceived failure to support gay and lesbian nuptials.

’We don’t have to wait until after the election for a candidate to deliver’ on LGBT issues.National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman opined in a blog earlier this month that Clinton, along with U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, remain largely silent on marriage and other specific LGBT issues. Dean, however, chose not to respond directly to these criticisms.

Instead, he again pointed to how Democratic presidential hopefuls continue to uphold the DNC’s platform on the campaign trail. "The fact is every single Democrat running for president supports expanding real, specific rights for LGBT people," Dean said.

The DNC’s Pines fundraiser is the latest indication of the party’s active courtship of LGBT donors at this relatively early stage of the campaign. The Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are more than four months away, but many politicians, such as Christine Quinn, the New York City Council Speaker and probable 2009 mayoral candidate (and one of the most prominent lesbian politicians in the nation) and dozens her LGBT political counterparts across the country have already made their allegiances known.

Foreman conceded that Democratic presidential candidates support LGBT issues more than the majority of those from across the aisle. He further added that a fundraiser in the Pines allowed Dean to connect with a historical constituency within the Democratic Party.

Foreman concluded, however, that LGBT donors have a special responsibility to hold the candidates’ feet to the fire to make them state their positions clearly and adhere to them once they do. "They can look them in the eye and tell them what they expect," he said. "We don’t have to wait until after the election for a candidate to deliver."

New York gay political activist Dirk McCall agreed. He applauded Dean’s efforts to reach out to LGBT Democrats since the former White House hopeful’s February 2005 election to helm the DNC. McCall concluded Democratic White House hopefuls need to take stronger positions in support of marriage for gay and lesbian couples and other issues if they hope to further expand their support among pink voters and potential donors.

"They really can’t be wishy washy on our issues," he said. "We deserve better than that. They need to stand 100 percent with us."

Dean maintained his core messages of equality, fairness and change as he once again highlighted his party’s overall support of LGBT issues. He concluded Pines residents, LGBT Americans and others around the country will continue to play a pivotal role in this current election cycle as the DNC seeks to return a Democrat to the White House in 2008.

He put the issue bluntly, as, "We are raising money to elect a Democratic president."

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