Is St. Petersburg ready for three gay members of City Council? (I hope so)

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The metaphor I wish to use is the one about when it rains, it pours. Except, in this case, it is a matter of there being a rainbow instead of a downpour.

Last week, Amy Foster (unrelated to Mayor Bill Foster) declared her candidacy for the District 8 seat on the St. Petersburg City Council. This is the seat currently held by Jeff Danner, who is term-limited from running again. District 8 is also known unofficially as the “gay” district in the city because it encompasses the prideful neighborhoods of Grand Central and Kenwood. 

Foster, in case you did not know, is a lesbian.

District 4 front-runner Darden Rice is also a lesbian. And District 5 representative Steve Kornell (re-elected two yeas ago) is gay. 

This means, with Foster’s entrance into the District 8 race, there is a better-than-decent chance that there could be three gay members on the St. Petersburg’s City Council after the November elections.

The only question: Is St. Petersburg ready to make such a statement? 

After all, this is a city where the most recent former mayor would not agree to recognize the city’s Pride event. Then again, the current mayor extended same-sex benefits to all 2,600 city employees, a move that defied expectations many had of a man with conservative religious beliefs.

For her part, Foster believes “that the city is ‘ready’ because the voters of St. Petersburg are going to consider each one of us as individuals who bring unique perspectives to the dialogue.”

“Darden brings her work with the League of Women Voters, mass transit and environmental causes” explained Foster. “Steve’s experience as a city employee in the Recreation Department offers a perspective that would be sorely missing if he were not on the council. As for myself, I bring a wealth of experience in education, workforce development, and building public/private cross sector partnerships to solve complex issues.”

“If we were one dimensional people or single-issue candidates I think my answer would be different, but that’s simply not the case.”

Kornell echoed Foster’s assertions, noting the “broad platforms” of both Foster and Rice (who he says he strongly supports).

“What Amy and Darden also bring is diversity … in terms of age … in terms of being women,” said Kornell. “They’re not just “gay” candidates.

Personally, I believe it would be a welcome change from the City-Council-from-Footloose were three openly gay leaders elected to the City Council. What a message that would send to the LGBT community throughout the country that the city is a bastion of equality and progressivism. (And what a stark contrast to close-minded Hillsborough County, which earlier this year saw its County Commission reject implementing a domestic partnership registry, this triumvirate would present.

All of this said, let’s keep two things in mind.

First, not all gay candidates are great candidates. As eager as the gay community is to embrace one of its own, it must avoid doing so at risk of its political credibility. If Craig Lowe’s loss in Gainesville last Tuesday can teach the gay community anything, it’s that LGBT candidates, for better or worse, are now being held to the same ethical standards as other candidates. 

Second, all gay candidates are not the same. It’s a very dangerous assumption to presume Foster, Kornell, and Rice see eye-to-eye on most issues. Perhaps they do, perhaps they don’t. The needs of District 4 are different than the needs of District 5 and District 8. Bottom line, each candidate needs to run their own race and not be viewed as part of some mythical gay slate.

Still, what a wonderful message these three leaders are sending about the state of equality politics in St. Petersburg. 

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.