The East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club made its endorsements Saturday for the March 5 primaries, which includes casting their approval for the upcoming Governor, Lieutenent Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State races as well as assembly seats in district 14 and 16.
As expected the club primarily endorsed candidates who have a history of supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
“Generally we endorse the candidates who we have a history with,” said club President Brenda Crawford. "Those candidates who take us seriously, we take seriously.”
The club endorsed about 19 hopefuls including U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, Lonnie Hancock, who is running for the seat currently occupied by state Assembly member Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, and former teacher Jacki Ruby Fox who is challenging incumbent Jerome Wiggins for his seat on the Alameda County Board of Education representing District 1.
Democratic assembly candidate Charles Ramsey, who is running a tight race against Lonnie Hancock, the former mayor of Berkeley, said he was unable to attend the endorsement meeting because of a “scheduling snafu.”
Club members said the issues they were most concerned about were problems of acceptance in the school system for LGBT youth, government services for LGBT seniors and, more locally, the lack of a public LGBT center in Berkeley that would serve as an information hub and meeting place for the LGBT community.
About 25 members of the club, which has a total membership of 250, heard from Democratic candidates at the North Berkeley Senior Center prior to casting their endorsement votes. In order to receive the club's endorsement, candidates had to win 60 percent approval by the voting members.
Lee won a unanimous endorsement from the club over challenger Kevin Green, vice chair of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee.
“I have always valued the endorsement of this club,” Lee said. “Not only because it wins elections but because I've been able to be very aggressive on important matters because of the input from this club.”
Crawford said a pressing concern for the group is the discrimination aging members of the LGBT community face in senior-assisted living facilities.
“Many people who fought hard for the rights the LGBT community now enjoy are getting older,” Crawford said. “And yet, they are among the most under-served.”
Crawford said in some senior facilities life-long partners are not always allowed to live in the same quarters. She added that many single seniors feel it is necessary to “go back in the closet” to avoid discrimination.
“I can assure you that I will come to you and ask what we need to do to make sure all seniors are treated equally,” Lee said. “I want your help in finding out what laws need to be changed.”
Former Berkeley Mayor Lonnie Hancock also received overwhelming approval from a field of three other candidates. It may have helped that her primary opponent, Charles Ramsey, an attorney and member of the West Contra Costa School Board, did not attend the meeting.
Assembly candidate Dave Brown, a former teacher who was the chief of staff for Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, did attend the meeting but failed to win the club's endorsement.
“I am happy to have the endorsement of this hard-working and effective Democratic club,” Hancock said by telephone on Sunday. “I look forward to working with them to achieve full civil rights and full recognition for all people regardless of sexual orientation.”
Hancock cited her long history of advocating for gay rights including the time in the early 1990s when she was arrested outside the Federal Building in San Francisco while protesting the lack of federal funding for HIV/AIDS research.
“I kept a photo of the arrest on the wall of my office in the very same building a few years later when I worked for the Clinton Administration in the U.S. Department of
Education,” she said.
Hancock was the mayor of Berkeley from 1986 to
EBLG Club Secretary Ted Gartner asked the candidates if they would support a LGBT center in Berkeley. He said a center is badly needed to help strengthen the local LGBT community. He said a meeting center would be helpful in including developing leadership skills among LGBT youth and valuable networking place for entrepreneurs to strategize how to initiate more LGBT-owned, and more LGBT-serving businesses in Berkeley.
“Right now there is no place to meet,” he said. “We need a gathering place similar to the one in San Francisco.”
Hancock said that she supported the idea and added she would work with the Pacific Center for Human Growth, a Berkeley nonprofit that provides a host of services to the LGBT community, to secure funds for an assessment study for the project.
Ramsey said he was distressed that he could not attend the meeting but there had been some confusion in his scheduling.
“I was under the impression that the endorsement meeting had been canceled so it wouldn't conflict with a Democratic rally in Oakland,” Ramsey said by phone on Saturday. “I am a strong supporter of the East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club and I hope, even if I don't win their endorsement, they will allow me to meet with them so I can tell them what I'm about and hear about public policies they want to see accomplished.”
The club also endorsed Jacki Fox Ruby for trustee on the Alameda County Board of Education. Ruby is a former teacher who has also won the endorsements of Mayor Shirley Dean and councilmembers Linda Maio, Polly Armstrong and Dona Spring. Ruby is challenging the current trustee Jerome Wiggins.
“I am absolutely thrilled,” Ruby said. “Many of the issues facing students of varying sexual persuasions are issues that I've been working on for years as a teacher and children's advocate in Berkeley.”
The primary elections will be held on March 5th and will be followed by the Nov. 5 elections.