Political Notebook: Lesbian joins Cloverdale City Council
by Matthew S. Bajko
Political newcomer Carol Russell quietly made history on election night, becoming not only the first out official on the Cloverdale City Council but also the first to win elective office in Sonoma County. At age 62, Russell is also one of the oldest elected LGBT officials in the country.
"It is marvelous and I am very happy Cloverdale added to our numbers," Russell said of her win, in which she defeated an incumbent for one of three council seats up for grabs last Tuesday and trailed the town's mayor by only 30 votes. Even more remarkable, Russell spent less than $1,000 on her race.
"We did something really interesting. We not only self-funded my campaign but wanted to prove to people you can take little money and make it work," said Russell, who is also disabled and uses a cane to walk. "I have a little problem walking. Other people ran for office; I limped but got there anyway."
Russell and her partner of 38 years, Roz Katz , left San Rafael in Marin County to settle in Cloverdale four years ago. The domestic partners had run the San Francisco-based firm Russell Staffing until they retired in 1998. At a suggestion of a friend, they decided to check out the Sonoma town off Highway 101.
"I knew it was here but didn't know much about it. First thing as we drive in, someone smiled at me and said 'Hi.' I knew we had found a place we could call home," recalled Russell.
Since moving, Russell and Katz haven't really slowed down much. Russell joined the Sonoma County Public Library Foundation board, and the couple helped start the now two-year-old North Bay Pride Music Festival.
"In literally a couple of days three of us put together a Pride celebration. The folks who had done the Pride parades just couldn't do it that year. I wasn't going to let Pride month go by; I just wasn't going to let it happen," said Russell.
She intends to bring that "can do" spirit and her business acumen to the council, which is grappling with Cloverdale's rapid growth. Russell said she worries that if the city fails to grow smartly, there will be grave consequences.
"I liken it to the story of the man who grew faster than any human being on record and dropped dead at 22," she said. "It can happen to cities, businesses. If you grow so fast your infrastructure can't support you."
As for her being a lesbian, Russell said it was a non-issue for most voters.
"It was of no concern. They couldn't care less," she said. "On my literature I said I was co-founder of North Bay Pride. Why wouldn't I say that? I am very proud of it."
Migden mum on 49ers
Many city officials expressed outrage and disappointment this week at the decision of the San Francisco 49ers to abandon the city for Santa Clara, but one has remained tight-lipped: state Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco/Marin).
Migden pushed a bill through the Legislature earlier this year on behalf of Mayor Gavin Newsom so that the city and team officials did not have to return to the ballot and wage a costly campaign to win approval for the latest incarnation of a new stadium at Candlestick Point. The bill changed state law to allow the city to go to court to obtain a judge's ruling that a new 49ers plan is legally consistent with what was presented to and passed by voters nine years ago.
As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle in the spring, city voters narrowly passed two ballot measures in 1997â€“ one providing $100 million in bond financing and a second rezoning 77 acres of park and recreation land at Candlestick Point â€“ for a new stadium and a shopping and entertainment mall. At an April hearing on her bill, Migden said that if voters approved a mall as part of the project in 1997, they would presumably not be opposed to adding housing to the development now.
"I don't think we're trampling on the voters' intentions here," she told the paper after the hearing.
This week the usually outspoken Migden was oddly quiet on the 49ers change of course. She did not respond to the Bay Area Reporter 's request for comment and was noticeably absent from the Chronicle 's wall-to-wall coverage of the team's surprise decision to head south, not only jilting its hometown but boosters of San Francisco's Olympic bid who dropped their plans due to the stadium debacle.
[After the Bay Area Reporter went to press Wednesday, Migden's office faxed over a news release stating that the senator â€“ described as a "49er ally in negotiations" â€“ would introduce legislation to restrict municipalities from luring state sports franchises from other locales with state taxpayer funds. The statement quoted Migden as saying "Firstly, we need to bring housing and jobs to the Candlestick/Hunters Point location and secondly, retaining a world-class team would yield income and entertainment opportunities for the Bay Area."]
In the meantime, state Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) announced he wants to pass a state statute requiring professional sports franchises to win a city's approval for using its name. Leno said he objects to the 49ers stance that if they do leave town they will not jettison San Francisco from their name.
"It seemed to me better public policy, given the cachet a city like San Francisco has, our local electives should make the decision if a national franchise team not headquartered or playing any games in San Francisco should be allowed to use our name," he said. "Clearly, they are interested in our name because it will bring them financial benefit. I don't think we should be ripped off without benefiting some ourselves."
The National Football League owns the trademark to its team names, and it remains to be seen if the power to name a team can be changed through California law.
"We are looking at whether a state statute would trump the trademark power of the NFL," said Leno. "We are still researching with legislative council if we are able to do this."
Bissiri leaves Log Cabin post
Log Cabin California Director Jeff Bissiri is resigning, two years after opening the gay Republican group's first Sacramento office. Bissiri, who joined Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on stage election night, is returning to Los Angeles where he owns a home and has been rehired by an architectural firm.
"For me personally, it was certainly one of the high points of my two years here as California director. It was sort of bittersweet in that regard, but it was certainly a great honor," said Bissiri, whose last day will be December 1. "This was a mid-career sort of change for me. I came up here to do what I consider very important work, but it was also sort of a sidetrack from my professional career as an architect. I feel the need to go back to my profession."
Bissiri said he is proud of the work he did to raise the organization's profile in the halls of power in Sacramento. During his time in the capital, Bissiri testified against a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and oversaw the first time a sitting California Republican governor spoke to an LGBT group.
"In terms of lobbying for legislation, I testified in the Legislature, bringing the mainstream Republican voice to gay rights issues," said Bissiri.
Asked to weigh in on the outing of Ken Mehlman , the Republican National Committee chair who resigned last week, by bloggers and HBO star Bill Maher on Larry King's CNN show post-election night, Bissiri demurred, somewhat.
"We don't engage in outing. However, we also have publicly stated that closeted gays in government at all levels should come out," he said. "Our march to equality will happen so much more quickly if people would come out. But coming out is a personal process and we don't believe that outing is a constructive way to approach this issue."
The group is in the process of hiring a new state director, with a formal announcement to be made at a fundraising and awards event in Los Angeles on November 27. Bissiri would only say that it is a man who has had experience working in California.
State Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) is the new chair of the California LGBT Legislative Caucus. The caucus elected Laird as its latest leader during a phone conference Thursday, November 9. Laird will preside over a smaller caucus when the Legislature reconvenes in December; he replaces outgoing chair Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) who is retiring from political office and saw the lesbian she had tapped to run for her seat defeated in the June primary.
Laird was unavailable for comment this week; he was traveling in South America with Assembly leader Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and out lesbian Susan Kennedy, Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, to study alternative-energy technologies. According to the Associated Press, the delegation will spend 12 days traveling to Argentina, Brazil, and Chile with representatives of energy companies and other Sacramento lobbyists. The San Francisco-based California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy organized and funded the trip.
Newly re-elected Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Chris Daly will be the first recipients of the SF Old Guard Leadership Award from And Castro For All at the group's gala event tonight (Thursday, November 16). Originally known as Is Badlands Bad?, the group brought racism charges against a Castro bar owner in 2004 and decried the closure of the old Pendulum bar space on 18th Street as a blow to the city's LGBT African American community.
AC4A's choice of Daly is no surprise: he attended several of the group's rallies and protests in the Castro and denounced SF Badlands bar owner Les Natali, who denied the charges against him and entered into a confidential mediated agreement with his accusers earlier this year to resolve the matter. But the decision to honor Dufty represents a 180-degree turnaround from when members denounced Dufty for not taking part in pickets of the bar and expressed disappointment in how he handled the matter.
"There is no question at various points we were elated and disappointed with the entire LGBT political leadership ourselves," said AC4A founder and spokesman John Newsome.
Nonetheless, he said, "Bevan was the first elected official to come forward to say 'I have talked with community members and looked at the data. This is a concern.' He demonstrated incredible courage and leadership. He should be commended for that."
During Dufty's re-election campaign, his opponent Alix Rosenthal attempted to use the controversy to her advantage. She attended the one-year anniversary of the Pendulum's closure and criticized Dufty's leadership in the matter during a public debate. Officially, AC4A did not endorse in the race since it is a nonprofit entity. While some AC4A members volunteered on Rosenthal's campaign, others assisted Dufty, whose contributors included the attorney who worked on the case, Julius Turman.
The dispute did cost Dufty the support of Natali, who had donated to his first campaign and held a fundraiser at his bar on behalf of the candidate. Natali was noticeably absent from this year's race.
As for Dufty, he said he is honored to receive the award and intends to continue to work at making the Castro welcoming to all in his second term.
"I grew up in the black community. I worked for black leaders most of my professional life," noted Dufty, who worked on Capitol Hill for the late Shirley Chisholm and in San Francisco for Willie Brown . He grew up near Harlem and called the late jazz singer Billie Holiday his godmother. "Seeing there is a sense of inclusion and a welcoming community in the Castro is very important to me. Certainly, it is an unfinished agenda."
First out of the gate to declare their intent to run for president on the Democratic ticket: Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack , who made his bid official Thursday, November 9. Vilsack has been making the rounds of the Bay Area of late, attending a closed-door fundraising luncheon in Oakland the afternoon of his announcement and stumping in San Francisco in October on behalf of the failed alternative energy tax Proposition 87.
Meanwhile, Democratic Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold , a strong supporter of gay marriage, decided not to run, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel over the weekend that he realized he would be a "long shot candidate" in the race.
On the other side of the aisle, San Diego area U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) discounted his long shot status to win the Republican nomination and threw his hat in the ring the day before Halloween.