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Online Extra: Political Notes: Former Sen. Boxer stumps for trans Palm Springs council candidate

by Matthew S. Bajko

With the candidates for Palm Springs City Council headed into their final week of campaigning before the November 7 election, a transgender woman looking to make political history in California received a boost of momentum from former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer.

Palm Springs Planning Commissioner Lisa Middleton, a former Bay Area resident, is vying to become the Golden State's first elected transgender city council person. She is the only one of the six people running for two open seats on the council to be backed by Boxer, who decided not to seek re-election last year after serving in the federal office for 24 years.

"We want to make history here in Palm Springs with her election," Boxer said at an event for Middleton last week, "and we want to send a message to every state capitol and, yes, to the U.S. Capitol and, yes, to the White House that if you're qualified and you're a good person, nothing else matters."

Reporting on Boxer's appearance with Middleton at a local restaurant last Monday, October 23, the Desert Sun noted that Boxer doesn't live in the city - she owns a home in Rancho Mirage with her husband, Stewart, and a condo near Oakland's Jack London Square waterfront district - and thus can't vote in the race. Nor does she normally weigh in on local elections, the newspaper pointed out.

Nonetheless, Boxer said she felt it important to lend her support to Middleton, as she is "almost overqualified for this position."

Middleton had announced Boxer's endorsement October 11 in a Facebook post, writing that she was "extremely honored to receive" Boxer's support since her "start in politics was in her own neighborhoods; she was the voice of the people and the disadvantaged. I will bring the same passion to City Hall."

Six days prior the Sun's editorial board announced its endorsement of Middleton, writing that her "direct nature is a refreshing departure from the too-often-seen eager sidestepping of tough questions or answers with just enough wiggle room cravenly offered to facilitate a post-election change of position."

Both of the seats up for grabs on the council are open as lesbian City Councilwoman Ginny Foat, who also endorsed Middleton, and City Councilman Chris Mills, who is straight, decided not to seek re-election. Long a mecca for gay retirees, Palm Springs elects its four city council seats citywide, and its elected mayor is the fifth vote on the body. The three other current members of the council are all gay men.

The Sun also endorsed real estate agent Henry Hampton in the race, but noted another "worthy choice" would be attorney Christy Holstege, who identifies as bisexual according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which endorsed her and Middleton. Holstege, who earned her law degree from Stanford University, is married to Adam Gilbert, a business owner and a third-generation resident of the city.

The paper's editorial went on to note that Holstege, who also was endorsed by Foat, is "a relative newcomer to the community" and suggested she "continue her community involvement and seek elective office again in the future."

Also in the race is another former resident of the Bay Area, Robert Julian Stone, a gay man who was the Bay Area Reporter's film critic in the 1990s and early 2000s, and worked as a real estate agent while in San Francisco. He has been an outspoken critic of Palm Springs' government and its former police chief, whose department was criticized for entrapping gay men in public indecency sting operations.

Stone and another candidate, attorney Judy Deertrack, revealed in the spring they had presented information to the local FBI office about a questionable development deal that the city's gay former mayor, Steve Pougnet, had championed. It involved the sale of a prominent downtown parcel to a local developer, who it turned out, had been paying Pougnet as a consultant.

After news broke in 2015 about the payments, which Pougnet had failed to properly disclose, he announced he would not seek re-election. He was indicted earlier this year on bribery and other charges, and in early October, Pougnet and the two other defendants in the case all pleaded not guilty.

The three defendants remain free on $25,000 bail and will return to court November 8 for a felony settlement conference, according to local media reports.

The sixth candidate vying for a council seat is former Pentagon press officer Glenn Flood. The two winners of the race will be elected to four-year terms and mark a changing of the guard at City Hall, as all four of the council members and the mayor will have entered office after the scandal involving Pougnet.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes .
Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com .

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