Political Notebook: Gay congressional candidate Mark Takano stumps in SF

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday September 26, 2012
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Back in 1994 electric pink mailers arrived in Riverside County voters' mailboxes questioning if educator Mark Takano would be "a congressman for Riverside ... or San Francisco?"

Nearly two decades later Takano has a ready answer to the question. He will be a congressman for both cities. And he is using the homophobic attack of yore to his advantage today.

"This is an opportunity for San Francisco to answer back that Mark Takano will be a congressman for America, for all of us," Takano told the Bay Area Reporter during a September 13 fundraiser that LGBT and Asian American leaders hosted for him in San Francisco.

Takano's re-emergence as a congressional candidate in a race where the lack of attention on his sexual orientation is now the focus of news coverage reflects just how far the LGBT community has come in terms of visibility and political power, noted Takano.

"We will see over the next six weeks how it plays out. But my sense is if there is anything it will be a toned down homophobic campaign because my opponent has to mine Democratic votes," said Takano, 51, who is single and has served on the Riverside Community College District's Board of Trustees since 1990.

The anti-gay smear campaign, which essentially outed the public school teacher, remains one of the more blatant homophobic attacks a gay candidate running for office in California has faced over the last two decades. The mailers accused Takano of having a secret homosexual agenda and would push to extend benefits to gay couples and open up the military to gay soldiers.

Takano threw his own tough punches against his Republican challenger, then-freshman Congressman Ken Calvert, who police caught the year before with a prostitute in his car. One famous mailer Takano's campaign sent out showed a scantily clad woman in bed and asked voters "it's midnight, do you know where your congressman is?"

Calvert ended up winning that race 18 years ago by less than 600 votes. This year the veteran politician is running in a newly drawn safe GOP seat, while Takano is running in the new 41st Congressional District.

The open congressional seat has slightly more Democratic voters, giving Takano an edge over his GOP opponent, Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione. But polls show the race tight, and both political parties have made the contest a top priority as they fight for control of the House.

Another big difference this year is that Takano isn't afraid to talk about being gay or LGBT issues on the campaign trail. He recounted how he agreed to advise students at his high school who wanted to start a gay-straight alliance and drove the youth one year to Gay Days at Disneyland.

"It is a sign that changes are afoot," said Takano.

Should Takano, who is Japanese American, pull out a victory, he would be the first LGBT person of color in Congress and the first out member of the Golden State's congressional delegation. There is precedent for Riverside voters to make political history; in 1956 they elected Dalip Singh Saund as the first Asian American, Indian American and Sikh member of Congress.

Takano, who called the Democratic politician "an inspiration," said there have long been ties between the Asian and LGBT communities. He noted that it wasn't until gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), who recently campaigned in Riverside on Takano's behalf, got to Capitol Hill that the House passed a resolution apologizing to those Japanese Americans interned during World War II.

"There has long been a special relationship between Asians and gays," said Takano, whose grandparents and both parents were sent to the internment camps. "The Japanese American Citizens League became the first non-LGBT group to back same-sex unions."

Attendees at the local fundraiser said they are hopeful of seeing history be made again in the race come Election Night on November 6.

"It will be very exciting when Mark is elected. It will make a powerful statement that it is not just the Bay Area sending openly gay members to Congress," said gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who predicted it would only be a matter of years before a local LGBT person wins a House seat.

Leno later told the crowd that, "We have a perfect candidate with a perfect opportunity to break this glass ceiling."

Gay Campbell City Councilman Evan Low , a member of the Democratic National Committee, said he believes Takano's chances "are good" to pick up the seat.

"It will be really good seeing him represent the LGBT and different communities," said Low. "It is one of the targeted races to turn from red to blue, and it is critical we make that happen. It is great to see this turn out of support in San Francisco."

It was the second time Takano had come to San Francisco to raise money for his campaign since February. His financial team hoped the recent visit would net $15,000 from Bay Area donors.

Gay attorney Bob Michitarian, who hosted the event at his Noe Valley home, said it is imperative Takano has the funds he needs to wage a successful campaign.

"This is an open seat and we can capture it for the Democrats," said Michitarian. "But a bunch of super PAC money is coming into that race because the Republicans want it. He can open up a 10-point lead once he gets his message out."

Mary Jung, the first Asian woman to be the Democratic Party chair in San Francisco, pledged to help elect Takano by hosting a phone bank for him at the party's recently opened election headquarters in the Castro at 2278 Market Street.

"That is music to my ears," responded Takano. "I need you to have my back."

For more information about Takano's campaign, visit http://www.marktakano.com.


Gay Asian group backs Olague

Bisexual District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague may have come up short with the city's two main LGBT Democratic clubs but she has scored the endorsement of the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance.

The San Francisco-based group for gay and bisexual Asian Pacific Islander men announced this week that it is backing Olague in her bid to secure a full term representing the city's Haight, Inner Sunset, and Western Addition neighborhoods.

The news comes after both the Alice B. Toklas and Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Clubs backed straight African American candidates in the race. Alice went with London Breed while Milk is supporting Julian Davis.

GAPA also endorsed the re-election bids of District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar, gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos, and District 3 Supervisor David Chiu. In the race for the open District 7 seat, it went with school board president Norman Yee.

The group did not endorse District 11 Supervisor John Avalos because his campaign did not turn in the required paperwork. It is backing Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting 's bid for the city's 17th Assembly District.

Candidates who filled out GAPA's questionnaire needed a simple majority vote from its political action committee to be nominated for the endorsement. The group's board then voted to finalize the picks.



Last week's column incorrectly described San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed's record on extending domestic partner benefits to employees of the South Bay city.

While a city council member, Reed backed providing domestic partner benefits to LGBT city employees' partners and their children, but in 2004 he voted against extending the benefits to the partners of LGBT city employees who married outside of San Jose.

The online version of the September 20 column has been corrected.


Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reports on where the SF supervisor candidates stand on designating an LGBT seat on city commissions.

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) 861-5019 or e-mail [email protected].