Politics and Power

One catalyst for change has been the AIDS crisis, although Baldwin is quick to emphasize that his organization is not an AIDS PAC. "Maybe that's the reason we're at the point we are," he says. "Because so many of us have lost friends. That sounds so trite; I don't know how to give it meaning. In the past twelve months, I've probably been to twelve different memorial services for people who have died. I don't have old friends any more. I don't have anybody that I've known for fifteen years. They've all died. We are absolute wizards at memorial services. It has an enormous effect."

In this past November's elections, the PAC's first, the group concentrated on two state House races: districts 114 and 117. In District 114 (from Galloway Road to South Miami to SW Eighth Street), they backed Fran Bohnsack, a Democrat, against incumbent Republican Bruce Hoffmann. Hoffmann won the election by 112 votes. In the 117th District (from Key Biscayne to Kendall to Coral Gables), the Action PAC supported Steve Nuell in the Democratic primary, which he lost to incumbent Susan Guber. In the general election, they did not back Guber but rather a Republican, Gary Gerrard. "We did it because trying to open any sort of communication with Susan Guber was like pulling eye teeth," Baldwin says, adding that local Democrats were shocked that the PAC would endorse a Republican candidate. "But if we weren't bipartisan, we'd be a Democratic club or a Republican club. Why pretend to be a political action committee if you're not bipartisan? It destroys half your effectiveness."

Susan Guber was re-elected. But in many ways, losing was a victory. Baldwin believes the Action PAC was able to sway a substantial number of votes in the gay and lesbian community, to the extent that Guber's staff later asked the group about its interests in the legislative session. The Action PAC wanted two things: an amendment to the hate-crimes act that would include sexual orientation; and opposition to any bill that would require mandatory reporting of a person's HIV status by name, address, social security number, or other identifier. Although Baldwin says other activist groups, particularly the Dolphin Democrats and the Florida Task Force, deserve most of the credit for passage of the hate-crimes amendment, the community's interests were served, and for her part, Guber responded positively.

This fall the Action PAC will devote its attention to Miami Beach, where a new mayor will be elected and all six commission seats are to be filled. Before election day, Baldwin hopes the group can double or triple its membership rolls and, through fund-raising events, gather $10,000 for operating expenses and an additional $10,000 to support candidates. By law a political action committee is allowed to contribute up to $1000 directly to a candidate (as of January 1, 1992 the maximum for contributions drops to $500), and to independently assist campaigns by means such as direct mailings and paid political advertisements. During the first week in September, the Action PAC expects to issue its endorsements.

"We're getting out our endorsement questionnaire," says Baldwin. "We're asking things like, `Will you support a domestic-partners registration act? Will you extend city employment benefits -- retirement and insurance -- to people who are registered under an act like that?'" If Miami Beach were to pass such legislation, unmarried couples -- who comprise an ever-growing percentage of the population -- could register their partnership the same way married couples do, and the "spouses" of city employees would be entitled to the same benefits married "spouses" get. Other questionnaire items ask candidates for their opinions about the formation of a community relations board, a civilian review board for the police, and an unpaid liaison position between the gay and lesbian community and the City of Miami Beach. This last, Baldwin admits, "might sound kind of silly -- until you realize that it will ultimately become a liaison between South Beach and the city."

The Beach is an obvious target for the Action PAC. Not only are all the commission seats up for grabs, but the area's gay and lesbian population, especially in South Beach, appears to be growing faster than anywhere else in the county. In fact OutWeek, a New York-based gay publication, tabbed South Beach as a "gay mecca" in a March cover story. (Greg Baldwin, it should be pointed out, owns a house in Coral Gables.)

"Is South Beach going to become a `gay mecca'? That's a terrible question, because it misses the whole point. What you're doing is freezing a neighborhood in transition in one moment in time and saying, `This is what it is always going to be, this is what it was aimed to be.' Every community is constantly in change. And what's happening on South Beach is overdue. It's what's happened in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, L.A., New York, Buffalo, Rochester, and a dozen other cities in this country. You get a piece of the city that gets run-down, beaten up. The schools get crummy, the crime rate goes up, and what they call `undesirables' are moving in. And then somebody suddenly realizes, `Hey, you know, these buildings are not all that bad. They could be fixed up. They could look nice. We could make money on this.'

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