Politics and Power

"So somebody goes in and buys an apartment building for $100,000, fixes the thing up, raises the rents, and sells it for $200,000. The person who buys it does the same thing and sells it for $300,000. And the same thing happens with individual homes. Washington is the one I remember best, because I lived there while it was happening. I was gnashing my teeth because I didn't have the money to get into the market there. Not just Dupont Circle, but all over -- property that nobody else would touch.

"The thing is, why would nobody else touch it? There's a good reason. Because the `average' American -- married, a couple of kids -- they have to go where there are decent schools, where the kids can go out and play. Two men don't have to worry about the kids, the schools. And you're talking about double-income family units. The Wall Street Journal really pointed this out with great eloquence. The average gay-couple income in the U.S. (gay men, that is -- no matter how you slice it, women get screwed economically) is $55,000 a year. The average heterosexual-couple income is $35,000 a year. Think of the disposable income that a lot of gay couples have, ironically in relationships that the law won't recognize.

"They can go into a place like South Beach and sink money into a place, improve it, sell it, and move out. They don't have to worry about the average city services, because they don't need them as badly. So what you have is a constant progression. Gay people move in, or lesbian people move in, they improve the neighborhood. In the process of this, heterosexual couples move in with kids, and they start demanding better schools. And the better schools can be provided, because now it's a better neighborhood and the tax base is much stronger. The whole thing feeds on itself. What you ultimately end up with is not a `gay mecca,' which is bullshit, or a `straight mecca,' which is equally bullshit. What you wind up with is an economically and socially viable community of gay people and straight people -- married, single, whatever -- that works.

"I wouldn't want to live in a neighborhood that's totally gay. I don't now, and I won't move to one. I like diversity as much as everybody else. I enjoy my neighbors. I don't think people are rushing into Miami Beach because they think they'll live only with gay people. I think that number one, they're thinking it's economically sensible, and number two, it's a comfortable environment, a place where they can live without being harassed or hassled. This is the problem with the cops there. That's why people on the Beach won't take that any more, because they didn't come for that. They know they live in a community that is, in some areas, predominantly homosexual, and they're not going to be treated like the minority.

"And we can get that by voting. We've had at least one candidate from each one of the commission races and the mayoral race -- and in fact more than one in most of them -- contact us asking for our questionnaire, and looking for our endorsement, because they know the potential voting power of the lesbian and gay community."

What do you do when you've offered your support and a candidate doesn't want it? Or is afraid that it will do his or her campaign more harm than good? For a gay and lesbian political group, endorsing candidates is a double-edge proposition. This past fall, the Dade Action PAC endorsed Alex Penelas in his race against incumbent Metro Commissioner Jorge Valdes. The Action PAC endorsed other candidates, too, including commissioners Sherman Winn and Joe Gersten. But Penelas was young and unmarried, and word got out that the Valdes campaign planned to use the endorsement in radio spots emphasizing that Penelas was supported by homosexuals. When Action PAC members got in touch with Valdes, according to Baldwin, the commissioner said, "No, no, no, I won't do that, that's dirty pool." The day before the election -- which Penelas won -- the Valdes campaign distributed a flyer that reproduced the Action PAC's endorsement. It circled Penelas's name, circled the words identifying the PAC as "gay and lesbian individuals," and drew a line between the two. Says Baldwin: "It stinks, a real smear tactic."

Part Four

It's not difficult for Baldwin to envision an election in which gay rights becomes the main campaign issue "because the other candidate is a yahoo." When the Action PAC offered its support to Gary Gerrard, they did so on the condition that he had to accept it publicly. No hush-hush efforts to get out the gay vote; no resorting to the subtlety of palm cards on election day. Baldwin says Gerrard wanted to accept the endorsement, but his campaign had a great deal of trouble with it. "Saying to a politician, `Gee, I understand why you would not want us to publicly endorse you,' is saying to him, `Yeah, I realize that faggots can be a real problem to your election,'" Baldwin explains. "Well, that's exactly the opposite of what we want to convey. So it's a tough decision."

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