- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

HOUSTON (AP) | The day after Houston voters chose Annise Parker to become the city’s first openly gay mayor, she did just as she had throughout a contentious, hard-fought campaign: focused on the brick-and-mortar realities of running the country’s fourth largest city.

Ms. Parker told a Sunday press conference about her transition team, her plans to change the running of the Houston Police Department and the financial constraints faced by the city.

Then she paused to reflect on the significance of the election, which made Houston by far the largest U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor.

“It’s a historic election for my community, and I believe an election that will change some people’s minds about the city of Houston,” said Ms. Parker, 53. “It’s a diverse, international city that welcomes everyone.”

Ms. Parker, who began her political career as a gay activist, rose through the ranks of local politics to serve first on the city council, then as city controller.

“I realize that I’m a role model, but I’ve been a role model for my community for 30 years,” she said. “It’s part of who I am, and I believe it makes me a better representative for the city of Houston.”

Ms. Parker defeated former city attorney Gene Locke, 61, with 53.6 percent of the vote Saturday in a race that had a turnout of only 16.5 percent. Mr. Locke had hoped to become the city’s second black mayor.

A little more than 152,000 residents turned out to cast ballots in the city, which has a population of 2.2 million. Of those voters, 81,743 chose Ms. Parker - about 11,000 more than voted for Mr. Locke. About 60,000 Houston residents identify themselves as gay.

Several smaller U.S. cities, including Portland, Ore.; Providence, R.I.; and Cambridge, Mass., have openly gay mayors.

The race was closely watched by gay rights organizations across the country, which endorsed Ms. Parker, contributed money to her campaign and staged get-out-the-vote phone banks.

“We think Annise Parker will be a fantastic mayor for Houston, and the increased visibility that comes with that would help our community,” said Jenna Lowenstein, communications director for the Stonewall Democrats, a national gay political organization.

On Sunday, a glowing Ms. Parker dismissed attacks by anti-gay activists, saying they have been waging “the same ugly divisive campaigns attacking my community for a long time.”

“I’m proud that the city of Houston has grown and matured, even though they have not,” said Ms. Parker, who said she celebrated her victory with a bubble bath.

Her term starts Jan. 1.

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