Fireworks at DotOUT endorsement meeting

by Sue O’Connell

Bay Windows

Thursday September 3, 2009

OK - here's the publisher's (my) conflict of interest statement regarding Monday night's DotOUT endorsement meeting.

I'm serving as acting editor-in-chief for both Bay Windows and South End News. As publisher, I've asked all the candidates for ad money though, unlike the South Boston Tribune (and other community papers), our papers' endorsement of their campaigns is not associated with whether or not their campaign places an ad. Several supporters of candidates are also advertisers.

Many of the DotOUT steering committee are close personal friends to me and the papers. And just to complicate matters, one of the candidates for mayor used to pull a paycheck from South End News.

Oh, and I chaired the endorsement meeting, although I'm not a member of DotOUT, and in that capacity, I was involved in several off-the-record planning and "Robert's Rules of Order" discussions.

Having said all this, here's my Dominick Dunne-esque essay, opinion and reporting on what happened.

Participation in South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade is both the main issue and the least important issue in this year's race for mayor.

Councilor Sam Yoon impressed me as articulate, smart, and a candidate to watch. Then he blew the "Why do you march?" question from member Mike Harrington.

Harrington asked it simply, "If the parade excluded African-Americans or Jews, would you still march?" Yoon gleefully thanked Harrington, then let us know the question was about "civil rights" (thanks for the update!), told us as an at-large councilor he represents the entire city, told us he feels our pain, and then didn't answer the question.

After years of hailing many candidates in our great state as really "getting it" when it comes to our rights, it was downright refreshing to see a candidate who doesn't get it. The members rolled their eyes at the answer, and Yoon got very few votes. I'll ask Yoon the question again in our endorsement meeting. He should have enough time to come up with a better answer.

Candidate and local businessman Kevin McCrea kicked off the event. He's got gay friends, met his wife at the 1270 nightclub of years ago, and seems to have worn leather to the RamRod. He's a smart guy who'll raise important issues, but didn't have much substance to offer on the LGBT front.

Councilor Michael Flaherty was up next, and the parade question didn't come up. Flaherty has strong support in the LGBT community (and, note to Yoon, gets it) and marches every year in the parade. As a favored son of Southie, he somehow manages a pass on this and marches with many gay supporters.

Next up was incumbent Mayor Tom Menino, undeniably the most pro-gay mayor in the nation -- prove me wrong -- who offered his thoughts on crime and education.

So where are the fireworks? The DotOUT rules and regs allowed for three votes to reach endorsement thresholds. After the third vote (and after I mistakenly announced a winner after the first vote -- I was told there'd be no math), a motion and vote suspended the rules for the night, allowing a fourth and final vote.

Menino was just one vote short of the needed number with Flaherty not far behind. There was also some movement from members to not endorse (more on that later) and someone exercised that option by leaving a ballot blank.

As is the case in most endorsement meetings, members stand to make statements for their candidates. People like Chris Horan stood for Menino, telling from-the-heart stories about the mayor's personal support after their coming out. Only one person stood for Flaherty.

Enter David Breen.

David Breen shined a light on the elephant in the room, noting that Menino gets a pass for participating in the St. Pat's parade, Breen said, by working the sidelines and attending house parties. Breen says the mayor, then, does march in the parade. This riled the mayor, who had been in jovial spirits until this point, prompting the mayor to yell from the floor -- I'm paraphrasing -- "Let's get this rumor out in the open. That's a lie and you know it. I don't march. I have friends and I attend parties."

Breen responded -- and this time I'm quoting -- "Wow, that's the first time a mayoral candidate called me a liar," to which the mayor yelled, "Because that's what you are." He would have drawn a laugh and made the point if he had yelled, "But you are, Blanche, you are," but he was too hot for comedy.

The membership voted again. Nothing changed. No endorsement. Another motion and vote from the floor to suspend the two-thirds needed to endorse. The motion failed; meeting over.

So who's right?

I'm going to have to side with Menino on this one (although losing his cool does nothing to dispel the rumors that he and his team intimidate and bully.)

Menino does not march in the parade and moreover, he tells everyone he does not march in the parade. Yes, he works the sidelines. Yes, he goes to parties. And, yes, his motorcade interrupts the parade to cross Southie to get to said parties. It's not a distinction without a difference. He uses the power of the bully pulpit to remind all that we are discriminated against every year by the powers that be in Southie. There is value in that to our community.

Flaherty does march in the parade. He is a great supporter, friend and leader to the LGBT community. I liken Flaherty's participation to that of some gay Catholics attending Mass on Sundays. They may be staunchly against the Church's view on the role of women and gays in the church, but they attend.

I think Flaherty knows it's wrong to exclude LGBT groups, but feels compelled by tradition and family to be there. What could Flaherty do other than wait for the current leaders to die off or not march? How about hold a press conference the day before the parade and denounce the leadership for their discriminatory ways? What could Flaherty do other than wait for the current leaders to die off or not march? How about hold a press conference the day before the parade and denounce the leadership for their discriminatory ways?

And why did Breen stand alone in support of Flaherty. The tally didn't budge during the four votes. Obviously Flaherty has strong support. Flaherty supporters told me the mayor was too intimidating, but I think it's less ominous than that. Flaherty is a good guy worthy of the consideration of the LGBT community (once he holds that press conference) and folks I talked to just want a change. They like the mayor, but don't want a mayor for life.

A couple of closing thoughts (read more about the other endorsements in Thursday's Bay Windows): Breen should be praised for the courage to stand on his convictions.

To those DotOUT members who didn't want to endorse because of fear of dividing the community...I assign you to watch the John Adams series, especially the Constitutional Convention episodes. This is how democracy works. To those who thought this was "contentious": it was.

But not nearly as contentious as the endorsement meeting from the early '90s by a now-defunct LGBT political group where the gay, male chair called a gay, male member a "fucking faggot," or the endorsement meeting where Lois Pines stared down anyone voting for Tom Reilly (OK, she was right).

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