Gay U.S. Senate candidate files complaint against Chicago television station

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday January 20, 2010

An openly gay U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois filed a complaint against a Chicago public television station earlier today for excluding him from an upcoming televised debate.

Jacob Meister, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat, filed a complaint against WTTW with the Federal Communications Commission. Pending the FCC's review of the complaint, a procedural necessity, Meister plans to file a federal lawsuit arguing, in part, the station discriminated against him because he is gay.

"There are very few things, at this point, distinguishing myself from the other candidates, and my sexual orientation is one," Meister told EDGE following a press conference. "I can't understand why else [WTTW] would censor my message from getting to the 40 percent of undecided voters still out there."

His spokesperson, Karen Craven, said WTTW's decision to exclude Meister from the debate, which is scheduled to air at 7 p.m. on Jan. 27, violates the first and 14th amendments, in addition to equal access provisions laid out by the Communications Act of 1934 and the FCC.

WTTW has reportedly claimed next week's event is a forum, rather than a debate, and Meister's exclusion is an exercise in "news judgment," due to low support in early polls. Meister's camp contends, however, the results stem from a poll conducted in December, before it launched a six-figure, statewide advertising blitz. Craven points to a story WTTW aired last week where a commentator said Meister "could be a surprise candidate" as further evidence he is being left out for other reasons.

"I've started an important dialogue in the race, and I hope there is a sensitivity within the LGBT community to the fact that they are snuffing out our voice," Meister added. "If this were a black candidate being excluded, that would be something people were all over. I don't understand why WTTW can be the arbitrator of who's relevant and who's not."

Following the Democratic Party's stinging defeat in the special election to fill late-U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat, the race for Obama's former seat is under new scrutiny from all sides. Meister's other Democratic competition in the race includes state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, former Urban League president Cheryle Jackson and former Chicago inspector general David Hoffman. Giannoulias has consistently polled as the front runner and is the favorite heading into the Feb. 2 primary.

Meister's complaint is only the most recent wrinkle in a tense race that has included more than its fair share of gay subplots. On the Republican side, the moderate Congressman Mark Kirk, who has held an edge over his opponents, faced allegations he is gay from challenger Andy Martin. Martin's campaign advertisements made headlines for calling Kirk gay and a "de facto pedophile."

The rumors do not appear to have taken wing, however, as the state's Republican Party denounced Martin and Kirk's far-reaching support has not wavered. His campaign announced last week it had raised $1.9 million in the last three months of 2009, bringing their funds to $3.2 million.

Rick Garcia, political director for Equality Illinois, said Martin's "vile" accusations not hindering Kirk's campaign proves "anti-gay sentiment and bigotry does not sit well with Illinois voters." He referenced past unsuccessful anti-gay candidates for statewide office--Democrat Glenn Poshard and Republicans Alan Keyes and Jim Oberweis--as further examples of Illinois' generally gay-friendly slant.

"[Illinois] has a long history - over 20 years - where no one has won a statewide office while expressing anti-gay sentiment. It doesn't work," Garcia said. "When you look at the big picture, being pro-gay doesn't mean a candidate will lose a race. Supporting gay legislation has not hurt anyone in the state of Illinois."

In line with Garcia's assertions, all the major contenders for the seat - including Kirk - have generally solid LGBT records. Giannoulias, Hoffman and Meister have all expressed their support for marriage for gays and lesbians and other LGBT-specific issues. While Jackson supports the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, she personally favors civil unions.

Kirk's campaign site contains no mention of LGBT issues, but he has previously voted against the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment and he co-sponsored the Matthew Shepard Act.

The latest poll--a Rasmussen Reports telephone survey--that compared the party front runners last month found Kirk trailed Giannoulias for the first time; 39 to 42 percent.

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.

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