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Candidates quizzed on LGBT issues during candidate forum
Candidates quizzed on LGBT issues during candidate forum
by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Candidates for Seattle City Council and King County Prosecutor fielded questions about issues of concern to the region's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community during the 2007 Greater Seattle Business Association Candidates Forum on Wednesday, September 12. Equal Rights Washington (ERW), Seattle Metropolitan Elections Committee (SEAMEC) and the Seattle Gay News co-sponsored the event at the Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Avenue in downtown Seattle.

"I think this forum shows that the LGBT community and its allies are growing their political sophistication and abilities," Connie Watts, executive director of ERW, told the SGN about the forum. "The fact that these candidates-Republican and Democrat, Gay and Straight-chose to participate shows a great deal about the strength of our community. It shows that candidates take our community and our issues seriously."

Seattle City Councilmember David Della spoke with the SGN on Wednesday before the forum began. He said he felt it was important for him to participate. "You are a very important part of the fabric of this city. I want to recognize that," he said. "Whether they are incumbents or challengers, it is important that we come to talk and allow the GSBA and the LGBT constituents they represent to ask us a set of questions."

Sally Clark, a member of the Seattle City Council and a Lesbian, agreed. "I can never take LGBT people for granted. I should always have to come and talk directly, whenever," she said. "Also, for my friends who are out here on the campaign trail with me, some of these issues are known to them and some of them are new. To be able to speak about them directly with the people who experience these things in their lives is invaluable."

Deborah Brandt, a former morning radio anchor at KUOW, moderated the discussion. The GSBA Government Affairs Committee prepared the questions. The toughest was asked of Tim Burgess, who is challenging Della for Position #7.

Burgess admits his public relations firm provided media planning, copywriting, media buying and other consulting services to Concerned Women of America (CWA), a fundamentalist Christian group that opposes equal rights for LGBT people. Further, in a January 2005 Seattle Times op-ed in response Bush's re-election, he argued that Democrats should reach out to so-called "values voters." He wrote: "We don't like abortion. We value the sacredness of marriage between a woman and a man. We recognize that not everyone agrees with us and we know the law isn't a good mechanism to resolve these issues, but moral persuasion is."

Burgess now says he made a mistake by accepting CWA as a client. "I was responsible for taking them as a client... It was a mistake, I admit that," he said on Wednesday.

He also said he recently changed his position on marriage equality for same-sex couples from support for civil unions to full legal marriage rights. "I realize I was hung up on some semantical terms," said Burgess. "Now, I support full marriage equality..."

The audience seemed skeptical and responded better to Della, who laid out a record of long support for the LGBT community during his first term on the council. He voted to provide funding to Lambert House, the Center for LGBT Health and other causes of concern to the LGBT community. He also joined his colleagues, he said, in advocating pro-LGBT legislation at the state level.

Della spoke of his commitment, generally, of being a voice for oppressed groups. He recounted an example from his own life, in which he narrowly escaped death while trying to organize cannery workers in Alaska. He was late for a meeting with his fellow union organizers who were assasinated before he arrived.

In all, ten candidates took part in the forum. Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen was the first to address forum guests. He was followed by Position #3 candidates Bruce Harrell and Venus Velazquez. King County Prosecutor candidates Dan Satterberg and Bill Sherman were next. They were followed by Della and Burgess. Likewise, Seattle City Councilmember Jean Godden sought to defend her position from Joe Szwaja, who is seeking to unseat Godden in Position #1. Finally, Clark took the stage. Her opponent, Judy Fenton, whose major issue is lewd public art, was the only candidate on the program who failed to appear.

When asked about a line-item in the Seattle City budget for LGBT tourism creation, Clark declined to commit. Citing a projected shortfall in the city budget in 2009 as a result of tax changes, she said she would be willing to discuss the issue with the GSBA and tourism bureau officials. GSBA Executive Director Louise Chernin later told the forum audience that the GSBA would be launching a new initiative aimed at bringing LGBT travelers to the city.

The 2007 general election will be held Tuesday, November 6.

Editor's Note: In a strongly worded editorial last week, the SGN strongly endorsed David Della for the Seattle City Council Position #7 seat over challenger Tim Burgess.

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