Mayoral candidate gains support in spite of suggestions he could not be trusted due to his sexual orientation
(Editor’s note: It has been difficult for SDGLN staff members to sit on the sidelines and not be able to report on the 2012 San Diego mayoral race because SDGLN Publisher Johnathan Hale has a personal relationship with City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, who is running for mayor. It has been particularly galling to watch LGBT Weekly blatantly shilling for its chosen candidate, who is not one of the two highly qualified gay mayoral candidates nor the lone Democrat in the race, while attacking only DeMaio and none of the other candidates. Today, SDGLN is republishing an important investigative-reporting piece by Gay San Diego, our content partner, which exposes how gay-baiting has entered the mayoral race. This is a story that SDGLN would love to write, but cannot because we uphold journalism ethical standards. This a fair and balanced story you will never read in LGBT Weekly, which resorts to distorting the truth and perpetuating falsehoods to attack and demean DeMaio and Hale while trying to advance and promote its candidate. If you believe as we do that gay-baiting has no part in politics, then please share this story with your friends.)
It was less than 24 hours before San Diego County Republican Party Central Committee members were to hold an endorsement meeting, when a cautionary e-mail found its way into each of their inboxes.
The March 10 meeting had the three Republican mayoral candidates — Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Councilmember Carl DeMaio — on the edge of their seats. A nod by the County Republican Party would potentially mean big bucks to an endorsee’s campaign. Recent changes in legislation allow for unlimited donations to local candidates, yet an endorsement would not be easy to come by.
A two-thirds voting threshold must be attained when there is more than one party candidate vying for an endorsement.
The e-mail, written by Evangelical Rev. John Awbrey of Awbrey Missions, urged Committee members to “vote no” against DeMaio and to ask him questions regarding his relationship status with publisher Johnathan Hale, including if they plan to adopt a child. The nature of Hale’s print publication San Diego PIX, and whether some of the publication’s photos could be considered morally inappropriate, was also addressed.
“They are not personal questions,” Awbrey wrote. “They are questions that are directly relevant to the type of leadership he would provide and whether he could be trusted.”
Missing from Awbrey’s correspondence, which begged “serious consideration of each candidate to ensure that our [Christian] values are represented in our towns and in our government,” were similar questions vetted toward openly lesbian District Attorney Dumanis.
Dumanis’s campaign manager Kevin Kline said, to date, neither Dumanis’s orientation nor her relationship with her partner have been made an issue in the race.
DeMaio said he was surprised to learn the e-mail was sent.
“The Committee was already well aware of my orientation,” he said. “Given our city’s fiscal crisis, I was surprised and disappointed that someone would try to make it an issue in this campaign.”
The blockage attempt proved unsuccessful; DeMaio received the Republican Party’s endorsement in the first round of voting.
San Diego County Republican Party Chair Tony Krvaric said obtaining that type of majority is highly unusual. “More often it doesn’t happen,” Krvaric said. “In this case, this is a testament to how hard Carl [DeMaio] has been working these past years to bring fiscal reform to the City and the region.”
A March 2012 poll conducted by Competitive Edge Research and Communication found DeMaio to be the current frontrunner in the race with 25 percent of the vote, “more than twice as high as any of his Republican competitors,” it stated. He is followed by Congressmember Bob Filner (D-San Diego), with 20 percent; Assemblymember Fletcher (R-San Diego), with 11.5 percent; and District Attorney Dumanis (R-San Diego), with 10.9 percent. Of those polled, 31 percent said they are unsure who they will support in the primary election on June 5.
Associate Director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center at the University of San Francisco and former political consultant David C. Latterman said it is not uncommon to see negative campaigning pick up in the weeks leading up to an election. Negative messaging geared toward making a frontrunner look bad, he said, is also to be expected.
What does surprise Latterman, though, is the tactic of using a candidate’s sexual orientation in an attempt to discredit their campaign.
“Using the fact that [DeMaio] is gay as a political issue is just sad and it’s unfortunate that someone used this as a campaign tactic,” Latterman said. “If you’re a bigot and a true social conservative, hit [both gay candidates].”
Attempts to contact or locate Rev. Awbrey were unsuccessful as of publication deadline. Faith-based organizations in San Diego, including The Rock Church and Escondido-based Vision San Diego, said they have not heard of him.
The Internal Revenue Service’s list of exempt charitable organizations does not include a listing for Awbrey Missions. Additionally, despite Awbrey’s March 10 post of the same communication sent to Committee Members on a Wordpress blog, the blog has no posts prior to that date.
Questions as to whether Rev. Awbrey is fictitious are numerous. Could one of the other campaigns have distributed the correspondence, hoping that a blocked DeMaio endorsement would bode in their favor?
Dumanis’s campaign manager, Kline, said they were not responsible for the Awbrey e-mail.
Fletcher’s campaign manager, Amy Thoma, also denied involvement. Thoma said they were not aware of the e-mail prior to the Central Committee vote.
A supporter close to his campaign, however, indicated otherwise.
“I’m not comfortable discussing details of a personal conversation I had with [Fletcher],” he said, “but yes, I did speak with him about this e-mail before the vote.”
Thoma also said the Fletcher campaign does not believe sexual orientation is or should be an issue in the race. “The choice for mayor is about who is best-positioned to be an effective leader,” she wrote in an e-mail, “someone San Diegans can trust to get things done and move things forward.”
Some signs, however, show the Fletcher campaign may be shining a spotlight on DeMaio’s sexual orientation, a practice referred to in some political circles as “gay-baiting,” in an attempt to court conservative and undecided voters.
In an open letter posted on March 8 on sdrostra.com, two days before the endorsement vote, Fletcher expressed concern that DeMaio may push LGBT social issues if elected.
“I know from conversations with many of you that Carl DeMaio tells you he will never advocate or push social issues related to sexual orientation,” Fletcher wrote, noting his strong Christian faith and commitment to family values. “However, this doesn’t square with statements and commitments he makes in other communities.”
DeMaio said, while his orientation is part of who he is as an individual, it does not define him publicly. “What defines me in my public role is my advocacy of ideas to reform government and make it accountable to the people,” he said. “I want to make our city a success again.”
Whether DeMaio’s endorsement by the San Diego County Republican Party holds much weight remains to be seen. Political consultant Erica Holloway pointed out party endorsements “aren’t everything,” she said. “Lots of people win without them. [Mayor] Jerry Sanders is a great example.”
Although the true source of the Awbrey e-mail and the reasoning behind its sole focus on DeMaio may never be known, Latterman believes it was rooted in desperation.
“Using sexual orientation as a wedge is really disingenuous,” he said. “It was useless, wrong and utterly ineffective. It sounds like a move of desperation by someone who doesn’t think they can win this race.”