Houston biggest US city to elect openly gay mayor

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston became the largest U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor, with voters handing a solid victory to City Controller Annise Parker after a hotly contested runoff.

Several other U.S. cities, including Portland, Ore., Providence, R.I., and Cambridge, Mass., have openly gay mayors, but none are as large as Houston.

“This election has changed the world for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community. Just as it is about transforming the lives of all Houstonians for the better, and that’s what my administration will be about,” Parker told supporters after her opponent, Gene Locke, conceded defeat.

Parker’s victory comes after several setbacks for gay rights activists. New York lawmakers earlier this month rejected a bill that would have made their state the sixth to allow gay marriage. In November, Maine voters repealed the Legislature’s passage of a state law allowing same-sex marriage there.

Parker, 53, has never made a secret or an issue of her sexual orientation. But it became the focus of the race after anti-gay activists and conservative religious groups endorsed Locke and sent out mailers condemning Parker’s “homosexual behavior.”

Locke, 61, a former city attorney, tried to distance himself from the anti-gay attacks while courting conservative voters who could tip the election in his favor. Meanwhile, gay and lesbian political organizations nationwide rallied to support Parker by raising money for her campaign and making calls urging people to vote.

Parker defeated Locke with 53.6 percent of the vote Saturday in a race that had a turnout of only 16.5 percent. 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 nation’s fourth largest city, which has a population of 2.2 million. Of those voters, 81,743 chose Parker — some 11,000 more than voted for Locke.