Next election, if necessary, gay issue likely to be addressed

June 4, 2013

A few weeks before November’s election, Marie Mayor was feeling good about her chances.

Mayor, a Democrat, was running in the newly formed Representative District 20, which includes Lewes and Milton, against Steve Smyk, a Republican. She wound up losing, 53 percent to 47 percent.

“I had been told by told by two people who did polling, two elected officials, that I was leading 55 to 45 a few weeks before the election,” Mayor said.

Then came the onslaught. What began as a clean campaign turned ugly. (Mayor did not personally blame Smyk, who she said was always respectful to her.) There was nothing subtle about the attacks. They were anti-gay and came in a variety of ways:

Signs:     Mayor said that 250 of her signs were either stolen or defaced. In some cases the signs simply went missing. In others, the signs were returned to the roadside with words like liar, asshole, dyke and bitch written on them.

“They would come out at night and take them out of the ground,” Mayor said, “and they would appear the next day in a hard-to-reach area,” making it difficult for Mayor’s campaign to remove them.

Some of Mayor’s larger signs were sliced down the middle with a razor blade, causing them to fall apart. Other signs were run over and covered with tire tracks. As Mayor said, “Those signs cost money.”

Robo phone calls: Targeted phone calls, some beginning before the primaries, said homosexual candidates were coming into Sussex County “hand-in-hand” to further a homosexual agenda.

Robo calls also attacked fellow Democrats Andy Staton of Rehoboth, who was running for the Senate Sixth District seat, and Mitch Crane of Lewes, a candidate for insurance commissioner.

Home phone calls: A mailing, attributed to the Delaware Family Policy Council, included Marie Mayor’s phone number. It told people to call and tell her not to mess with marriage.

People did as they were told. “People called my home and left messages,” Mayor said. In addition to comments about the marriage issue, Mayor said, “I was told to go back where I came from.” They also called her queer, bitch and homo. Mayor considered the calls threatening and hostile, and, for the first time, she signed up for caller ID.

Emails: Republican activist Jud Bennett sent out two emails that characterized Mayor’s main interest as furthering the homosexual agenda.

“I still don’t understand what ‘gay agenda’ means,” Mayor said. “I just don’t get that. I think it’s just used to scare people.”

For Mayor, the campaign was about issues like jobs, the economy and conservation. Not everybody felt the same.

“The last week of the campaign,” Mayor said, “my experience was that almost everything was around intimidation and trying to make life miserable for me.”

It caught her off guard. For nearly 50 years, she had worked in education, much of it devoted to helping parents become advocates for their children, especially those with disabilities.

More recently she had become a businesswoman, a partner in Lavender Fields, a lavender farm and retail shop near Milton. It was as if her plentiful life experiences counted for nothing.

“To have 50 years of a career put into the context of my sexual orientation - I was surprised,” Mayor said.

One reason for her surprise was that she had never defined herself that way.

“I was married and had a wonderful husband,” she said. One day, she called to tell her husband she was coming home from work. “Twenty minutes later I got home and he had already started going into a coma. And he died. That was 18 years ago.”

“After that,” Mayor said, “I fell in love with a woman,” a situation she said is not uncommon for a person who has lost a spouse after a long marriage.

Despite her own campaign experience, which she has described as mostly positive, Mayor sees reasons for optimism.

The town historical societies in Milton and Lewes, she said, are helping to build bridges between people, including locals and newcomers.

As people get to know each other, they are likely to become less fearful. Crane, who was subjected to attacks similar to Mayor, said, “It’s not that long ago, when Jack Markell and Matt Denn ran first six years ago, that there were people down here who voted against them because they’re Jewish.” (Crane, who came in second in a close, four-way primary to incumbent Karen Weldin Stewart, also feels he lost because of an anti-gay blitz.)

Another factor is Delaware’s passing of the marriage equality bill, which will take effect July 1.

With marriage equality a dead issue for the next election, it will be harder for activists to use fear of a “gay agenda” as an effective campaign strategy.

Finally, while Mayor may not have been prepared for the last-minute attacks, that’s less likely for future candidates. Also, they will be aided by an offshoot of the League of Women Voters - but not an official part of the league - that will keep an eye on such tactics.

Said Mayor, “This issue has to be addressed up front.”

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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