Two gay men running for mayor in LGBT-friendly Palm Springs, Calif., have criticized the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund for endorsing a rival lesbian candidate, saying the national LGBT group didn’t give them sufficient time to apply for the endorsement.
Their criticism, which the Victory Fund disputes, was overshadowed on Tuesday when FBI agents raided the City Hall office and home of incumbent gay Mayor Steve Pougnet.
The raid came just under three months after the California Fair Political Practices Commission, a state political watchdog agency, opened an investigation into whether Pougnet violated a state ethics law by backing a city land deal that benefited a developer he worked for as a consultant.
The Desert Sun newspaper reported that FBI agents, accompanied by the Riverside County District Attorney, came with search warrants to the Palm Springs City Hall, shutting down the building and sending employees home before examining electronic records on city servers and individual computers.
The raid also followed Pougnet’s announcement on May 8 – shortly after the state commission began its investigation — that he would not run for a third term, saying he was pleased that he accomplished all of the “milestones” he set out to do when he first took office in 2008.
On July 20, the Victory Fund announced it had endorsed three-term Palm Springs City Council member Ginny Foat for mayor, saying she was highly qualified to become the popular desert resort city’s first woman and first lesbian mayor.
The announcement came four months after gay retired U.S. Navy officer and businessman Robert “Rob” Moon announced his candidacy for mayor. Moon’s campaign manager, Geno Sexton, notes that Moon’s declaration of candidacy came two months before Pougnet announced he wasn’t running for re-election.
Meanwhile, Palm Spring’s gay former mayor, Ronald Oden, who preceded Pougnet as mayor from 2003 to 2007, filed papers to run again for mayor on Aug. 12.
Both Moon and Oden have expressed concern that the Victory Fund acted prematurely by endorsing Foat before they had an opportunity to submit the Victory Fund’s required candidate questionnaire to apply for the group’s endorsement.
Oden told the Washington Blade that as a former mayor, who received the Victory Fund’s endorsement in 2003, he clearly is a viable candidate with a strong record on LGBT issues and civil rights issues in general. At the very least, Oden said, the Victory Fund should have waited until the deadline for candidates to file petitions to run for mayor had expired on Aug. 12.
Sexton, Moon’s campaign manager, echoed that sentiment.
“I would say our disappointment is not the outcome,” said Sexton, who noted that other prominent LGBT groups also endorsed Foat. “Our disappointment is the process, which was not transparent,” he said. “And it’s disappointing when gays treat each other the same way that sometimes we accuse straight conservative groups of treating us.”
Aisha Moodie-Mills, the Victory Fund’s executive director and CEO, takes exception to that assessment, saying her organization endorsed Foat because it believes she’s the best candidate for the job.
“Like most political organizations, Victory doesn’t wait until some filing deadline to endorse candidates because it would dampen the impact of our support,” she said. “Our endorsement process is not dictated by political filing deadlines.”
Moodie-Mills added, “I think those who have had experiences with us in the past know what our process is and they know it’s kind of a rolling application process.”
Concerning Foat, Moodie-Mills said the Victory Fund has endorsed her since she first ran for City Council in Palm Springs in 2003.
“And we’ve been supporting her along the way for the entire time of her political career,” said Moodie-Mills. “So it makes sense that Victory continues to support her. She’s the best candidate. She’s going to be mayor and she’s the best person for the job.”
Foat has also been endorsed by the Desert Stonewall Democrats, a local LGBT group, and Equality California, the statewide LGBT advocacy group.
She currently serves as executive director of the Mizell Senior Center, a nonprofit organization, and is the former president of the California Chapter of the National Organization for Women.
Foat, Moon and Oden are among a total of eight candidates running for mayor in Palm Springs under the city’s non-partisan city government system. There is no primary, and the general election is scheduled for Nov. 3.
Both the Victory Fund and the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Pougnet in 2010 when he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House seat then held by Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calf.).
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