Monday, August 2, 2010

Current South Bend Council will never do the right thing

Don Wheeler

Once again the South Bend Common Council decided that people who make them uncomfortable should not be protected from discrimination.  And as far as I can tell, it is solely because they are made to feel uncomfortable.

I've been involved in the effort to provide discrimination protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens for a few years now.  My efforts have not been significant, but I am witness to the incredible time and energy of  fellow citizens which should have made these protections law by now.  Even after narrowing the protection to only work related issues - we lost.

The obvious question is, what to do next.  Comrades in arms disagree about this.

Some of my compatriots hold out hope that they can persuade Karen White to be the Sandra Day O'Conner of the body to provide the fifth and decisive vote.  The record makes that appear highly unlikely in my view.

I don't see much difference in her position this time than when the broader amendment was being considered  (or almost considered) two previous times.  I suspect she has sympathy with the intent of initiative, but one would be remiss not to consider what she stands to gain and what she stands to lose depending upon her vote.

On the gain side, doing the right thing is about it.  On the loss side, there are more tangible effects.

Ms. White appears to be highly concerned with her reputation in the African American Evangelical Christian community. This community is (discouragingly) unsupportive of our efforts.  As an at-large office holder she needs this community to turn out for her at election time. 

Timothy Rouse is a prominent figure in the AAEC community, and no more dedicated opponent to GLBT equality exists - to my knowledge.  My guess is that Ms. White depends quite a bit on Mr. Rouse's support to maintain her office.  So the idea she will be the person to do the bold thing strikes me as far-fetched.   If her concern is to hold her office, there is no upside.

There are four dedicated opponents on the Common Council.  Timothy Rouse, Derek Dieter, David Varner and Henry Davis, Jr.  Rouse, Dieter and Varner could in theory be defeated, but it would be a significant chore.  But HDj is a different story.

H Davis narrowly defeated Charlotte Pfiefer in 2007 and has done little to distinguish himself since.  As one of my friends put it, he opposes pretty much everything because he doesn't understand the measure before him.  I'd say he's vulnerable.

If we could persuade Ms Pfeifer to seek her old seat, we'd have someone who not only supports equal rights in the mix - we'd also have a credible legislator.  To me, this is the logical next move.

Faced with a majority on the council favoring equal rights, it would then be possible for Karen White to join with them.

That's how it strikes me.

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