Atlanta’s Best Kept Political Secret

It seems very quiet on the political front these days, considering there is a statewide primary election in less than sixty days. With the exception of the TSPLOST vote that seems to garner more attention in the media than the streets, there are no other statewide races on the ballot this year to generate the typical election year buzz. Don’t let the quiet fool you. There’s more political action than meets the casual observer’s eye. Just look for the political operatives in the go-to races this cycle, which is especially the case in one specific community in Metro Atlanta.

President Obama kicked off LGBT Pride Month with a video message to Americans. This was done shortly after his statements about gay marriage. As evidenced by the President’s actions, there is little doubt that the LGBT community is a significant voting bloc, with growing political impact, especially here in Atlanta. However, the political operatives that focus on this community have traditionally flown under the radar.

During citywide elections in Atlanta, much is always made of the Maynard Jackson machine. According to local media and others, a political machine is described as a group of neighborhood leaders, power brokers and elected officials who galvanize their support to elect their candidates. There is little truth to this Jackson machine myth, but it is often repeated. The same cannot be said for the political clout and organization in the LGBT community. It’s alive and growing.

There is a small group of power players in the Atlanta LGBT community who have helped elect almost every openly gay candidate in the state of Georgia and coalition candidates for the past three decades. Names like Cathy Woolard, Alex Wan, and Joan Garner may be familiar because they are elected officials, but they got their political feet wet through this LGBT organization. Others like Ken Britt, Glen Paul Freedman, Jeff Graham, Paul Horning, Michael Brewer, Beth Schapiro, and Gary Cox might not ring a bell to most people, but if you want to understand the clout and political acumen of the LGBT, spend a few hours with this group and their friends.

The political clout of the LGBT community is important because they are very good at getting first time candidates elected. Look no further than Cathy Woolard to see the significance in this task. Four years after she became the first openly gay elected official in the state of Georgia, she ran and won the City Council Presidency against formidable opponent Michael Julian Bond. Only three years after that, she ran for Congress. Even though she lost her congressional run, she proved that a gay candidate could win a citywide election and make a serious run for higher office.

In 2012, there are a record number of contested races that include gay candidates. These include State representatives Simone Bell, Rashad Taylor, and Britt just to name a few. In the past the LGBT community has consolidated their support around openly gay and gay friendly candidates to insure their concerns are reflected in public policy. If all, or most, of these candidates win, it will be further evidence of the political clout of the LGBT community because many of these races include large portions of areas outside of the traditional LGBT community. If they are successful this year, these candidates and their advisors will be political players on a grander stage in the future.