"My, don't we look regal tonight," Nick Fish said.
Fish's declaration was directed at his former boss, Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, who did indeed possess an air of royalty, presiding over a stately West Hills living room from the vantage point of a wing-backed chair.
But the real lord of this manor wasn't in the well-appointed living room, but in his well-appointed, white-on-white kitchen.
The power magnate? Terry Bean, of course.
A Portland real-estate broker and investor, Bean has done well for himself. He's connected, thanks to his contributions to Democratic causes, but he's also not afraid to cross party lines in support of well-known Republicans, such as Sen. Gordon Smith.
Bean has also earned a reputation for throwing big parties--a lot of them. Which is why, on Dec. 17, Bean, the most politically influential gay man in Oregon, opened his home to Frank, the most politically influential gay man in Washington, D.C., for a fundraiser in honor of Frank's congressional colleague Rep. Darlene Hooley. And in keeping with Bean's rep, the shindig was one helluva party.
Having Frank headline a Bean party thrown in her honor was a smart move for Hooley, whose newly redrawn district now includes a nice chunk of Southwest Portland. Not only did the congresswoman raise cash before the holiday break, she also raised her profile among her wealthiest queer constituents despite the fact that, according to a spokesperson for Basic Rights Oregon, she has yet to take a stand on the Federal Marriage Amendment. (Hmm....)
Which bring us back to Nick Fish, who isn't gay but wields a certain amount of power in certain circles. The son of a congressman himself, Fish worked as an aide to Rep. Frank. Yet for the past two years, he has been running for a seat on the Portland City Council. Nestled inside the lair of Bean's home and chatting it up with Frank, his old boss, you might think Fish would have no problem getting either of these power brokers' endorsements.
Trouble is, there was another politician at this party--who just so happened to be gay.
Sam Adams, Mayor Vera Katz's former chief of staff, was also in the kitchen, where he was handing out buttons for his own City Council race. I asked Adams if he had sewn up Bean's official endorsement, and he answered yes. Which means the queer troops--locally, and mostly likely nationally--will likely end up following Bean's lead.
Is this kind of politics fair? Is politics ever fair?
In this council race, on one hand, we have a queer ally who would be good for business (Fish). On the other hand, we have a role-model gay guy who's been good for the political business by choosing not to bad-mouth his boss for his own gain (Adams).
I can't help it: I'm planning to vote for Adams because he's gay. When was the last time I had that choice at the ballot box? To vote for someone who doesn't just sympathize with gay issues but, by the very nature of his sexuality, speaks to me and for me.
Is this kind of decision-making unfair to candidates like Fish? Sure. He loses out--loses my vote, anyway--just because he's not gay.
I hold this position--even if I can't totally defend it--just like people who might decide to vote for a female or a black candidate just because of gender or race. This is identity politics, pure and simple.
As I watched the power-brokering going on at Bean's party, it was nice to see that gay voters--and especially gay fundraisers--have the power to change the political course of our nation. After all, Barney Frank was a gay politician when he was elected way back in 1981. He's become a master of the process, a real king-maker. Now Oregon's elected officials and candidates--Democrats like Hooley and Fish and Adams, as well as Republicans like Smith--are seeking support from us.
Maybe someday I'll feel so represented in the halls of power I won't need to always vote for someone just like me. For now, though, I still feel like gay politicians are a novelty, and I still feel compelled to vote for someone I identify with.
Perhaps someday I'll be able to move beyond identity and make voting decisions based on issues. For now, though, as a gay voter, I just want my people to keep getting invited to the party.