The race to replace the late Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald is already getting ugly, with one of the state’s most prominent gay elected officials denouncing Assemblywoman Laura Richardson, D-Long Beach, one of the candidates in the race, as “homophobic.”
State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, is backing her Senate colleague Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, in the 37th Congressional District race. And, in the process, Kuehl sent out a letter Monday accusing Richardson of being anti-gay and urging financial support for Oropeza’s campaign.
Kuehl’s letter underscores the continuing bad blood between the gay community and Richardson over campaign mailers that went out in a Democratic primary battle more than 10 years ago. Richardson’s critics say her campaign crossed the line with anti-gay statements when she unsuccessfully ran for the Assembly in 1996.
In the race, Richardson lost in a Democratic primary to Gerrie Schipske, who is openly gay. And bad feelings from Richardson’s campaign in that race continue to reverberate.
Kuehl, who is a lesbian, sent a letter out Monday denouncing Richardson and urging recipients to support Oropeza. Kuehl said, “Oropeza has long been a friend to the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community,” and that Richardson’s earlier campaign mailers “were filled with homophobic hate speech so shocking that many of her biggest supporters withdrew their endorsements of her candidacy.”
The mailer, sent by Richardson during her 1996 Assembly run against Schipske, accused her opponent of being “committed to the radical gay agenda” and “strongly backed by ultra-liberal Santa Monica Assembly member Sheila Kuehl, the Assembly’s only openly gay member.”
The mailer was so aggressive that it cost Richardson support, said Parke Skelton, a consultant to both Kuehl and Oropeza. “A number of [Richardson’s] major supporters saw that and withdrew their endorsements,” he said.
There was no immediate comment from Richardson’s campaign.
But Jasmyne Cannick, a lesbian and an African-American political activist, says Richardson’s position has been distorted.
“Richardson is not homophobic. Ten years ago was 10 years ago, and a lot can happen in that span of time, including education and new sense of right and wrong. Ten years ago, Richardson looked at things differently as it related to the gay community and in that 10 years, she’s changed,” Cannick said.
“So is she going to be labeled as homophobic forever? Not to mention the fact that gay and lesbian issues aren’t the end all in this race,” added Cannick, an aide to Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, D-Compton.
Also Monday, Schipske, who was considering running against Richardson for Congress, withdrew from the congressional race.
In a statement, Schipske said that the decision was a difficult one reached after a “long weekend of reflection.
“Since announcing my intention to run for Congress, I have been overwhelmed by phone calls and e-mails from Long Beach residents asking that I forego my congressional campaign so that I could continue what they referred to as the ‘good work’ I had begun over this past year,” she said, adding that “I have decided my constituents were right.”
Schipske’s decision leaves Richardson and Oropeza as top candidates in the race, along with Valerie McDonald, Millender-McDonald’s daughter. The election is scheduled June 26. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the top vote-getter in each primary will face off in an August run-off, but the seat is considered safe Democratic territory.
Richardson’s supporters include Dymally, the leader of the legislative Black Caucus.