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Anti-Gay Strategy Backfired

Times Staff Writer

Mayoral races in Redondo Beach are usually low-key affairs focusing on local issues such as development and transportation. And this year’s runoff between two Republican candidates started off as no exception.

But in the final weeks of the campaign, a conservative group called the California Republican Assembly weighed in with a campaign mailer attacking candidate Mike Gin for accepting contributions from Hollywood Park Casino and “national liberal gay rights groups.”

The effort appears to have backfired. Gin, a former city councilman, won by a landslide Tuesday in this seaside city of 65,000. He is openly gay and a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, the state’s leading gay GOP group.

Even Gin’s opponent condemned the mailers, which he said were sent without his consent.

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California Republican Assembly President Mike Spence said his organization was concerned that gay Republicans such as Gin were trying to increase their influence in the party so they could reshape the GOP platform on such issues as gay marriage.

In November, the Log Cabin Republicans fielded a gay candidate in an unsuccessful attempt to oust state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, an openly gay Democrat. The group said then it hoped to gain a greater voice in state party politics by electing more gay Republicans.

Spence also spoke out against that campaign, saying at the time that “a majority of Americans reject the gay agenda and its assault on the family.” He said Gin’s campaign was part of the same movement.

Why would a national gay rights group such as the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund “give money ... to a little city in California?” Spence asked.

“And that’s the question we were trying to get out to voters. Why would they do that? They obviously have an agenda. I don’t think they give money away for free. They support people who support their agenda, and that’s what they were doing here.”

In the final weeks of the campaign, Gin’s opponent, Councilman Gerard Bisignano, criticized him for taking contributions from the Washington, D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. Bisignano, 49, said his chief concern was that Gin had received a donation from an out-of-state group, and not the nature of the organization.

Then the Republican Assembly mailer arrived.

“These liberal special interests are financing Gin’s campaign because he is a liberal who will continue to push his hidden agenda,” stated the mailer, which was sent to about 6,000 voters. It goes on to say how Gin, a Log Cabin Republican, withdrew his support of President Bush.

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“His reason?” the mailer asked. “President Bush supports keeping marriage as it has always been -- between a man and a woman -- and that doesn’t fit Gin’s hidden agenda.”

Gin, who was elected with 61% of the vote, denounced the mailer and his opponent’s attacks as part of a smear campaign intended to scare voters.

“The results of the election show that folks over the years have judged me on my work and my service to the community and not on the basis of my sexual orientation,” said Gin, 42.

Gin, who served two consecutive City Council terms from 1995 to 2003, said his sexual orientation had never before been an issue in the city, where registered voters are almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

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“It’s not the type of thing that I wear on my sleeve, if you will,” Gin said. “But many people were already aware of the fact that I am gay.”

Of the total $79,000 he collected in contributions, Gin got $7,400 in out-of-state donations. Bisignano and the California Republican Assembly criticized Gin for accepting money from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. The assembly also noted in its mailer a $500 contribution from Hollywood Park Casino.

Gin, who got about $3,000 from the Victory Fund group and $5,180 from Log Cabin Republicans of California, said no donor would influence his decisions. He noted that the money he got from the casino came from longtime family friends.

Bisignano said he was mostly concerned about the fact that the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund contribution came from outside California. But he said he was dismayed by the mailer.

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“I’m extremely disappointed that CRA would do an anti-Mike Gin mailer that by inference would be pro-Gerard Bisignano,” he said. “I was frankly disgusted with it.”

Bisignano said his single, $99 out-of-state contribution came from a longtime friend, who is registered to vote in Redondo Beach and is temporarily working outside the state.

Spence said the California Republican Assembly was most concerned with protecting the Republican Party platform, which opposes gay marriage.

“We support marriage; we don’t think homosexuality should be promoted in schools, and they do,” Spence said. “They have a political and sexual agenda. Our concern is about policy.”

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Gin said the GOP group’s involvement in the Redondo Beach mayoral race and criticism of outside influences is like “the pot calling the kettle black.”

“They were an Orange County-based organization -- an out-of-area organization -- trying to influence our local race,” he said. “I had quite a few [out-of-state] contributions from my friends in the Asian community, but that was never brought up as a special interest.”


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