UPDATE! Linda Stewart responses to Watermark's endorsement

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UPDATE! In his endorsement, Tom Dyer called upon County Commissioner Linda Stewart to endorse Bill Segal for Orange county mayor. Scroll down to the bottom of the article to read her response.

The race to replace Rich Crotty as Orange County Mayor has been the hot topic at LGBT gatherings I’ve attended lately. Crotty has held the position for eight years. As the most powerful elected official in Central Florida, his low-key connectedness has defined local politics. 

But change is coming, in the person of either former Commissioner Teresa Jacobs or sitting Commissioner Bill Segal. Jacobs, a Republican, is a detail-oriented administrator who earned praise for principled independence but often frustrated fellow commissioners. Democrat Segal is a pragmatic progressive, willing to compromise to keep the ball bouncing forward.

Regardless of the outcome, this important election will alter the local political landscape, as well as prospects for further LGBT equality. For that reason and others, I’m befuddled that so many in our community remain ambivalent about their vote.

Bill Segal will be a wise and compassionate Orange County Mayor, and he will be a quiet force for LGBT equality in the same mold as Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. He’s demonstrated his leardership qualities in the recent push for a Human Rights Ordinance. Jacobs has many commendable qualities, but her support of our community is equivocal and intellectually tortured.  

If you don’t think your vote matters, Orlando Sentinel editor Jane Healy has a different opinion. In a Sept. 19 column about Segal’s election chances, she reminded readers: “A strong turnout by gays propelled Buddy Dyer into the mayor’s seat in 2003.”  

As Watermark publisher I had the opportunity to interview both Jacobs and Segal, and question them at length about LGBT and other issues. The full interviews are available – Teresa Jacobs, Bill Segal. These outtakes highlight the vast difference in their perspectives:
    
On a countywide Human Rights Ordinance:
Teresa Jacobs: I struggle with the issue of requirements for private employers, especially in this economy. I don’t think we need more regulation, so I would set that aside in the ‘largely undecided’ camp.
Bill Segal: I think it’s a fairness issue. We need to do it. You can’t exclude people from basic civil rights based on monetary concerns. It’s that important. And major employers, big companies—the Googles, the JetBlues—look at this before they make decisions to relocate or expand in a given locale. It’s one of their basic measures of a community’s livability.   

On partner benefits:
Jacobs: I’m still wrestling with the issue. Philosophically I think we should do it. But I want to know the cost, and I want to ensure these are bona fide relationships. We have serious budget problems right now, and health care expenses are a huge part of the budget. So let’s understand the financial implications of expanded coverage first.
Segal: I’m for it. I hope we can get it done with the HRO, and I don’t think it’ll be all that difficult to monitor. The county is self-insured, and through an audit we just found close to 500 ineligible people receiving benefits whose names had to be purged. Obviously there have to be benchmarks, but if people are truly committed to each other they shouldn’t be difficult to establish so that we can get it done for them. The City of Orlando does it. Disney does it. We can do it.

On adoption by gays and lesbians:
Jacobs: I think the person in the equation whose rights and interests have to be respected above all else is the child, not the parents. And I’m not convinced that, as a society, we have arrived at a point where a child that grows up in a same-sex household will not be ridiculed and persecuted. I think the best interests of the child are best served by giving them the best chance at a successful life.  
Segal: My position is based on the fact that I know so many worthy gay couples, and I know the great need in this community for adoptive parents; especially for some of the older kids that get moved from foster home to foster home. How can we not allow qualified and loving people who want to provide homes for these kids to adopt them? It’s vital!

On same-sex marriage and Amendment 2:
Jacobs: I think that ‘marriage’ is a term for husband and wife. It doesn’t mean I’m against civil unions or domestic partnerships, but I believe marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. Maybe that goes back to my religious beliefs. But I also think the benefits of marriage ought to be available for domestic partners for whom marriage doesn’t apply.
Segal: I voted against Amendment 2, gave money to fight it and went to events opposing it. There should not be a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Florida. Again, the same economic issues apply. Granting same-sex marriage rights would be up to the legislature. It’s not something we’ll likely vote on at the county level. If we do I’ll come out with a position. It’s a hot button issue, and right now I don’t have to. I need to be elected Mayor of Orange County so that I can do good things for good people.

Since my Aug. 12 interview with Jacobs (the Segal interview was conducted Sept. 15), people have told me her views are evolving and more moderate than those expressed. But Jacobs was a no-show at the Metropolitan Business Association’s LGBT candidate’s forum. And in the midst of a heated election she chose to skip last weekend’s Come Out With Pride.

Most compelling to me, though, is Jacobs’ defense of her vote for Amendment 2 and support for the now-unenforced adoption ban. How can I be complicit in governance by someone who sees me as less than equal, less than fully human? Or worse yet, who can’t understand why her positions make me feel that way?

Trust me: Bill Segal gets it. If you have reservations, visit his web site and learn about his impressive lifetime commitment to local good works. I urge you—and including Commissioner Stewart—to support Bill Segal for Orange County Mayor.

Linda Stewart’s response:

I am writing to respond to the Watermark’s endorsement of Bill Segal for Orange County Mayor, and its call to me to support this endorsement. I have previously publicly explained why I am not endorsing Bill Segal for Mayor. I am writing to explain more specifically here, because I feel that the Watermark’s article endorsing Bill Segal was inaccurate and misleading as to some factual assertions, and because I believe that it unfairly targeted me, and any member of the LGBT community supporting Teresa Jacobs, as somehow betraying the LGBT community. First of all, I believe this implication towards me is unfair and unjustified, as I have been the LGBT community’s biggest supporter on the Commission for the human rights ordinance and domestic partner benefits, as recognized by being named the 2010 recipient of Equality Florida’s Voice For Equality Award. I also believe this implication towards supporters of Teresa Jacobs is patently untrue, as the record clearly reflects that both Bill Segal and Teresa Jacobs are supportive of the LGBT community on the issues within the jurisdiction of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, but less than perfect on other LGBT issues. And I strongly disagree with Bill Segal’s environmental record, which is a critical issue for the future growth and success of Orange County.
 
First I will address the LGBT-specific issues. Here are the facts:
 
1. In 2006, when both Teresa Jacobs and Bill Segal were on the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, both Jacobs and Segal voted to amend the County Housing Ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity in its anti-discrimination provisions. 

2. Early this year, I began to push the Mayor and Commission to implement additional LGBT anti-discrimination protections, in the context of employment and public accommodations (a Human Rights Ordinance, or HRO), and also advocated consideration of implementing domestic partnership benefits for County employees.  After the primary election in August of this year, Commissioner Segal joined my efforts advocating for passage of the HRO and domestic partner benefits. Teresa Jacobs, although no longer in office as a Commissioner, assisted my efforts in numerous ways, including publicly announcing her support for the HRO and personally contacting Mayor Crotty and several Commissioners to express her support.   The HRO is currently scheduled for a vote by the Commission on November 23 and is expected to pass.  I think it is fair to say that the HRO would not have advanced without the efforts of both Teresa Jacobs and Bill Segal, and I am grateful to both of them for their efforts in this regard.

3. Teresa Jacobs and Bill Segal have both expressed support for the concept of domestic partner benefits for County employees and both have committed that, if they are elected Mayor, they will give priority to scheduling a workshop to work out the details of implementing a domestic partnership benefits plan.
 
4. Bill Segal participated in the parade at the recent Come Out With Pride event at Lake Eola. Although Teresa Jacobs did not participate in the parade, contrary to what was reported in the Watermark she was present at Come Out With Pride, walking around the lake wearing her campaign shirt talking to people.
 
5. Unfortunately, both Teresa Jacobs and Bill Segal do not support marriage equality for LGBT citizens, and I am very disappointed in both of their positions on this issue. Also, although Watermark reported some prior comments by Teresa Jacobs indicating she supports the adoption ban, I believe that she has changed her opinion about this issue after taking time to study it and speak to many people in the community about it.
 
Outside of LGBT issues, I cannot and will not support Bill Segal because of his environmental record. He wanted to draw down the lakes, sue the water management district to make them approve an application to do so, and use that water for watering Narcoossee Road’s landscape; he voted for expansion of the urban service area by at least 5000 acres and pushed to put urban development into rural settlements; he has not been supportive of proposals on water quality issues; he did not support the winter reduced watering; and has not been a good steward of our wildlife corridors. I also believe that Bill Segal has not demonstrated any experience or capacity to bring jobs to Central Florida. And I believe that he  exercised  extremely poor judgment in attending lavish “men-only” cocktail parties funded by lobbyists.

I also have areas of disagreement with Teresa Jacobs, and am still discussing those issues with her in hopes of advancing my positions, which is why I have not yet endorsed her either. That being said, I do not understand why anyone would be “befuddled” that members of the LGBT community might support her. I hope that all members of the LGBT community, and the community at large, take the time to learn the facts about these 2 candidates’ records, and then decide for themselves who they support to be Orange County’s next Mayor.
 
— Orange County Commissioner Linda Stewart

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