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Hayden Calls for Domestic Partners Benefits

Campaign: If elected mayor, he says, he would seek to deny city contracts to firms not offering such coverage.

March 29, 1997|JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Standing with one of the state Legislature's two openly gay members, Los Angeles mayoral candidate Tom Hayden vowed Friday that, if elected April 8, he will call on all companies doing business with city government to extend benefits to domestic partners.

Hayden, a Democratic state senator, last month introduced a bill that would require domestic partnership benefits equivalent to those provided for married couples for contractors doing business with state or local government. As mayor, he said he would emulate San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown's move earlier this year, and refuse contracts to anyone not offering such benefits. Brown's move prompted organizations such as Catholic Charities and United Airlines to launch domestic partner programs.

"This is the kind of health policy we need. It's the kind of fairness policy we need, and it's the kind of exemplary urban policy that we need," Hayden said at a press conference with Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica). "It's what we should do."

Backed by Kuehl and the Stonewall Democratic Club, Hayden has tried hard to court gay voters, canvassing patrons at coffeehouses and clubs in West Hollywood late on weekend nights. In one club, he handed a leaflet to a dancer wearing just a G-string.

But a constituency that has long lent him support now is divided: Republican Mayor Richard Riordan's high-profile appointments of gays and lesbians and participation in the annual gay pride parades and AIDS bike-rides have won him wide popularity and much financial support in the community.

"I don't think we've ever quite had anything like this before," said Jeffrey Prang, a gay political activist who was recently elected to the West Hollywood City Council. "Here you have a legislator who's considered one of the champions and stalwarts of [gay] issues . . . but then you have somebody else who, since becoming mayor, has been as good on the issues as you could expect him to be. It's a tough choice."

Even Hayden's fliers paint the choice as between "gay-friendly" and "gay-friendlier."

Riordan got less than 30% of the gay and lesbian vote when he ran for mayor in 1993, but won immediate praise less than a month later when he rode in West Hollywood's annual gay pride parade. He shored up his reputation in the community by making Michael Keeley, an openly gay attorney and longtime friend, one of his top aides, and by naming Art Mattox, a reserve police officer who is gay, to sit on the Police Commission.

In 1994, he declared a state of emergency in the city and ordered police officers to ignore illegal needle-exchange programs in order to help control the spread of AIDS. He also supported and signed an ordinance passed in 1993 that extended spousal benefits to city employees' domestic partners.

"We all thought he would be a disaster going in, and we were wrong. We've all publicly and personally apologized," said Steve Tyler, an actor and leader in Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality, which does political fund-raising. "He's just been fantastic on our issues. When I'm talking to him, you would never know that he's not one of us."

Tyler's organization raised $30,000 for Riordan--who is backed by the gay Republican Log Cabin club--at a fund-raiser last fall, and more than 100 people went to another fund-raiser targeting the gay community at the mayor's Brentwood mansion last month, Tyler said. The Stonewall club, in turn, hosted an event for Hayden this week.

Kuehl agreed that Riordan has fared better than expected, but said she wants more.

"There's a difference between 'didn't do anything bad to us' and 'failed us' in some people's minds, but not in my mind," Kuehl said. "I think if you're not out ahead on progressive issues, you've failed us. It's not enough to be 'OK' on these issues."

Riordan spokeswoman Noelia Rodriguez said Friday that the mayor "has been there for the gay and lesbian community, is there today for the gay and lesbian community, and he will continue to be there for them." But Hayden's suggestion regarding domestic partnership benefits, she said, probably goes too far.

"[Riordan] has supported businesses, at least in spirit, that have extended domestic partner benefits for their employees. . . . Certainly the fact that the city of Los Angeles has the policy in place should serve as a model," Rodriguez said. "In terms of mandating that to the next level . . . the mayor does not advocate having government become Big Brother and dictating to businesses how they should conduct themselves."

About 375 private companies, including Apple Computer and Walt Disney Co., already have the same benefits for married and unmarried couples, Hayden said. Since the city of Los Angeles adopted the policy, about 400 employees--most of them straight--have signed up, according to City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg.

Goldberg, the council's only openly gay member, said she is currently researching Brown's move in San Francisco and considering repeating it here.

Having declined to endorse either candidate in the mayoral race, Goldberg agreed with other leaders that in choosing between Riordan and Hayden, gay voters would probably focus on issues other than gay rights, such as labor, affordable housing and race relations.

"Just the fact that Hayden's a Democrat and Riordan's a Republican, in the gay and lesbian community, in this day and age, is going to cost the mayor some votes," Goldberg said.

"While it's true that Dick Riordan has a very positive reputation in the gay and lesbian community, and that can't be discounted, we look at the whole thing with a bigger-picture point of view," added Stonewall's president, Eric Bauman. "We look at the bigger picture."

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