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History Eludes Transgender City Council Hopeful


[Mel Wymore, would have been the first elected openly transgender politician in the U.S., had he won the council election primary in September. September 10th 2013. Photo by Olivia Crellin]

Mel Wymore’s quest to become the City Council’s first openly transgender member was derailed Tuesday when he was beaten by fellow Democrat Helen Rosenthal.

“We set out to change the conversation around politics,” Wymore said in an email after the results were announced. “We came in a close second, but we accomplished a lot and inspired many.”

One Upper West Side resident, Mark Dooley, 53, a personal trainer, said he was relying on Mel Wymore “to keep the neighborhood and the people who made it from being overrun by developers.” Wymore, who has been a member of the Upper West Side Community Board for almost two decades, chose to refuse “without prejudice” all campaign donations from real estate companies and political action committees. The decision evidently impressed voters like Dooley.

Gender politics – Wymore’s most distinctive feature – were, however, conspicuously absent from the system analyst’s shortlist of canvassing priorities: the fact that Wymore was transgender was not even mentioned on the candidate’s website.

“We have chosen to walk a very nuanced path around my candidacy,” Wymore said in an interview at campaign headquarters. “My campaign is 100% about my record, I do not ask people to vote for me because I am transgender. However, I am open and honest about who I am and I understand how powerful my candidacy is to a number of people in the world.”

[A young campaigner canvasses door-to-door for Wymore right up until the final hours of election day. September 10th 2013. Photo by Olivia Crellin]

One inspired fan of Wymore’s is not even eligible to vote for Wymore. Still, Sarah Spohn, 44, an IT consultant from Philadelphia, travelled all the way to New York to support the campaign. “His policy on limiting storefront widths to 50 meters to protect mom and pop businesses really sold Mel’s campaign for me,” she said, giggling. “That and the trans thing.” Until last year Sarah had been living as a man.

Despite support from this demographic coming from as far afield as Florida, the strategy to play down Wymore’s transgender status seemed successful: many voters on Tuesday on the Upper West Side did not even realize there was a transgender candidate.

“I’m all for whoever wants to run, whatever group, whatever preference.” said voter Kesta Joseph, 29, when told that there was a transgender candidate in the City Council race.  “If a homeless guy wants to run I’ll support him if I think he’s the best man for the city.”

Identity politics, or rather a case of mistaken identity, may have played a pivotal role in deciding Wymore’s fate, according to his campaign.

Rosenthal, who scooped up more than 27 percent of the vote while Wymore received a little over 22 percent – despite receiving an official endorsement from the New York Times – shares her surname with New York State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. According to Wymore candidate sources, this may have had an impact.

“I’ve spoken to some voters who said that they had voted for Helen confusing her with Linda,” said Wymore’s campaign manager, Jordan Jacobs. “Linda had even come out and tried to clarify the situation herself.”

When reflecting on the narrow loss, Wymore was positive. “Paradigm shifts take time and multiple layers of communication,” he said. ““If another political opportunity comes up, my mind and my heart will be open.”

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