Yesterday we introduced you to gay Senatorial candidate Jim Neal, pictured above with one of his two sons.
The conversation continues today with our editor getting into the nitty-gritty of Neal’s current campaign.
Andrew Belonsky: What made you stop volunteering for or fundraising for campaigns, as you did for Kerry, and actually launch your own?
Jim Neal: Well, I’ve always wanted to do it. I was a little kid and wanted to be president. I don’t want to be president right now, but I have always contemplated running for federal office. I think there were two things that prevented me from moving on it. One was that when I did come out in my early-30’s, I thought, “Okay, that’s it. A gay person can’t run for public office. It’s off the table”. The times changed and that was no longer necessarily the prevailing wisdom, but I had custody of my two children. I was a single parent raising two young children and they came first. Their needs came first. That was the most difficult job I’ve ever had in my life, but it was also extraordinarily rewarding. Raising two kids with two parents is a challenge, much less one, because you have to be both dad and mom. You’ve got to have the maternal side and the more stereotypical father role. I think I yielded more to the maternal because I felt like my kids needed that, because they didn’t have it. Even before I declared my candidacy, I spoke with both my children – my boys, they’re not children anymore – and told them what it would entail, made it clear that I was the one running for office, they could be as involved or not be as involved as they wanted to be. They both said, “Go for it,” but my older son threw in the caveat, “Dad, please don’t ever forget the little guy.”
AB: Your sexuality is not the cornerstone of your campaign, but I want to talk a little about Chuck Schumer and how things went down with your campaign announcement and what could be perceived as the cold shoulder from your Democratic peers. Do you think that reaction tacitly stressed your sexuality?
JN: Not necessarily. There was a good deal of concern – not necessarily expressed, but certainly there were folks who were part of the status quo political system that found my candidacy threatening. They felt that a gay person on the ballot would draw out social conservatives to vote against me and therefore to vote for the other candidate on the ballot. My view of that – I didn’t foresee that. It didn’t even cross my mind. Chalk it up to political naivete, but it didn’t cross my mind because I think it’s silly. It’s analogous to the so-called conventional wisdom that said a black person could never be elected or a woman, much less a Roman Catholic to the White House. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.