Senator Hillary Clinton likes to paint herself as an experienced Washington political warrior, and definitely looked for the same in her staff. That said, National Director of LGBT Outreach Mark Walsh may be the best gay for the campaign’s queer needs.
Though a lawyer by training, Walsh has devoted much of his adult life to getting the gay into Washington. He’s worked with former Congressman Marty Meehan, who stepped down last year after taking a hard line against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Walsh’s experience extends beyond the standard inner corridors. For example, the Massachusetts resident has worked with the gay marriage movement, as well as the Bay State’s AIDS Action Committee. Walsh and his partner, who co-own an event production company, also coordinated all of the Democratic National Convention’s 2004 happenings in Boston.
And, like so many other seasoned pink politicos, Walsh has sat on the Human Rights Campaign’s board, which no doubt came in handy in the early days of Clinton’s campaign, when the former First Lady spoke at the non-profit’s equality convention.
Yes, Walsh has proved invaluable as Clinton’s LGBT outreach coordinator. He’s also a pro at dealing with the press, deferring our editor’s potentially controversial questions to the campaign’s other branches.
For example, after the actual interview, Andrew Belonsky asked repeatedly for a comment on Clinton’s suggestion that Barack Obama be her vice-president. Belonsky couldn’t help but wonder where Walsh stood on this discussion, especially considering Obama’s public rejection of Clinton’s veep talk. Belonsky reminded Walsh that Obama leads with states and delegates, and wondered if Clinton’s suggestion amounted to “classic Clinton spin”. Walsh had “no comment to add”.
It’s not unusual for a campaign staffer to skirt questions, of course. And don’t get us wrong, Walsh offers plenty of interesting tidbits, like whether or not gay endorsements matter, how Clinton’s been fighting the gay fight for years and why we need a Democratic president.
Andrew Belonsky: Can you give us a little background on why the Senator is your choice for the presidency?
Mark Walsh: I’m just coming over my one year anniversary working for Hillary Clinton as her national director of LGBT communication.
AB: So you’re on staff?
MW: It’s a staffed position, yes. When she announced her presidency, I was on staff within a month. To me, that was really an indication that Hillary Clinton really wanted to reach out to the LGBT community and make them part of the coalition that she’s trying to build in her campaign. She’s been fighting for our community for quite a long time. When I was thinking about taking this job, I talked with several folks and leaders of the national organizations to figure out what they thought of the candidates and certainly the Democrats in this race – all of them who have been in this race – are light years ahead of where the Republican party and John McCain are on the issues.
We’re really fortunate to have great candidates, but Hillary Clinton’s really the one who’s rolled up her sleeves and done the hard work on behalf of our community. I can give you an example: when she was Chair of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee back in 2006 and as the head of that community, she was the one who worked really closely with our groups, like the Human Rights Campaign, to develop smart strategies to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment.
AB: Are you ever in communication with the Obama campaign, either during the campaign or prior? Do you know those people that work for Obama?
MW: I do know – actually last week in Texas, Tobias Wolff, he and I debated both in Houston and in Dallas in front of the Stonewall Democratic groups there. They sponsored debates with the two of us. Stampp Corbin, who I know is an advisor to Senator Obama, he and I go way back. I probably got to know him fifteen years ago, but I haven’t really had any relationship with him over the years.
AB: The Stonewall Democrats’ branches in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio endorsed Hillary Clinton. How useful are these endorsements? Do you think these endorsements are more useful for organizational purposes – these individuals can go out and help rally voters or do you think there’s actual psychological value? If a gay voter in Dallas hears that his or her local Stonewall Democrat branch has endorsed a senator?
MW: I think it has both effects. Number one, for LGBT voters to be able to say, “Look, our local political group endorsed a particular candidate”. I think that says to them that this candidate has been vetted and is with us on the issues. And, in addition to that, they can make a big difference. They can be a big help. Let me give you an example of this, in Dallas – it’s hard to really identify LGBT voters, because it’s not always asked in the exit polls, so it’s a little bit hard to identify that, but I can tell you that in the six heavily LGBT precincts in Dallas, they went Clinton-Obama 56-43. As far as the turnout, the turnout in those particular areas was 36% of registered voters where it was only 27% in Dallas county in total, so I’ve got to think that the hard work of the Stonewall Democrats and all the LGBT voters that were activists in that community really helped us. This is the kind of hard work that our community needs to be doing. If our issues are going to move forward, we need to be part of the political process. This kind of hard work is part of the political process.
AB: I’d like to talk about Samantha Power, who I’m sure you know was a volunteer for Barack Obama’s campaign and resigned last week after referring to your candidate as “monster” in an interview with The Scotsman –
MW: I can certainly get you information on our official stance on Samantha Power. I swim in my lane, quite frankly, and I’m glad to talk to you about LGBT issues and the Senator’s stance and her outreach and what she’s done, but when it comes to Samantha Power, I just don’t want to answer questions on that. Certainly I can steer you off to our press folks to talk about that, but I know she has left the campaign, Senator Obama’s campaign, she’s resigned, but I don’t really want to comment on that.