Mark Walsh Works For Hillary Clinton’s Campaign

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.

[We’ll never get tired of this snap of Hillary Clinton’s last gay pride march. Guess which team these boys are on…]
AB: Okay. Back to “LGBT issues” – when Barack Obama released those ads – we can’t measure whether or not they’re useful, but what was your take on those ads when you heard about them?

MW: Well, as a gay person I think it’s terrific when any candidate reaches out to our community in the ways that they think they should, but our approach has been very different. Hillary Clinton has taken the approach to continually speak directly to the community, to go to our organizations, to speak to the LGBT press – I’ll give you an example, one of the first things I did last year was that Hillary Clinton went to the Human Rights Campaign equality convention.

She was the only candidate for president who actually went to the group here in Washington and gave a speech and talked about LGBT equality. She has consistently given interview to the LGBT press and I think if you look at the reaction about that, it’s been very good. She’s not afraid to answer the hard questions. She was interviewed by The Advocate back in October, she was interviewed by the Washington Blade in February. She was interviewed by Logo TV in early February.

AB: Do you have any roll in setting all of this up?

MW: Of course. I mean, I think that’s – I don’t want to take credit for this, I give Hillary Clinton credit for doing these things, but we work hard to speak to the LGBT press and that’s the way we work out. She talked to the Dallas Voice and Gay People’s Chronicle

AB: She should talk to Queerty!

MW: Well, she’s working hard, she’s talking – we make it a point to make sure that, you know, Hillary Clinton speaks to the community and speaks to them directly. But, you know, Senator Obama wrote an open letter to the community in late February, but we had actually done one on February 3rd, so I feel like we’re reaching out, we’re doing the right thing to address the concerns of our community.

AB: With regard to those interviews you set up, they were almost all newspapers. Do you still see newspapers as a viable way to get a message across or it the press reaction to those – the press word of mouth around those interviews?

MW: You know, I’m not a press person, so I don’t feel qualified to answer questions about press strategy, but I can tell you we have done it in many ways – we have done print interviews, she did Logo TV – she gave them an interview on their news program – she’s also done it with independent press releases. We’ve done things like announced our national steering committee. We used our website. Around the Logo/HRC presidential forum back in August, we also did an LGBT watch program and LGBT Americans for Hillary was right on our website. So, we had a strategy in reaching out. She talks about LGBT issues in her appearances. On February 4th, we did this national town meeting where the Senator took questions from across the country and one of the questions was about LGBT equality and she was thrilled to be able to answer that as part of her voices across America.

AB: Did she release an official statement during the ENDA crisis in Congress last year? I can’t recall.

MW: When you say official statement…

AB: Did she take a stance?

MW: We say this on our website, we’re for a fully inclusive ENDA and what we really need to do to get it passed, to get a fully inclusive ENDA, is to change our president, because we’re going to fight this year, clearly. Whether it’s heard by the Senate, I don’t know. Certainly Senator Kennedy, he’s the head of this committee and will make that decision about where it goes, but certainly we want to push for a fully inclusive ENDA, but really that’s only going to happen when we have a Democratic president.

AB: And what if Hillary doesn’t win the nomination?

MW: That’s not going to happen.

AB: I appreciate your optimism.

MW: You know what? We’re focusing on the next election that’s in front of us. The “what if’s” is a nice parlor game, but it’s not worth the energy.