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Politics

Antigay stance loses support for candidate

The St. Petersburg council hopeful cites religious beliefs for his views.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 27, 2007


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Gershom Faulkner, a former Marine and onetime legislative assistant to state Rep. Frank Peterman, is seen as the establishment choice to replace Rene Flowers on the City Council.
[Edmund D. Fountain | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG - Two state legislators have pulled their endorsement of City Council candidate Gershom Faulkner after he told a group of local gay and lesbian political activists that people choose to be gay.

Faulkner, a Democrat running for the nonpartisan council in District 7, said he could not support what he called a gay lifestyle because of his religious beliefs, according to those who attended the August meeting of the Pinellas Stonewall Democrats.

The candidate's statements - he opposes gay marriage and adoption rights for same-sex partners - made Faulkner come across as homophobic, said Rick Boylan, the group's president.

"We were taken aback by his responses," Boylan said. "Here's a Democrat, and we're getting answers that seem like he's a right-wing Republican."

Questions about adoption and same-sex marriage are unlikely to come up in City Hall, but in a city already sensitive about how tolerant it is, Faulkner's positions carry weight.

State Reps. Bill Heller and Rick Kriseman, both St. Petersburg Democrats, said Wednesday they have withdrawn their support for Faulkner's campaign.

And Bob Sanderson, a local restaurant owner, recently canceled a $500 a plate fundraiser for Faulkner.

"I found his views incompatible not only with my personal beliefs, but the views I feel St. Petersburg should stand for," said Sanderson, who owns Bella Brava in downtown St. Petersburg.

Faulkner, when reached by telephone, did not dispute Boylan's recollection of the meeting.

However, he said on Wednesday that he is willing to learn more about gay rights issues and is open to changing his opinions.

He said he is not intolerant.

"I'm not drawing a line in the sand and saying, 'I can't work with you,'" said Faulkner, 36, the director of outreach for U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

"A lot of my beliefs are religious beliefs," said Faulkner, who is deacon at Souls Harvest Fellowship Church, a nondenominational Christian ministry in St. Petersburg. "But I also believe in being fair and hearing both sides. My religious beliefs won't hamper that."

The Stonewall Democrats asked each Democrat running for St. Petersburg City Council to fill out a questionnaire this summer relating to gay rights issues.

Two, Herb Polson and Chris Kelly, did not return the survey.

In Faulkner's response, which is available at www.stonewallpinellas.org, he said he opposed civil unions and same-sex marriage.

Faulkner also told members he would not attend the St. Petersburg gay pride parade, though much of it is in his district.

"I don't agree with, and I may be saying this wrong, the gay and lesbian lifestyle," Faulkner told the Times.

His opponent, Wengay Newton, criticized Faulkner's position. Newton, a local neighborhood association president, has been endorsed by the local Stonewall Democrats.

"I've been through discrimination. I think that persecution is wrong," said Newton, who like Faulkner is black. "If there's something wrong, that's between them and God and not between me as a candidate and them as a person."

Faulkner, a former Marine and onetime legislative assistant to state Rep. Frank Peterman, is seen as the establishment choice to replace Rene Flowers on the City Council.

He counts Castor and Peterman among his supporters, along with Pinellas County Commissioners Ken Welch and Calvin Harris and state Sen. Charlie Justice.

He has built a staff bigger than most city mayoral campaigns. And a war chest five times the size of his opponent.

At least two of his supporters, Kriseman and Heller, said they will spend the rest of the campaign on the sidelines.

"I still believe that Gershom's the best candidate. I think he'll make a good council member," said Kriseman, a City Council member from 2000 to 2006. "I'm with him on the majority of issues. But his stances on these issues trouble me."

Added Heller, "I cannot appreciate any kind of discrimination against any kind of group."

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or 727 892-2273.

[Last modified September 27, 2007, 00:43:14]


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