Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Helms and Herzenberg: When The Old South Met New

The Huffington Post, 10-28-08

Top McCain Advisor Learned Slime Tactics From Jesse Helms

Despite sharing the same initials and middle name "Alexander," Jesse Helms and Joe Herzenberg were very different. Helms was a bigoted, heterosexual, Southern Baptist, extreme right wing Republican who used divisive politics to keep himself in power for five U.S. Senate terms. Herzenberg was a tolerant, gay, Jewish, staunchly liberal Democrat who spent his life standing up for progressive ideals.



Jesse Helms and Joe Herzenberg

Yet they were both historic politicians who bookended the Old and New South. Helms, who died last summer at age 86, was the last unapologetically racist politician of the segregation era. Herzenberg, who passed away one year ago today at age 66, was elected to the Chapel Hill Town Council two decades ago as the first openly gay elected official in the former Confederacy. And in 1984, their paths memorably crossed during the epic Helms-Hunt U.S. Senate race.

That year, Helms used shameful hate mongering against Herzenberg, his partner Lightning Brown, and the rest of North Carolina's gay and lesbian community to eke out his narrow re-election against sitting Gov. Jim Hunt. Helms had been getting decreasing mileage out of race-baiting, drawing heavy criticism for his filibuster against the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday a year earlier. So he found a new bogeyman - the homosexual menace.

GOP operatives like Lee Atwater whose names are synonymous with slimy politics cut their teeth working on Helms' campaigns. During the '84 race, one of the top Helms aides responsible for implementing this gay-bashing strategy was Atwater's mentor, Charlie Black. Black was neck deep in the planning behind every one of Helms' infamously racist and divisive election bids. He went on to a long lobbying career representing disgraced foreign dictators like the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos and Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire. Black currently serves as a senior advisor to John McCain's presidential campaign, and the results of his most recent handiwork have become evident as the McCain-Palin message has swerved disgustingly into the gutter.



McCain and Black confer aboard McCain's campaign plane

Headlines screaming "Jim Hunt Is Sissy, Prissy, Girlish and Effeminate," and asking, "Is Jim Hunt homosexual?...Is he AC and DC?" appeared throughout 1984 in a free newspaper called The Landmark, a virulently anti-gay publication printed in Chatham County, N.C. The paper's homophobic publisher, Bob Windsor of Chapel Hill, was a cog in the Helms machine.

The stories ran alongside paid ads for Helms' re-election campaign, and hundreds of thousands of copies of the paper were distributed around the state, particularly in rural areas. Its press run increased dramatically in the weeks leading up to Election Day. The Landmark was funded by shadowy national Helms backers, part of the religious right that played a key behind-the-scenes organizing role in Helms' campaign.

That June, the N.C. Republican Party held a press conference to accuse Jim Hunt of a "gay connection" because gay donors had bought 100 of 700 tickets to a Hunt fundraiser in New York, and Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, leading Senate sponsor of a gay rights bill, had held a fundraising dinner for Hunt in Boston. The next day, Helms supporters paid to have a Landmark story reprinted as a large ad in the Raleigh News & Observer, accusing Hunt of "accepting a $79,000 contribution from Gay Activists."

Posing as reporters for the black and gay press, right-wing operatives made and taped phone calls to gay Hunt supporters around the country. Articles based on distorted excerpts from the phone calls were then published in issues of The Landmark.

Herzenberg and Brown were the smear campaign's N.C. poster children, targeted because they had helped co-found the Lesbian and Gay Democrats of North Carolina two years earlier, and were both vocally campaigning for Hunt. According to Lightning, one caller "asked about my fund raising for Hunt. The details ended up in The Landmark right away - it was frightening."



Besides running made-up stories that slandered Herzenberg and Brown relentlessly, including accusations that they had started a Chapel Hill NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association) chapter and were secretly "porno kings," The Landmark also published their home addresses and did everything possible to incite violence against the two of them. No wonder, as gay activist Mab Segrest recounted in an article on the Senate race, that "Brown and Herzenberg were subjected to more than a dozen separate incidents of intimidation, vandalism and harassment...for their work within the Democratic Party."

In a 1984 interview with the Independent Weekly when Herzenberg and Brown were awarded two of the Indy's first-ever Citizen Awards, Brown told of how "two people even threatened to kill me on Rosemary Street" in Chapel Hill. Herzenberg called the attacks "very disruptive and at times painful." Asked if he had been scared, he admitted, with a subtlety that testified to his courage, "At moments."



In September, The Landmark published an interview with Helms in which he called homosexuality "a perversion and a crime." He described the gay movement as a "threat to the morals of our young people" and to "the ability of our population to reproduce itself...jeopardizing the very survival of the nation."

Helms was eventually forced to publicly distance himself from The Landmark after the paper published its most sensational charges accusing Jim Hunt of having a lover who was a "pretty young boy."" But he was well aware of how the paper was being widely distributed on his behalf. Helms betrayed himself on this point during a televised debate.

Although both were known in Triangle political circles, and in the state's gay community, the only actual media coverage of their status as gay activists was through The Landmark's smear campaign. But in one of their four debates, Helms twice gay-baited Hunt by thundering, "You're supported by people like Joe Herzenberg and Lightning Brown!" Herzenberg considered the moment he was publicly outed to have been when Helms announced his name on statewide television.

In the wake of his sliming by Helms' hateful tactics, Herzenberg decided he was out of the closet for good. His political activism and organizing flourished. He was elected as an openly gay Mondale delegate to the 1984 Democratic National Convention. He helped organize North Carolina's first Gay Pride Parade in 1986. He ran for the Chapel Hill Town Council as an openly gay candidate in 1985, and again in 1987 before he was finally elected.



Herzenberg was arguably the first gay candidate in U.S. history elected to office outside an urban area or historically gay enclave, and he did it by assembling a broad-based progressive coalition. His election was an important symbol of how the South was changing, and in some ways, Jesse Helms and his repugnant minions like Charlie Black made it possible. Joe Herzenberg would have been thrilled to see the political landscape one year after his death, only one week away from the election of Barack Obama and a historic repudiation of the politics of division and hate.

Digg!

1 comment:

ge said...

Thank you for posting this. It must not be forgotten.

I'll never forget that in the middle of a Hunt-Helms debate when Helms, apropos of nothing, suddenly said, "Joe Herzenberg and Lightning Brown of Chapel Hill." That's right, it was a sentence fragment, no verb. Just guilt by association.

I got to know Joe and Lightening when I was on the board of the local ACLU chapter and am proud to said that we all went to that first Gay Pride march in Durham.

And the little American rainbow flag that Lightening gave me remained on my bumper long after his death until my car was totaled.

Thanks for the memories and history.

Tags

$400 haircuts (3) 1980s (1) 1984 (1) 1988 elections (1) 1989 (1) 1990 elections (2) 1992 elections (1) 1993 (3) 2000 elections (3) 2004 (7) 2004 elections (2) 2008 (32) 2008 congressional races (2) 2012 elections (2) 2014 elections (1) 527 groups (1) 9/11 (4) 9/11 first anniversary (1) Abba Eban (1) abortion (3) action alert (4) activism (1) advertising (2) advocacy (1) affair (4) Affordable Care Act (1) affordable housing fund (1) afghanistan (2) Age of Obama (1) AIDS (1) AIDS victims (2) AIPAC (1) al gore (2) Al Sharpton (1) Alec Guettal (3) alienation (2) alternative energy (10) Alzheimer's (1) amanda marcotte (2) American Left (1) Amnon Rubenstein (1) andrew young (3) Angelo Robinson (1) anti-communism (1) anti-gay bigotry (1) anti-gay violence (1) anti-immigration activists (2) anti-Semitism (1) anti-war (6) appeal to southern voters (1) apprentice (1) Ariel Sharon (1) Ashley Todd (2) assassinations (1) attack ads (3) attack on voter rights (4) Australia (1) average Americans (1) baby boomers (1) baby formula (1) bank of america (1) bankruptcy reform (1) barack obama (24) Barry Commoner (2) BBC (1) Benjamin L. Ginsberg (1) Bensonhurst (1) Beth Ising (2) bi-racial coalition (1) Biden-Palin Debate (1) big money (1) bigotry (7) bill clinton (6) bill donohue (1) Bill Hedrick (1) Billy Bragg (1) Black Cultural Center (1) black voters (6) Blan Holman (1) block the vote (1) bloggergate (1) bloggers (1) blogosphere (1) Bob Dole (1) bob johnson (1) books (2) Borders (2) BP (2) Brad Blog (1) Brad Friedman (1) budget deficit (1) bush (7) Bush Administration (2) bush administration misconduct (2) bush donor (1) bush on steroids (1) bush v. gore (1) California (1) campaign feud (1) campaign finance reform (3) campaign gaffes (2) campaign scandals (4) can edwards win (3) canvassing (1) capitalism (2) Catalyst (5) censorship (5) Cesar Chavez (1) Channel One (1) chapel hill (6) chapel hill town council (3) Charlie Black (1) Chatham County (1) chemical industry (2) children (1) chris hughes (1) Chris Whittle (1) Christine O'Donnell (1) CIA recruiting (1) citizen participation (1) civil disobedience (2) civil rights (7) civilian casualties (2) Civitas Institute (1) class issues (1) Clear Channel (2) Clinton Administration (3) code words (1) Cold War (1) colin powell (1) Colin Small (1) college campuses (2) colonialism (1) columbia (1) community reinvestment (1) community reinvestment act (1) concentration of mass media ownership (3) Concord (1) congress (4) conservation (1) consumer fraud (2) consumers (2) Coors (1) corporate accountability (8) corporate influence (4) corporate media (1) corporate misconduct (7) corporations (8) counter-inaugural (1) CRA (1) cra-nc (2) crony capitalism (1) cultural imperialism (1) Dale McKinley (1) damage control (2) Dana Rohrabacher (1) David Ball (2) David Brower (1) David Horowitz (1) Debbie Cook (1) demagogues (3) democracy (6) Democratic Convention (1) democratic nomination (15) democratic party (2) Democrats (2) Denis Hayes (1) deregulation (1) Dick Cheney (1) dictatorships (1) dirty tricks (4) discrimination (1) disparate treatment (1) diversity (1) divisive politics (3) Dominican Republic (1) Donald Rumsfeld (1) donald trump (1) dumpstering (2) durham (2) e-mail (2) early voting (1) economic inequality (2) economy (3) ed meese (1) Ed Rollins (1) Edison Project (1) edith childs (1) education (1) edwards affair (4) election day 2008 (1) Eliot Spitzer (1) Elizabeth Dole (1) elizabeth edwards (2) Emily Lawson (1) energy independence (9) entertaining ourselves to death (3) environment (15) environmental pollution (5) environmental racism (2) Eric Odell (2) Ericka Kurz (21) evan bayh (1) expenditures (1) exploitation of 9/11 (2) Exxon Valdez (1) factory farming (1) fec (1) feminism (1) Fidel Castro (1) field plan (1) financial house of cards (1) fire (1) Fire From The Mountain (1) firebombing (2) fired up (1) first openly gay elected official in south (1) florida recount (1) foreign policy (1) Fox News (1) fraudulent inauguration (2) Frederick Douglass (1) freedom songs (1) friend (1) fuel efficiency (1) fundraising (2) gary hart (1) gay (6) gay history (2) gay marriage (1) gay-baiting (4) Gaza (2) gen. david petraeus (1) general election (23) Generation X (1) George H.W. Bush (6) George Norris (1) george w. bush (10) Geraldine Ferraro (1) Germany (2) gerrymandering (1) get-out-the-vote (2) global warming (1) GOP (14) GOP Slime Machine (7) GOTV (2) great recession (1) greed (1) grocery store (1) ground game (1) ground zero (1) GSE's (1) guerrillas (1) guest workers (1) Gulf War (5) h+r block (1) hackers (2) Hamas (2) Harriet Ann Jacobs (2) Harris Wofford (1) Harry Blackmun (1) Harry Truman (1) Harvey Gantt (2) hate-mongering (3) hatred (3) health care reform (3) hedge funds (1) Helen Caldicott (2) Henry Hyde (1) Henry Louis Gates Jr. (1) hero (1) Hezbollah (1) hillary clinton (9) history (1) hit the road jack (1) HMO's (1) Ho Chi Minh (1) hoaxes (1) Holocaust (1) home foreclosures (1) homophobia (1) housing (1) HR 1461 (1) Huks (1) hurting communities (1) i feel pretty (1) iit’s a wonderful life (1) immigration (2) immigration reform (2) Inauguration Day 2009 (1) Incidents In The Life of a Slave Girl (2) income inequality (1) Indigo Girls (1) industrial agriculture (1) industrial revolution (1) integration (1) international relations (1) Invasion of Panama (1) iowa caucuses (1) Ira Magaziner (1) iraq (2) iraq war (4) iraq war costs (2) Irgun (1) Israel (5) Israeli Labor Party (1) Israeli-Palestinian conflict (6) James Bay II (1) James Carville (1) james watt (1) January 20 2001 (2) January 20 2009 (1) jeb bush (1) Jenn Karson (1) Jeremiah Wright (1) Jesse Helms (8) jesse jackson (3) Jessecrats (1) Jesus de Galindez (1) JFK Assassination (1) Jill Biden (1) Jim DeMint (1) Jim Hunt (3) Jimmy Langman (3) job losses (3) joe biden (3) joe herzenberg (3) Joe Sestak (1) joe trippi (1) john edwards (12) john kerry (4) John Locke (1) John McCain (15) John Moody (1) john poindexter (1) John Raese (1) John Reich (1) June 24 1973 (1) justice (1) Kansas (1) Karl Marx (1) Karl Rove (3) Ken Calvert (1) Kirti Shastri (1) Korean War (1) Ku Klux Klan (2) labor unions (1) Lakota Woman (1) Lamar Alexander (1) Larry Kissell (1) Latin America (2) Latinos (2) lazy journalism (1) Lebanon (1) lee c. wilson (1) legal system (1) lesbian (1) liberation theology (1) Likud (3) Linda Brent (2) Lisa Abbott (3) lobbying (1) Louisiana (1) love child scandal (2) macaca moment (1) Mark Chilton (2) Mark Kleinschmidt (1) Mark Penn (1) marketing (2) Martin Frost (1) Martin Luther King Jr. (1) Mary Brave Bird (1) Mary Crow Dog (1) Matt Czajkowski (1) max cleland (1) mayor of franklin street (1) mbna (1) McCain missteps (2) McCain VP (7) McCarthyism (1) McDesperate (4) media (2) media bias (2) media hysteria (1) media monopolies (3) medical insurance industry (3) melissa mcewan (1) memorial (1) Menachem Begin (2) mentor (1) merger (1) Michael Stipe (1) Michelle Bachmann (1) michelle malkin (1) middle east (1) Mike Castle (1) Mike Easley (2) military-industrial complex (3) Millennials (1) Milton Wolf (1) mission not accomplished (1) Mitt Romney (3) Mobil (2) molly ivins (1) Moral Majority (2) MOVE (1) multiculturalism (1) multinational corporations (2) mybo (1) NAACP (1) Nat Turner (1) Nathan Sproul (1) Native Americans (2) nc (4) neo-nazis (1) Nestle (1) netroots (3) New Orleans (1) New World Order (1) New York City (1) Nicaragua (2) nobama democrats (1) non-profits (2) North Carolina (14) North Korea (1) nuclear industry (3) Obama Inauguration (1) Obamacare (1) Obsession DVD (1) OCAW (1) occupied territories (2) October 28 2007 (1) offshore drilling (1) oil (10) oil industry (6) oliver north (1) Omar Cabezas (1) online organizing (1) oppression (2) oprah (1) organizing (11) ots (2) outrage (1) overconsumption (1) Palestine (1) pandagon (1) pat buchanan (1) Pat Roberts (1) Pat Toomey (1) patriarchy (2) Paul Wellstone (1) payday lending (1) peace (3) peace is patriotic (1) Pennsylvania (1) Penny Rich (1) petition (2) pharmaceutical industry (1) Phillipines (1) phony billionaire (1) PIRGs (1) PLO (2) police brutality (1) political committees (1) political consultants (1) political heroes (1) pottersville (1) President Obama (1) presidential campaign (29) privatization of education (1) pro-war propaganda (1) profits (1) progressive Democrats (1) property (1) protest (2) protests (5) public opinion (1) publishing industry (2) pulp (1) pulping (2) PUMA (1) race card (1) race relations (5) race riots (2) racism (16) racist terrorism (1) Rafael Trujillo (1) rally (1) ralph nader (3) RALs (1) ray charles (1) reading list (2) reagan's racism (1) recall elections (1) recession of 1991-92 (2) recession of 2008 (1) redbaiting (1) redistricting (1) refugee camps (1) refund anticipation loans (1) Republican National Convention (2) republican party (1) Republican Study Committee (1) returns (2) revolution (1) rielle hunter (2) Right Wing (7) right wing Republicans (4) RIP (2) rip-off (1) Robert Redford (2) Robin Hayes (1) ronald reagan (2) Ruby Sinreich (1) rudy giuliani (1) ruling class (1) rush limbaugh (2) Sabra and Shatilla Massacres (1) Sam Brownback (1) same-sex marriage (1) Sandinistas (1) Sarah Palin (13) savings and loans (1) schools (1) Scientology (1) SDS (1) SEAC (19) selected not elected (1) Senate races (1) sept. 11 (3) sept. 11 2002 (2) sexism (2) Sharron Angle (1) Sheldon Adelson (1) Shimon Peres (1) single payer health system (2) Six-Day War (1) slaveholders (1) slavery (2) Smithfield Foods (1) social movements (1) social networking (1) solar panels (1) soul music (1) south carolina primary (4) spat (1) state governments (1) Steve Schmidt (3) stolen election (4) stop bush (1) strange incidents (2) student activism (17) students (11) subprime lending (1) super PACs (1) superdelegate petition (2) superdelegates (2) supreme court (2) susan baylies (1) swine flu panic (1) Syria (1) take action (13) tax code fairness (1) Tea Party (2) terrorism (1) Terry Sanford (1) The Revolt (1) The Zionist Dream Revisited (1) these guys (1) third world (3) Thomas Frank (1) Threshold (8) tim kaine (1) Time Warner (1) tobacco industry (1) Tom DeLay (1) Tongass National Forest (1) Tony Coelho (1) Tony Mazzocchi (1) Troopergate (1) trump was born wealthy (1) U.S. power structure (2) UNC-Chapel Hill (4) undocumented immigrants (1) unemployment (1) United Kingdom (2) universal healthcare coverage (5) unprovoked war (1) UpStairs Lounge (1) uranium mining (1) US foreign policy (2) US support for Israel (2) Vandana Ramaswamy (1) veepstakes (4) vice president (6) Vietnam War (6) VOE (1) volunteers (5) vote packing (1) voter education (1) voter ID (1) voter mobilization (1) voter registration (9) voter suppression (7) voter turnout (6) voter-owned elections (1) voters (7) voters for obama (2) voting (1) voting problems (1) voting rights (1) vp (1) Waldenbooks (2) walter mondale (1) war (6) war in iraq (5) war on terror (1) war profits (1) War Resisters League (1) war toys (1) war weary (1) waste (2) wealth (1) white supremacy (1) Whittle Communications (1) Winona LaDuke (3) Woodrow Wilson (1) workers (1) World War One (1) xenophobia (1) Yitzhak Rabin (1) you're fired (1) youth (1) youtube (1) Yusef Hawkins (1) Zionism (2)

Rogues Gallery