Chafetz loses reelection in Birmingham

By D'Anne Witkowski

BIRMINGHAM - Seth Chafetz, the first openly gay mayor in Birmingham came in fifth place out of nine candidates in a bid for four seats on the Birmingham City Commission Nov. 4. Chafetz served on the City Commission for the past four years, with the last year serving as mayor. The mayor of Birmingham is selected from the City Commission rather than being elected by the city at large.

Chafetz said that he was disappointed and also surprised by the election results. Prior to the election he had felt confident he would be reelected. Pride PAC and the Birmingham Mirror endorsed him.

Part of the problem, he said, was lack of support from Birmingham's LGBT community. "Actually I lost some support in the gay community, which was very interesting," he said. "When I ran the first time the gay community was 100% behind me, really put me over the top nicely the first time. This time half the gay community was pushing for me and half the community was pushing for a group of more development-based candidates."

Chafetz said he was hurt by the lack of support. "Some of these people were people I've been friends with for over 20 years, so it was really disappointing," he said.

Sean Drate of Pride PAC said he was unaware that the LGBT community in Birmingham was not unified behind Chafetz. "I'm surprised," he said. Pride PAC gave Seth their strongest endorsement.

Drate believes that Chafetz was defeated because of the controversy surrounding development in Birmingham, specifically around the size of homes.

"Pride PAC is really upset that he didn't win," said Drate. "We really wanted him to win because he was doing a great job and is a good representative of our community. He stood up for what he thought was right and that's important. We like to support people who stand up for what they believe in and not just what they think will be popular. That's the only way we as a minority can get anything."

Chafetz founded the Birmingham Yacht Club, a social organization for gay people and their friends for the greater Birmingham area. He also points out that Birmingham was the first city in the state to have sexual orientation in their city ordinance. "The gay community forgets how significant that is for our city and how important these issues are," he said.

Chafetz maintains that he has always been outspoken about human rights for LGBT people. "Until gay people get human rights like everybody else, nothing else really matters," he said.

He does not believe his sexuality or his stance on human rights hurt his campaign. "I don't think human rights was an issue. Everyone was promising lower taxes. It was the old campaigning trick of trying to scare widows and old ladies that they're not going to be able to afford their houses any longer."

The issues surrounding this campaign were issues of development and taxes, although he said that the tax issue was merely a scare tactic. He believes Birmingham's current fiscal state is proof that the city is not in danger financially. "We've brought the operating millage down for the past two years, which is amazing in this economy," he said.

Development issues also played a role in his last campaign.

"Land and development issues are always big," he said. "Everyone has a different vision of how to continue to develop the city. I have a very balanced view of development." He said he believes development has been brought down to manageable levels in the city.

"We had a group of residents that ran together as a slate and really tried to scare people into thinking that development would not continue in this city unless new people were elected," he said.

Now that the election is over Chafetz said he will concentrate on his full time job as a coach of competitive figure skating. In October he traveled with students to Japan and the Czech Republic. "It's nice that I can devote my full energy and attention to that because I'm going to need that," he said. "And I'm hoping to get my leaves raked before the first snowfall. And I look forward to catching up with friends I haven't had time to see."

Are politics in his future? Chafetz has not ruled that out as a possibility.

"Interestingly enough some of the new people who got elected have called me and encouraged me to run again in two years," he said. "We'll see what happens."

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