October 27, 2006
Happy half-century, old man!
Posted by: Chris
It was the weekend before Bill Clinton's first inauguration, in January 1993, and I was at my regular watering hole at the time: JR.'s in Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle. I told my friends I thought the guy across the bar looked exactly like George Stephanopolous, the handsome, single Clinton adviser that had all the capital's gaydar buzzing at the time.
I went to investigate, and learned it wasn't Stephanopolous — who also wasn't gay, we learned later. It was Neil Giuliano, another rising political star, but from the other party. Back then, he was the vice mayor (emphasis on vice, I used to joke) of Tempe Ariz., and a member of the City Council there. The New Jersey native was in D.C. as a lobbyist for Arizona State University, part of his "day job" there.
At the time we were both semi-closeted gay Republicans, unsure of the direction of our party now that Clinton had won the White House and conservatives were ready to dump the moderate wing, which they blamed for George H.W. Bush's tepid re-election effort.
Neil and I became fast friends and have seen each other through many good times and some bad. He was soon elected Tempe's mayor, a position he held for 10 years until July 2004. Republicans in Tempe are for the most part moderate, like Neil, but that didn't stop anti-gay activists from threatening to out him in 1996 for signing on to an initiative from the City Council to cut off some funding for the Boy Scouts over its ban on gay members and leaders.
He beat them to the punch and came out on his own terms, but that didn't stop them for petitioning for his recall. Neil won the vote by a 70-30 landslide and in a stinging blow to his enemies on the right, subsequently won a court ruling that said his recall victory also counted for his re-election. Take that!
I have often thought (subjectively) that Neil would have been an ideal choice to run one of our national gay political groups, which have stayed hopelessly partisan-Democrat during the Bush II years, even though the entire town is controlled by Republicans. The result has been their marginalization and no effort (outside Log Cabin Republicans) to incentivize GOP strategists away from wedging on gay rights issues, especially marriage.
Last year, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation got smart and tapped Neil as its new leader, and the organization has flourished since. So has Neil, who has taken to non-profit activism like I always knew he would.
He is someone who sought and held public office for all the right reasons, and who has always measured his ideals by what's practically possible under the circumstances. That's where real progress comes from, more than bomb-throwing from the sidelines. Two decades in politics and activism haven't changed him, and he remains exactly the kind of guy you want on your side, when the chips are down or things are looking up.
Today is Neil's 50th birthday, and from a good friend who is very far away, parabens and felicidades!
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