HOUSTON - A lesbian candidate won Houston's mayoral election Saturday night, a vote that made the city the largest in the U.S. to ever have an openly gay mayor.
"This election has changed the world for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community. Just as it is about transforming the lives of all Houstonians for the better, and that's what my administration will be about," City Controller Annise Parker told supporters after former city attorney Gene Locke conceded defeat.
Parker got 53 percent of the vote. More than 152,000 residents turned out to cast ballots in the fourth largest U.S. city.
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The campaign leading up to Saturday's balloting was marked by anti-gay rhetoric.
Locke congratulated Parker and urged the city to move on. "Here's what our city needs now: It needs unity. It needs us to come together and heal like we've never healed before, and to move forward under a new administration," he said.
Parker's sexual orientation became the focus of the race in recent weeks after anti-gay activists and conservative religious groups endorsed the 61-year-old Locke and sent out mailers condemning Parker's "homosexual behavior."
Meanwhile, gay and lesbian political organizations nationwide rallied to support the 53-year-old Parker by raising money for her campaign and making calls urging people to vote.
Locke, who would have become the city's second black mayor if elected, tried to distance himself from the anti-gay attacks while courting conservative voters who could tip the race in his favor.
Although Locke condemned the divisive rhetoric, two of his key supporters contributed money to a conservative political action committee that sent out an anti-gay mailer earlier this month, urging voters not to pick Parker because she was endorsed by the "gay and lesbian political caucus."
Campaign finance reports show Ned Holmes, finance chairman of Locke's campaign, and James Dannenbaum, a member of the campaign's finance committee, each gave $20,000.
Parker and Locke, both Democrats in the nonpartisan race, made it to the runoff after garnering more votes than two other candidates on Nov. 3.
Parker replaced Bill White, who is term-limited after serving six years and is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.
Several smaller U.S. cities have openly gay mayors, including Portland, Ore., Providence, R.I., and Cambridge, Mass.
Houston, the country's fourth largest city, is predominantly Democratic and about 25 percent black and one-third Hispanic. About 60,000 of its 2.2 million residents identify as gay or lesbian.