Seven days ago, Rashad Taylor woke up in his temporary Baltimore flat, pulled on a fresh pair of pants, and found a $10 bill in one pocket.
“This is going to be a great day for me,” Taylor thought. From chicken entrails to Internet surveys, omens have always had a place in politics. Most of them have been wrong — as was Taylor’s leftover greenback.
The hefty, 30-year-old state lawmaker and political operative from Atlanta was about to begin the worst day of his life — 24 hours of personal and political crisis-management that would span three cities and involve much of Atlanta’s political elite.
Taylor is an up-and-comer. A Washington-born graduate of Morehouse College, Taylor has served as political director for the state Democratic party. He was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2008, and served as deputy manager of Kasim Reed’s Atlanta mayoral campaign the next year.
For the last several weeks, Taylor has lived in Baltimore, laying the groundwork that will allow Catherine Pugh, a Maryland state senator, to run for mayor. Last Thursday, still under Alexander-Hamilton’s benign $10 spell, Taylor had just finished a satisfying conference call with pollsters.
At 1:10 p.m., an email arrived, forwarded from Atlanta. The message was written by a former friend of a friend, and had been sent to many of Taylor’s colleagues at the state Capitol. It contained serious assertions — only one of which was rooted in hard fact. Taylor is gay.
Ask Don Lemon at CNN. Secrets are hazardous in any occupation. But they are absolute poison in politics. And Taylor’s was doubly dangerous. His secret not only threatened his personal career in Atlanta, but a $1.5 million, chance-of-a-lifetime campaign in Baltimore.
Personally, Taylor had come to grips with his sexuality three or four years ago. Yet only a few friends in Atlanta knew. Taylor immediately called them for advice. It quickly became clear that he would have to step out of the closet. But there were things to be done first.
“So while I’m on the phone with my friends trying to assess the situation, I’m essentially racing to Washington, D.C., to have a face-to-face conversation with my mom. What I did not want to do was have this conversation over the phone,” Taylor said.
And then he ran out of gas. When it rains, it pours.
He was rescued by his brother-in-law. But the respite was brief. “If I had to make a list of things that I did not want to do in my life, probably below ‘suicide’ would be having that conversation with my mother,” he said.
But it went well. She chided him for not telling her sooner. He said he didn’t want to be a disappointment. She said he never could be — the only right answer.
The next essential conversation was between Taylor and his candidate. Which required a late-night trip back to Baltimore — this time with a full tank of gas. The 45-minute return was filled with more phone calls with more Atlanta contacts. After breaking the news to his mother, every conversation became easier.
“It was just intimidation and harassment. It had to stop. My pastor said the only way to kill rumor and gossip is with the truth. Nobody talks about what everybody knows,” Taylor said. “The only thing [the sender] had was the fact that he knew that I was gay.”
What Taylor had planned in Atlanta for the next day was unusual.
Whether in Baltimore or Atlanta, the worst thing a political operative can do is attract attention away from the candidate. “I didn’t want to become a story,” Taylor said. Pugh, the future candidate for mayor of Baltimore, didn’t blink, Taylor said.
Pugh gave him leave to book a 6 a.m. Friday flight to Atlanta. Taylor bought two tickets — one for his mother, who insisted on coming. Virtually sleepless, he wrote his coming-out speech on the plane.
Upon landing, it was a shower, a change of clothes and microphones assembled in the downtown Atlanta headquarters of Georgia Equality, the gay and lesbian rights group.
Behind Taylor was state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), who gave Taylor his first job. And state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell) — Taylor had run her first campaign. A spokesman for the mayor of Atlanta was there, as was Kasim Reed’s ’09 campaign manager.
“I am a gay man. Though this is not the time or the way I wanted to come out,” Taylor began.
Based on the reception given two lesbian members of the General Assembly, Taylor said he expects no problems when he returns to the Capitol in August. He doubts we’ll see any change in his policy positions.
But the lawmaker expressed some anxiety about what some voters might think. His House district stretches into south Atlanta. “There are definitely issues that we’ve got to address in the African-American community as it relates to sexual orientation, as it relates to mental health,” he said.
Taylor closed his traumatic 24 hours by heading to City Hall for a quick chat with the mayor. “He did nothing but offer his full support,” Taylor said.
If there was any unspoken subtext in the room, it had nothing to do with sexual orientation. Taylor had supported Khaatim Sherrer El, the Atlanta school board president who last week agreed to step down — under pressure from Reed.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider