When a February 4 Reader story revealed Nicole Murray's past arrests for male prostitution and told how he was advertising his services as a "transvestite counselor," Murray's 15-year reign as one of San Diego's most important gay leaders was clearly threatened. But Murray has retained his influence in the gay community, and he's now moving to expand his political turf by challenging the city's 300-member, gay San Diego Democratic Club in a face-off that involves state assemblyman Peter Chacon.
This current test of Murray's clout shaped up May 9 when he told thousands of banner-waving gay-rights activists attending a Sacramento rally that he'd severed his lifelong ties to the Republican party, reregistered as a Democrat, and organized the "Harvey Milk Democratic Club," named for the late San Francisco county supervisor.
Murray says his loyalty to Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson — an outspoken supporter of gay rights — pushed him across the partisan line. The local gay Democratic Club has, in contrast, sided with Michael Dukakis, and the four club members who triumphed at the recent Democratic party caucuses have pledged their convention votes to Dukakis. Democratic Club president Jeri Dilno says the decision to back Dukakis is "a pragmatic political point" that will assure gay representation at the convention, but Murray decides the club's position as "a sellout to a candidate who won't support" same-sex couples who want to adopt children. Murray also blast Dilno and other club leaders for not working with minority groups, peace activists and farmworkers' rights groups. "I walked in the protest march down Market Street [after voters stripped Martin Luther King, Jr's name from the downtown thoroughfare], and there wasn't a single other gay leader there," Murray says disdainfully. "We get angry when other groups don't help us, but we seldom help them."
Club president Dilno dismisses Murray's critques as "a red herring" and says he's simply "searching for another [public] platform." Other influential gays say that Murray's head-on challenge to the 13-year-old Democratic Club allows him to assert his authority and prove that the negative Reader story didn't affect him. Democratic Club publicist Rick Moore, for example, supplied quotes critical of Murray to the reporter who wrote the February story. And Moore's companion, Doug Scott, is a former club president who has clashed with Murray over the gay bathhouse controversy. "Nicole is flexing his muscles and showing those who tried to disown him that he still has influence," says Allan Geisen, a gay Republican and member of the local GOP central committee. Murray dismisses such motives, saying, "I have bigger fish to fry than the San Diego Democratic Club."
But Murray has taken sides against the Democratic Club in its spat with state assemblyman Peter Chacon. Although Democratic Club officials acknowledge that Chacon has been a frequent ally of gays for the past decade, last week the club decided to postpone its expected re-election endorsement of the assemblyman because he hasn't opposed a controversial insurance bill that could hurt AIDS patients. Chacon reacted to the delay by rescinding his previous appointment of two club-endorsed women to his AIDS Task Force on Women and Children. Murray, who is a close political ally of Chacon's top assistant, then roundly criticized the Democratic Club for holding back on the Chacon endorsement, and he says Chacon has invited him to select two local women to fill the vacancies on the assemblyman's AIDS Task Force.