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Mel Martinez is one of eight Republicans seeking to be that party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate seat in Florida. He has used anti-gay messages in radio ads to win support of social conservatives. (Photo by AP)


MORE FROM THIS AUTHOR
MUBARAK DAHI


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Mel Martinez for Senate
P.O. Box 536176
Orlando, FL 32853-6176
407-897-3130
www.melforsenate.org





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Letter to the Editor

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BREAKING NEWS

Anti-gay Senate candidate has two gay advisers
Martinez advisor led Florida’s Christian Coalition; finance director is gay

MUBARAK DAHI
Friday, July 16, 2004

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — On a humid day in Tampa last month, John Dowless could be seen passing out cards at Landry’s Seafood House to a group of about 40 of Florida’s most conservative religious leaders, including members of Family First of Tampa and the Pinellas Crisis Pregnancy Center, an anti-abortion group.

Dowless arranged the lunch on behalf of Mel Martinez, the former housing secretary who is now one of eight Republican candidates trying to get his party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate race this fall.

As Martinez railed against the threat of same-sex marriages to the traditional family, Dowless handed out cards to the religious leaders imploring them to “pray for Mel Martinez” and to get involved in his campaign.

Dowless was just doing his job. Formerly the executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, Dowless is now a private political consultant in Orlando.

Because of Dowless’ strong connections to the state’s conservative religious groups, Martinez hired him several months ago to help the campaign reach out to conservative Christians.

“My role is organizing grassroots stuff for them,” particularly among conservative Christians, Dowless said.

In a crowded primary field, many Republican candidates in Florida, including Martinez, are angling to get voter attention by running as far as possible to the right.

Martinez in particular has sought to distinguish himself as the candidate perhaps most vocal against gay rights, including running a statewide radio ad encouraging the Senate to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment, and attacking one of his opponents for supporting hate crimes laws that would include protections based on sexual orientation.

Ironically, at least two powerful men working for the Martinez campaign are gay.

One of them is John Dowless, the political consultant. The other is Kirk Fordham, who is employed as Martinez’s finance director.


‘A ticking time bomb’
It was about 10 p.m. on the evening of April 2 when a man called “Sam” entered the Lava Lounge, a gay bar in Orlando.

Sam, a gay resident of Washington, D.C., was in Orlando on business, and went out to meet a friend for drinks. After ordering a beer, Sam bumped into a former colleague from Washington, someone he describes as “a well-placed political operative.”

When Sam asked the man how he liked working in Florida, the man replied that politics in the state was “weird.”

How so?” Sam wanted to know.

“He began telling me about this guy who used to be the head of the Christian Coalition,” Sam said. “He said the guy is gay and out, and goes to the gay bars all the time, but is involved in all this anti-gay political campaigning. That struck me as incredibly hypocritical.”

Twenty minutes later, John Dowless walked into the Lava Lounge.

“The guy I used to know from D.C. pointed Dowless out to me, and I made it a point to go over and meet him,” Sam said. “I was just so intrigued that someone could play both sides of the fence this way.”

Dowless identified himself as gay and conflicted about how to reconcile his sexual orientation with his religion and his political beliefs, according to Sam, whose account of Dowless’ statements that evening was witnessed by a Washington Blade editor, who was also present.

Sam describes Dowless as handsome and affable, a person who was easy to meet and talk to.

“We talked about his work, but we talked a lot more about religion,” Sam said.

“I am a fairly devout Christian myself, and I was interested in why he felt being Christian and gay were so completely incompatible,” Sam said. “He was very adamant that it just wasn’t possible to be both, in his understanding.”

After a few drinks at the Lava Lounge, Sam jumped into his rental car and followed Dowless’ silver SUV to Southern Nights, another gay bar in Orlando, where the two men continued their conversation. All together, they spent approximately two hours speaking about religion and homosexuality that night, Sam said.

“When he admitted that he uses homosexuality as a weapon to win campaigns, I got the feeling this guy was not just struggling with the issue of being gay and Christian,” Sam said. “I felt maybe he’s a ticking time bomb.”


Handwritten cell phone number

But Dowless didn’t let their difference of opinions stop him from making a pass, Sam said.

“John [Dowless] made it very clear he was interested in me, that he found me attractive,” Sam said. “I just told him I was out with friends and couldn’t get away to spend the evening with him. Then he said he wanted to see me again.”

Dowless took out a business card and, with a pen, wrote his cell phone number on it.

“He told me to call him the next time I was in Orlando,” Sam said.

But if he happens to go back to Orlando, Sam won’t be calling Dowless.

“I could never abide by someone being gay and using homosexuality to be so destructive in a political way,” Sam said. “I found John both sad and deplorable.”


‘ Why are you asking that?’
Reached at his office at Millennium Consulting Inc. in Orlando, Dowless confirmed that he had been working for the Martinez campaign “for two or three months.” But he declined to talk about his sexual orientation.

“Oh come on, I’m not going to talk about that,” he said. “I’m just not going to address that with you or anyone else. That’s about me, not about the Martinez campaign.

“I’m helping Mel Martinez, who I believe in, and who is a good candidate,” he said. “My personal life has no regards to his campaign and it’s no business of yours or anyone else’s.”

However, after being confronted with the fact that several sources identified him as a patron of the Lava Lounge in April, Dowless ...

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