Run, Karger, Run?
‘No on 8’ organizer hopes candidacy will spread message of equality, inspire others
By Margie Palmer
“I am strongly considering becoming a candidate for President of the United States in 2012. I would run as an Independent Republican, and would likely be the only true outsider in the field.”
— Fred Karger, April 10, 2010, Southern Republican Leadership Conference, New Orleans
Until just a couple years ago, the name Fred Karger likely would not have registered to most people.
A relative unknown in LGBT circles, Karger emerged onto the scene in July 2008 when he formed Californians Against Hate, an independent effort to expose the identities of significant financial contributors to the ‘Yes on 8’ campaign, which amended the state constitution to read, “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” overturning California’s nearly five-month window in which same-sex marriage was legal.
Since that time Karger’s led boycott efforts against San Diego hotel magnate Doug Manchester (owner of the Manchester Grand Hyatt and The Grand Del Mar resort) and Terry Caster (owner of A-1 Self Storage) for donating $125,000 and $700,000, respectively, to strip marriage rights away from same-sex couples.
He’s also taken on both the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the Mormon Church, calling for investigations in California and Maine for those groups not meeting state-mandated full-disclosure requirements in regard to their funding of anti-marriage equality campaigns.
But now, Karger is moving on to loftier aspirations. Just two short months ago, he began indicating a run for president may be in his future.
“I feel I could make a big contribution to our movement,” Karger told Gay San Diego. “I realized that during the Proposition 8 campaign. I decided if all the activities fell into place — the boycotts, the investigations I called for, the complaints I filed with various states, I’d consider it. Last fall I was subpoenaed by NOM, and when I had to hire a very prominent law firm to defend me, I started the $5 for Fred campaign, a grassroots effort to help raise money for my legal defense fund. I was able to raise close to $25,000 between last year and this. The idea that public support would translate to money was absolutely one of my deciding factors.”
Deciding factor number two was the response from his family.
“They were shocked when I told them,” Karger said with a laugh. “But I feel I can bring a lot to the table for our community, which is exciting. I can talk about the issues that no one else can.”
One issue, for example, is the May 27 e-mail threat he received from Iowa Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler.
“You and the radical homosexuality community want to harass supporters of REAL marriage,” wrote Scheffler. “I will work overtime to help ensure that your political aspirations are aborted right here in Iowa.”
Karger, a seasoned campaign strategist, provided copies of the e-mail to numerous media outlets, including the Des Moines Register, and several days later, when Iowa conservative talk-radio station 1040 WHO called for an interview, he used the opportunity to speak about his platform: that HIV/AIDS and appropriate funding for a cure be considered a national priority; the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) must be eliminated; the need for passage of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA); and his belief that gay marriage should be the law of the land.
He also believes Scheffler owes him an apology.
In the upcoming weeks, Karger said a new website (being designed by the same designers who did Ron Paul’s website two years ago) will be launched; he plans to send his first fundraising appeal out by the end of June.
But at 60, Karger, closeted to family and colleagues until just a few short years ago, seems to many an unlikely crusader for gay rights. Especially when you take into account he’s running on the GOP ticket.
“I’ve always been gay,” said Karger. “I’ve always had a boyfriend, but I was never publicly out which is unique for most people.”
And although Karger worked as the chief operating officer and vice-president of The Dolphin Group, a prominent public relations firm specializing in campaign strategies and opposition research, he said he never once worked with a candidate on anti-gay rights measures.
“I was very fortunate,” he said. “I was one of the principles at the firm, which allowed me veto power. If a client came along and it was not a comfortable situation, I didn’t have to agree to move forward. I never worked with any far right Republicans.”
The question on the minds of many, though, is does he think he has a snowball’s chance? The answer to that is, yes and no.
“My budget is five to six million, which is, of course, a congressional race budget,” he said. “But I’m retired, do not have another job, and don’t have a Senate seat I need to return to. I would have staying power to remain in that race until the primary. Assuming [Sarah] Palin and [Mitt] Romney are battling it out to the end; I’d be at those debates with them. I’d be talking about the issues important to our community. I could make sure issues that are important to our community are discussed, in the media, on a national stage.”
Karger said he will not attempt to run on the presidential ticket as an independent should he be unsuccessful in the primary election. His goal in running, though, is to inspire the next generation through his candidacy.
A few months ago I was visiting the Gay Straight Alliance at a university in New Jersey, and when I spoke about the possibility of my running, these kids were enthralled,” he said. “They couldn’t believe a gay guy was possibly running for president. They were so excited, and interested in getting involved. The next day I spoke at Dartmouth, and received the same reaction. I want to invigorate our LGBTQ youth. I want to help inspire mass voter registration within the LGBTQ community. We need to face the public, we need to get voters. I’m looking to do this to help the community and our future.”
Asked how he feels about the recent announcement that Doug Manchester is seeking to sell his majority interest in the Manchester Grand Hyatt, Karger said he found it “odd.” (The Manchester Financial Group pays millions in annual rent to the San Diego Unified Port District. His request will be heard by the Port Commission next month.)
“The Manchester Grand Hyatt has become a pariah because of the boycott, having lost dozens of large conventions, and by their own estimation, $1 million per month over the last 23 months,” Karger said. “If Doug Manchester maintains an interest in the property, we would expect to hear from the new majority owner, and maybe they will want to sit down and discuss a resolution to the nearly two-year-old global boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt, something Mr. Manchester has steadfastly refused to do.”