Louisville Metro Council Candidate Ray Barker has received a $1,000 contribution from anti-gay activist Dr. Frank Simon despite distancing himself from the controversial religious leader months earlier.
Last year, Simon’s American Family Association sent an e-mail to followers urging them to back Barker for the appointment to the council’s District 1 seat. The organization was labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s intelligence report for its anti-gay rhetoric and campaigning.
When asked about the association with Simon, Barker told LEO Weekly he did not know the group was listed as a hate organization and that he believes in equal opportunity for all residents.
Six months later Barker’s campaign accepted the hefty contribution from Simon and in a telephone interview with WFPL, Simon told the radio station that Barker has solicited his support in the May 22 primary and the two agree on most issues.
“Our city is in big trouble because we have gotten away from God and gotten away from prayer,” he says. “I think Mr. Barker is the man that can help us with this huge crime rate, the drug problem and all these other problems that we’ve run into because we’ve turned our back on God.”
Simon says he is supporting Barker because of his record as a former military service member and Louisville police officer, but would not elaborate on if the two agreed specifically on the Fairness ordinance that extended civil rights protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered residents.
For over a decade, Simon led lobbying efforts against the legislation before the Board of Alderman passed it in 1999. Since then, most elected officials have distanced themselves from Simon and his group. Two years ago, for example, Councilman David Tandy, D-4, who was running for mayor, publicly rejected Simon’s endorsement and that discrimination had no place in his campaign.
Barker is one of five Democrats vying for the District 1 seat, which covers parts of west and southwest Louisville. No Republican is running for the position.
Thus far, Barker’s opponents in the race have had mixed reactions to learning about the contribution, but all agree he should have not accepted the funds.
Councilwoman Attica Woodson Scott, D-1, who was appointed to the seat last fall and endorsed by the Fairness Campaign, has called on her challenger to return the funds and reject Simon’s support.
“I’m shocked Mr. Barker would have accepted an endorsement and contribution from Dr. Simon’s group, which is clearly a hate group and a group that none of us who are elected officials would want to associate ourselves with,” she says. “Voters in District 1 should definitely be aware of the connection that Mr. Barker has to someone who actively practices hate.”
According to Kentucky Registry of Election Finance records, Barker received the maximum contribution from Simon allowed under state law in April. It is also the highest amount the former Louisville police officer’s campaign has received thus far and is just over one-fourth of his entire campaign funding.
Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman says Barker should clarify his position on a number of issues related to the city’s LGBT community.
“The thought that someone could represent the incredibly diverse first district of our Metro Council having accepted the funds from someone who does not share that constituencies beliefs is an embarrassment,” he says. “And I think the money should absolutely be returned if Mr. Barker thinks he has any chance of appropriately representing that constituency.”
Other candidates in the race have refrained from calling on Barker to return the funds, however, most agree he will be pressured to explain his positions further.
“I wouldn’t have done it, but him accepting funds from Dr. Simon is really on him,” says Rosa Macklin, a small businesswoman who is also running for the seat. “I do think the voters should know that. And I think Mr. Barker needs to clarify the statements he made earlier so that the truth can come out. Mr. Barker needs to be truthful in his dealings and explain what his relationship is with Dr. Simon.”
Barker did not respond to our request for comment.