By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
It seemed the boyishly good-looking Stork had become the victim of a jealous ex-lover. But that was merely one side of the story. His ex-lover told the court that he was, in fact, the quarry. In filing for his own restraining order, Pardue claimed that Stork had threatened his life as early as October 1995. The reason: He would not, following their breakup, leave the condo that Stork owned. "He said if I returned to the apartment, he would do dire things," Pardue claimed. "He said he would kill me and make me very sorry." That same month, Stork took Pardue's checkbook and financial papers from the condominium, the man alleged.
More threats followed. The next month, Pardue claimed, Stork said he would "haunt me to my death." Regrettably, Pardue isn't available to confirm his claims; he died of cancer on July 12, 2000, two years after he and Stork settled out of court for undisclosed terms.
"I think it kind of illuminates that same-sex couples have similar problems as heterosexual couples," Stork says in his defense. "They have bad relationships, and it was unfortunate."
Stork maintains that such personal issues are irrelevant to his campaign, which stresses inclusion, fiscal responsibility, and small-business activity. He'd like to focus attention on Iraq and our struggling economy.
But did Stork indeed threaten to kill Pardue? "It was very uncomfortable, very difficult..." Stork responds. "It certainly was a difficult time for me during that period -- "
"It's a relationship that ended badly," Gaskill interrupts. "It's not relevant to this campaign."
The temperature is comfortably in the mid-70s on Saturday, April 3, as about 100 people, mostly gay and middle aged, gather in the backyard of 40-year-old Melissa Fojtik's $450,000 riverfront house in Wilton Manors. A local property mogul, Fojtik has long blond hair and a large, muscular frame. A member of the Dolphin Democrats, a gay political organization in Broward, she has a record of supporting local gay candidates and influencing Wilton Manors politics.
Tonight, she's opened her airy house for $50 per head to raise funds for Stork's congressional campaign. About 9 p.m., she takes a microphone and begins a short introduction by the pool. "I am so proud to know this man," Fojtik tells her guests. "I knew him before he was mayor and wholeheartedly supported him. I was so proud at any time to wear a shirt, a button, talk to a neighbor about him, love him like a brother -- our next congressman, Jim Stork."
Wearing khakis and a blue oxford unbuttoned at the top, with a cell phone strapped to the left side of his brown belt, the smiling Stork walks toward the pool and takes the microphone from Fojtik. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had told him that he needed to raise at least $250,000 to prove that he was a viable challenger to Shaw, he explains. And the first fundraising deadline had just passed. "We reached out to a lot of you, begging for money..." Stork tells his supporters. "We're not sure of the final numbers, but we've hit over $300,000." The crowd cheers. "We're not done yet," Stork warns. "We still have to raise $2 million."
Raising so much money might seem like a monumental task for the former mayor of a small town. But if his early efforts are any indication, Stork appears likely to garner at least that amount. In the first fundraising quarter, Stork gathered more than twice Shaw's total during the period -- though Shaw still has $529,377 left over from his 2002 campaign war chest.
Stork is an example of a political trend. As gays nationwide have attained affluence and at the same time become more accepted, openly gay politicos have risen to power. Gay wealth is flowing into the coffers of liberal candidates like Stork. The trend has only been accelerated by the Bush administration's push for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. "I think it's going to be amazing how much Jim will be able to raise," Commissioner Resnick says. "It's going to a test for the gay community nationwide."
"Jim's a high priority for us," adds Robin Brand, vice president for campaigns and elections for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Leadership Institute. The Washington, D.C.-based organization connects openly gay and transgender candidates with major gay donors across the country. Founded in 1991, at a time when only 50 open gays held public office in the United States, the Victory Fund supports local, state, and national candidates. Since its inception, the Victory Fund has raised more than $3.5 million. Today, there are 270 openly gay public officials, including three U.S. congressmen. If elected, Stork would be the first openly gay U.S. representative from Florida.
But becoming a gay-rights leader in Washington isn't the primary reason Stork decided to run. "Jim was one of those kids in his 20s that rarely voted," says Ronald M. Ansin, Stork's 70-year-old partner. "Yet two things happened: As a business owner in Wilton Manors, he began thinking where his city was going and saw it even more as president of the Chamber of Commerce. The second was 9/11. That had a remarkable effect on a lot of us. In his case, I think it woke him up. He said, 'We've got to be coming together and doing something. '"