NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — If he wins the seat he is running for on the City Council, Mel Wymore will become the first openly transgender person to be elected to public office in the city.
Wymore, 51, is running for the 6th District City Council seat on the Upper West Side. On his Web site, he focuses on his history of activism and service in the area.
“I don’t think there is a community more committed to the world working for anyone,” he said in a campaign video.
He co-founded the Stratford Arms Meal Program in 1993, and is a 17-year member and two-term chair of Manhattan Community Board 7 – a typical resume for a City Council candidate in many ways. But Wymore’s community-leader resume has an unusual feature — he built much of it while he was a woman.
In running for office, Wymore’s campaign is neither emphasizing his personal story nor sidestepping it.
“I want to create the inclusive community, and it goes beyond my personal identity,” he said. “But it actually lends a lot to my story and my credibility as a candidate. I’m honest, I’m brave, I’m forthright, and I’m willing to stand up for change.”
Wymore, a Democrat, faces several opponents who also have long records of community involvement in the area.
Nationwide, at least five transgender people have won city, school board and judicial elections, including Mayor Stu Rasmussen in Silverton, Ore. Perhaps dozens of others have run across the country; it’s unclear whether any such candidate has run for city office in New York, though a transgender New Yorker, Melissa Sklarz, holds a Democratic Party post that’s on the ballot.
Wymore is a systems engineer, a specialist in structuring and managing complex projects. He fielded questions at a recent candidate forum with a courteous purposefulness, a handful of index cards for note-taking and a message of valuing “inclusion and care for the Earth and care for each other.”
During his time on Community Board 7, Wymore raised money to renovate a run-down city recreation center that reopened Monday after facing a shaky future for years, among other projects. Colleagues say he’s eagerly consultative but focused on finding resolution.
Wymore’s personal life also has been shaped by a search for resolution. It took major turns in identity — twice — as Wymore raised two children and took on community roles, starting with co-founding a meal program 20 years ago.
He had a gleeful childhood as Melanie Wymore in Tucson, Ariz., and went on to college and a master’s degree at the University of Arizona. Wymore worked for an aerospace company before moving to New York in the 1980s to further a relationship that became a marriage, and to work in engineering and technology consulting jobs.
Yet the “exuberance” from childhood slipped away around puberty. At 35, Wymore reached a conclusion about why — and came out as a lesbian.
As a decade went by, Wymore still felt joy was missing and didn’t know the reason until seeing a recorded interview with a transgender boy during an anti-bullying event about five years ago. Wymore looked at the boy and saw himself.
“It suddenly hit me that it was gender that was at the core” of Wymore’s unease, he said in an interview in his campaign office in a brownstone. “And, of course, it terrified me at the same moment because I’d already been through this family-disrupting, life-changing transition.”
He ultimately decided to undertake surgical and other changes to live as a man. After telling his family, the newly chosen chairman made an announcement of a sort rarely, if ever, heard at community boards.
The response was accepting, he and a colleague recall. “People knew him before and knew what kind of person he was,” member Madge Rosenberg explains.
But there were some alienating moments during Wymore’s roughly two-year transition. At times he sensed other people’s awkwardness as they stumbled over whether to use “he” or “she,” or felt hurt when a women’s book group stopped inviting him for fear of seeming to dismiss his identity shift.
The experience made him more determined to advocate for the disabled, the elderly and others who feel overlooked _ in other words, everybody, Wymore says.
After all, “everyone feels excluded some time or another, for some thing or another,” he said.
Wymore’s opponents include Green Party candidate Tom Siracuse and several Democrats: restaurant executive Ken Biberaj; Democratic Committeewoman Debra Cooper; Noah Gotbaum, founder of the volunteer group New York Cares and a son of a prominent labor leader and stepson of a former city public advocate; Democratic district leader Marc Landis; and former community board chairwoman Helen Rosenthal. The Democratic primary is in September, and the general election is in November.
No one, contender or constituent, mentioned Wymore’s personal story at the recent candidate forum. And that’s just as he’d like.
“For me, it’s really about the work at hand,” he said.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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