Berlin's First Openly Gay Mayor

ByABC News
June 20, 2001, 6:04 AM

B E R L I N, June 20 -- City lawmakers elected Berlin's first openly gay mayor Saturday, bolstering the city's credentials as one of the world's gay capitals, in a political shift that also could open the way for the former East German communists to enter the government.

Klaus Wowereit, a Social Democrat, takes over on an interimbasis after the coalition that ruled the city for a decadecollapsed amid a bank scandal and mounting debts. The shift removed the conservative Christian Democrats, led byoutgoing Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, who had been the senior partnerswith the center-left Social Democrats in the coalition formed soonafter reunification. At least until new elections this fall, Berlin will be run by acoalition of the Social Democrats and the Greens party mirroringthe government on the national level, led by Chancellor GerhardSchroeder. Schroeder welcomed Wowereit's win Saturday, saying it opened"new prospects" for the capital.

Will Need Help From Communist Successors

But until the new elections, the city's coalition will lack amajority and need backing from the Party of Democratic Socialism the successors to the communists in former East Germany. And Wowereit has not ruled out bringing the neo-communists intohis government a prospect that angered conservatives, who say thecommunists have not distanced themselves enough from the brutalEast German regime. "It's a bad day for the capital and sends a wrong signal forGermany's political culture," Christian Democrat General SecretaryLaurenz Meyer said. "For power, the Social Democratic Party istoday selling its ideals and roots."

An Unknown Until Last Weekend

Wowereit, 47, was a little-known political figure beforegrabbing nationwide attention last weekend when he came out as gayat a party convention before his nomination. "I am gay, and that's a good thing," he said, later admittingthat he made the statement because of rumors that tabloids wereplanning a story on his homosexuality.