Mike Verveer, Wisconsin, 1995
Born May 19, 1968
Common Council, District 4
Elected April 1995
Re-elected 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005
Served as Common Council President Pro Tem for the 2001-2002 term and as Common Council President for the 2003-2004 and 2007-2008 terms
Interview with Mike Verveer for Out and Elected in the USA
Q: Mike, has your sexual orientation been much of a factor in your work?
A: When I first ran for office, the issue of my sexual orientation never really came up because everybody – at least all my friends – knew I was gay. I was working for a very well known openly lesbian state legislator by the name of Tammy Baldwin. And, it was just never an issue. In fact, I was tapped to run by my predecessor who himself was openly gay, Richardo Gonzolaz. It was a non-issue in the campaign in a relatively progressive district. My opponent certainly didn’t bring it up.
About a year into office, my orientation did become an issue in February of 1996, by virtue of media attention surrounding a very tragic fire in my downtown district. A very special building called the Hotel Washington burned to the ground in an accidental fire. That building was not only an historic landmark, but also Madison’s unofficial gay and lesbian community center. There were several business that catered widely to the gay and lesbian community including two or three, depending on how you characterize them, gay bars. When the fire struck on a very cold winter night, the media attention was fierce and my emotions got the best of me, so with TV cameras rolling I was standing there in front of the wreckage of a building that had meant a lot to me – I’d come out of the closet there, had a great time there for many, many weekends for the past several years. I more or less said all that publicly; that it was sort of my home away from home. What was interesting though, I never really thought about it at the time – my teary eyed remarks in front of the TV, radio, and newspaper journalists assembled – was that so many constituents and others in the community had no idea I was gay and thought this was my big coming out speech. Looking back it is kind of funny even though it was very sad and a very emotional time for hundreds and hundreds people. It was far more than bricks and mortar. There were well over a thousand people at a candle light vigil the next night. That is kind of my coming out to the whole world it seemed like since it was never an issue in my campaign, though I certainly never did anything in any way, shape or form to hide my orientation. But that is when the whole community seemed to pick up on it.