Gay activists are backing Fred Hochberg as Secretary of Commerce now that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has withdrawn himself from consideration.

This is the third attempt by Boston-based Equal Rep to influence the Obama transition team to pick an openly gay candidate. The group says its current campaign to select William White to the position of Secretary of the Navy has garnered 1,800 confirmed participants.

But a failed effort to lobby the transition team to consider Mary Beth Maxwell, an openly lesbian candidate, to the position of Secretary of Labor, ended the aspirations of gay rights leaders for a cabinet-level appointment. The group says it gathered over 1,200 confirmed Maxwell supporters. Instead, Obama picked California Representative Hilda Solis (Democrat) for the job.

“It was devastating to learn that gay Americans wouldn't have a seat at the table within Barack Obama's Cabinet administration,” said Equal Rep Founder Paul Sousa. “They are the only minority group to have never been appointed in the history of the United States.”

The commerce opening gives gay rights activists an unexpected shot to make their case for a cabinet-level appointment of an openly gay candidate.

The new effort to support Hochberg, the Dean of the Milano New School for Management and Urban Policy in New York and a leading fund-raiser for Senator Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House, was underway hours after the group posted the campaign on it's website. “The media pickup has been fantastic and the Facebook group is growing at the fastest rate yet for any of the campaigns,” Sousa told On Top Magazine.

Sousa said he decided to back Hochberg soon after Richardson withdrew himself from consideration, calling him “an outstanding candidate.”

“His credentials are absolutely impeccable and is really well rounded; he has a ton of business experience,” he said in an email.

The group, however, has had no contact with the candidate who is listed at number 26 in gay monthly OUT's 2nd Annual Power 50, which compiles the 50 most influential openly gay people in America.

On the Net: Equal Rep's campaign is at