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BOWSER TOPPLES GRAY

Muriel Bowser, mayor, D.C. Council, Democratic Party, primary, gay news, Washington Blade

Council member Muriel Bowser defeated Mayor Vince Gray, setting up a contest with gay Council member David Catania in November. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) won 13 out of 16 precincts believed to have high concentrations of LGBT residents in her victory over Mayor Vincent Gray and six other candidates in the city’s Democratic primary on Tuesday.

In final but unofficial returns released by the Board of Elections and Ethics, Bowser had 44 percent of the vote compared to 32 percent for Gray in one of the city’s lowest turnout elections.

Bowser’s decisive win created deep disappointment among the large number of LGBT activists supporting Gray, many of whom consider him the nation’s most LGBT supportive mayor. His initiatives on transgender equality earned him strong and loyal support from the transgender community.

Although Bowser had a strong showing in voter precincts with high concentrations of LGBT residents, some activists backing Gray said they would take a careful look at gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who will be running against Bowser as an independent candidate in the November general election.

“I am still proud of our mayor, Vince Gray,” said gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, who co-founded Gray Pride, an LGBT group that campaigned for Gray.

“I will be listening very carefully to what Muriel Bowser says and does to bring our party together and also curious of the tone and approach that David Catania brings to this race,” Hudson told the Blade.

Transgender activist Jeri Hughes, along with Hudson, were among the many LGBT supporters that attended Gray’s election night gathering at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill.

Like many Gray supporters, Hughes blamed Gray’s defeat on the decision by U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen to publicly disclose two weeks before the election that businessman Jeffrey Thompson implicated Gray in a scheme to raise more than $500,000 in illegal funds for Gray’s 2010 election campaign. Gray has long denied having any knowledge of the scheme, which the U.S. Attorney’s office has been investigating for four years.

“My thinking is that Ron Machen should be forced out of D.C.,” Hughes said following Gray’s concession speech. “His innuendo affected the outcome of this election, and the District of Columbia is going to have to pay for it,” she said.

Vincent Gray, Democratic Party, District of Columbia, primary, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayor Vincent Gray lost his bid for re-election, weeks after the U.S. Attorney implicated him in a scheme to raise illegal funds for his last race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“Vincent Gray did an excellent job as the mayor,” Hughes said.  “And it’s a sad thing that innuendo can influence an election to where someone who has done an excellent job can lose in the last stages of his campaign.”

In what political observers are calling one of the biggest upsets in this year’s City Council elections, gay four-term Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) lost his re-election bid to political newcomer Brianne Nadeau, a civic activist and vice president of a local public relations firm.

Nadeau expressed strong support for LGBT rights while criticizing Graham for an ethics charge involving a Metro development contract that led to a decision by his Council colleagues to vote 11 to 2 to officially reprimand him last year.

Saying Graham’s ethics charge followed the arrest and prosecution of two other D.C. Council members on corruption-related charges, Nadeau called on voters, including LGBT voters, to elect her to send a message that political corruption is unacceptable.

Jim Graham, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, primary

Gay Council member Jim Graham was defeated on Tuesday, ending a 16-year run on the Council. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Graham’s long record as a champion for LGBT rights and his work in fighting AIDS as the former executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic made him highly popular in the LGBT community. And his reputation as one of the Council’s strongest providers of constituent services made him highly popular among the ward’s highly diverse population groups, including Latino and African immigrants.

Most political observers in the ward believe the ethics issue was the key factor in Graham’s loss of support from many of his constituents, including LGBT residents.

Nadeau beat Graham decisively in four of six Ward 1 precincts believed to have large numbers of LGBT residents in Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and the U Street, N.W. corridor. Graham won just one of the six precincts — Precinct 36 in Columbia Heights — by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

He lost Precinct 137 in the U Street corridor by just one vote, with Nadeau receiving 125 votes to Graham’s 124 votes. Nadeau won the others by margins of greater than 10 percent.

“We did our best to represent the great diversity of this ward, bringing together people of all backgrounds in a common purpose who deserve good representation here in Ward 1,” Graham said at his election night gathering in a restaurant in Mount Pleasant.

“Let’s give all of the people who worked so hard a round of applause because we have solid support from African Americans, solid support from Latinos, solid support from the Ethiopian community, solid support from the Vietnamese and pretty solid support from people who look like me,” he said.

In her victory speech at another restaurant at 11th and U streets, N.W., Nadeau thanked Graham for what she said were his years of service to Ward 1. But she also reiterated her campaign call for addressing ethics in government.

“Today voters embraced ethical leadership focused on making Ward 1 more affordable and improving our neighborhood schools,” she said. “Together we built a strong grassroots movement for progressive change, one that resonated far and wide with voters.”

With Nadeau and Bowser perceived as being strongly committed to LGBT rights, even though their records could not stand up to the accomplishments of Graham and Gray on those issues, many LGBT voters chose to base their vote on non-LGBT issues, according to activists following the city’s April 1 primary.

“All of the candidates are great on our issues and we are really fortunate to have an embarrassment of riches among the candidates,” said gay businessman Everett Hamilton, who is among Bowser’s leading LGBT supporters.

The six other Democratic mayoral candidates, all of whom expressed strong support for LGBT equality, finished far behind Bowser and Gray.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) came in third place with 13 percent of the vote. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) came in fourth with 4 percent. Busboys and Poets restaurant owner and progressive activist Andy Shallal finished fifth with 3 percent followed by Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) who received 2 percent. Former State Department official Reta Lewis and businessman and singer Carlos Allen received less than 1 percent.

Similar to other D.C. residents, most LGBT voters are registered Democrats. But at least some longtime LGBT Democratic activists have said they would seriously consider backing Catania in the general election in November.

Gay Democratic activist Paul Kuntzler, a founding member of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, supported Gray in the primary. In a letter he sent to Catania’s office on Wednesday, Kuntzler said he’s supporting Catania over Bowser in November.

“I believe David will make a great mayor,” he said. “I also believe he will win in November. I have voted for him every time he has been on the ballot.”

A poll released by the Washington Post in late March, however, showed that Bowser was favored by voters participating in the poll by a margin of 56 percent to 23 percent. Catania’s campaign manager, Ben Young, said the poll was conducted just two weeks after Catania declared his candidacy for mayor and after Bowser had been campaigning for more than a year.

Young, along with other Catania supporters, said Catania’s support would rise in the coming months as he steps up his campaign.

In other races, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), won his primary contest by beating Democratic challenger Calvin Gurley by a margin of 81 percent to 18 percent. A series of attack ads lodged against Mendelson by the Labor Committee of the Fraternal Order of Police, which acts as the local D.C. police union, accusing Mendelson of failing to take adequate measures to fight anti-LGBT hate crimes appears to have had no impact on the election.

Incumbent Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, won in a six-candidate race by capturing 53 percent of the vote. Challenger Nate Bennett-Fleming, who campaign aggressively for the LGBT vote, came in second with 22 percent. Challenger John Settles received 14 percent, with Pedro Rubio and Kevin Valentine receiving 7 percent and 3 percent.

Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) defeated two Democratic challengers in his primary contest by capturing 79 percent of the vote. In Ward 6, where the Council seat is being vacated by Tommy Wells, who ran for mayor, Wells’ former chief of staff, Charles Allen beat former U.S. Senate staffer Darrel Thompson by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent.

In a hotly contested race for the city’s shadow U.S. Senate seat, incumbent Paul Strauss defeated challenger Pete Ross by a margin of 60 percent to 38 percent.

D.C. congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) ran unopposed in their respective races.

02
Apr
2014

Why I support Vincent Gray for mayor

Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is running for re-election. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

On April 1, 2014, I will cast my ballot for Vincent C. Gray for mayor. It was an easy decision for me but may not be for many other voters. The open investigation surrounding his 2010 campaign is entering into many people’s decision. I am convinced that the majority will come to the same conclusion and believe the mayor when he says he has done nothing illegal. I choose to accept his apology. One look at his life, not just the politician, and you must conclude it is not in his DNA to lie or cheat. Gray’s life has been spent working for those who couldn’t fight for themselves and he dedicated himself to the non-profit field eschewing the money track. Many in government, including current Council members, have made millions being paid for their influence in office. Gray’s time in politics and government, only 13 years out of a long career, was full time and didn’t include looking for sources of outside income.

By every measurable indicator his administration has been successful. So for those who will consider voting against the mayor based on supposition and innuendo, which is all there is regarding his personal role in his 2010 campaign, it would be my hope they take a second look before casting their ballot. They might just reconsider voting for him in the primary and ensuing election based on the health of the city. The District is moving in the right direction in every area including public safety; education reform; and fiscal stability. Moreover his administration is doing everything possible to improve the lives of the residents of every ward.

The continued success of a city means giving credit to those who came before. Mayor Gray, along with starting new initiatives in the areas of employment and economic development; upping the level of service delivery; education reform and strengthening the safety net; has built on the positive initiatives begun under former Mayor Anthony Williams. That progress continued under former Mayor Adrian Fenty, elected overwhelmingly in 2006. He continued the reforms that Williams began and added his signature accomplishment, wresting control of the education system and placing it in the mayor’s office. He did that with the help of then Council Chair Vincent Gray. His chosen chancellor, Michelle Rhee, made great strides in reforming the system but after three years was under fire for how she worked, or didn’t work, with the community and her desire for personal publicity. While the Fenty administration made continued improvements in delivering city services it also spent down the city’s reserve fund by $600 million leaving the District at serious risk for lower bond ratings.

Gray became mayor at the time the nation was coming out of a recession and had the opportunity to make great strides in a fairly short time. He used all those opportunities. He continued education reform with Kaya Henderson as chancellor, and in 2013, based on national tests, the children of the District improved more than children in any other urban district. Gray authored and introduced the bill for universal pre-K education when he was Council Chair and that has resulted in some of the great strides our children are making.

Gray inherited an underfunded reserve and worked to rebuild the District’s fiscal solvency. He has been wildly successful while at the same time improving the delivery of city services. Because Gray rebuilt that reserve to $1.6 billion he was able to keep the D.C. government open during the federal shutdown. Then working with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, he ensured that the District is now exempt from federal shutdowns through 2015. Gray is the first mayor to not only stand up to the federal government but along with some members of the Council and brave citizens sit down for their beliefs. He led an act of civil disobedience and again showed what he is made of as a person. Another indication of the man is that Gray has been the most supportive elected official the LGBT community has ever had. He has lost friends because of his principled stands but never hesitated to speak openly about his support for the community.

The Gray administration has been very successful in attracting new business to the District. During the first three years of the Gray administration the District has earned high marks from those who rate cities and their achievements. In 2013, Forbes magazine rated the District the #1 New Tech Hot Spot; Politicom rated us the #1 strongest economy in the United States; and the American College of Sports Medicine rated us the #2 fittest city in the nation. The mayor created the Mayor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Nutrition and pushed fitness in the schools and continues to build new bike lanes. In 2012, we were rated #1 for LEED-certified Projects by the U.S. Green Building Council and the mayor initiated the strongest plan for turning a city green in the nation.

The mayor revamped the city’s Department of Employment Services to ensure that city residents would be able to receive training for the jobs that would become available and his One City-One Hire program, which has now accounted for more than 9,000 new jobs for city residents, won a Harvard University Bright Idea Award in 2012. In all, since the Gray administration began the city has scored as one of the top 10 cities in the nation, often #1, on 17 best of lists from best educated, best for college grads, venture capital investment, retail investment and hippest city.

Because of the efforts of the Gray administration, the District continues to thrive and attracts more than 1,000 new residents a month, many of them young or empty nesters who contribute to the tax base. In addition all you have to do is walk through some of the city’s rebuilt neighborhoods where once there were few children to see the baby carriages and the parks being used and a new vibrancy that comes from more families making the city their home.

But D.C. is still a tale of two cities. There are great economic disparities and Mayor Gray has worked to ensure that while we rebuild our neighborhoods with a focus on housing, nightlife and restaurants, we don’t forget those who have not yet benefitted from the improving economy. Some are disingenuous and talk about the mayor only going with the flow and continuing already started projects. But a fair assessment shows how wrong this is. In 2006, Mayor Fenty held a groundbreaking for the O Street Market, which Council Chair Gray attended. It was only later that he found out there was no financing for the project. Upon taking office as mayor, he worked with Roadside, the developer, to get the financing for that project. His administration worked to get the financing on track for CityCenter as well. It was the Gray administration that finalized the financing and signed the agreement that brought $900 million from Qatar into the District of Columbia. It was the Gray administration that after 20 years of nothing happening got the Skyland project in Ward 7 on track and they are ready to start construction.

Mayor Gray fought to bring Walmart into the District over the concerns of some who felt it would harm local small business. The fact is that in areas of the District where Walmart is going there were few small businesses to harm. These were neighborhoods that had no groceries at all and where people had to go by car or public transportation if they wanted to shop for their families. At the same time the Gray administration is addressing the issue of food deserts, which we have in the District. Addressing one of the most pressing issues in the District, Mayor Gray has allocated $187 million to jump-start the building of 10,000 affordable housing units, which no previous administration has done. It is the Gray administration that has worked to get the commitment from Microsoft for a research center in Ward 8.

There are other projects and concerns that have languished under other administrations for years with only talk and which Mayor Gray has addressed successfully. For years the city has been under court order to address the issue of transportation for the District’s children with disabilities. Today that court order has been lifted because of the work of the Gray administration. He worked successfully to lift the Dixon decree, which was the mental health case that had been in place for 35 years. Mayor Gray committed in his first State of the District speech that he would stop sending our special-needs children to private schools and develop appropriate programs for them in our public schools. The year before he came into office the District spent $168 million sending special-needs children to private schools. By building the capacity in the District’s schools to give those children a good education here the cost of private placements has now been reduced to less than $80 million.

Mayor Gray’s 2010 platform of ONE CITY was recognition that every community has basic interests that are the same including safe streets, a quality education, decent housing, a place to shop and a place to recreate. But the ONE CITY vision also recognized that we are a great place to live because of our cultural diversity and that respect for everyone no matter where they come from, what their sexual orientation or gender identity, is paramount. Each person should be entitled to celebrate their heritage, culture and life, and share it with others. His vision included being the most openly supportive elected official the LGBT community has ever had. He never hesitates to speak out forcefully for the civil and human rights of all people. From his time on the Council where his efforts enabled marriage-equality legislation to pass and he worked to fight hate crimes, to his current employment and training programs for the transgender community, he has been there and accounted for every step of the way.

As mentioned earlier, Gray has spent only 13 of his working years in government and politics. It is a great misconception that he is a lifelong politician. Gray spent a career in the non-profit field eschewing many opportunities to earn the big bucks that so many are after. His disciplined approach to public service was born from humble beginnings. He grew up in a one-bedroom apartment at 6th and L streets, N.E. Although his parents never attended high school, they instilled in their son a solid work ethic and deeply rooted values. Mayor Gray attended Logan Elementary and Langley Junior High Schools, and graduated at the age of 16 from Dunbar High School, where he excelled in academics and sports. He then went on to George Washington University. While at George Washington, he became the first African American admitted to the GW fraternity system, and in his junior and senior years, became the first person to serve consecutive terms as chancellor of Tau Epsilon Phi. Upon graduation he was scouted by Major League Baseball teams but instead chose to dedicate his life to his community. His dedication to children and their families has been the hallmark of his service in both city government and the non-profit sector.

Gray began his professional career with The Arc of D.C. (then known as the Association of Retarded Citizens) where he successfully advocated for innovative policy initiatives on behalf of people with developmental disabilities, and spearheaded the closure of the District-run Forest Haven mental institution after it was exposed for poor conditions and abuse of patients.

Gray’s foray into local government was in 1991 when Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly appointed him to the post of director of the Department of Human Services where he oversaw the functions of a 7,000-person department and directed activities related to Public Health, Social Services, Mental Health Services and Health Care Finance. In this role, he spearheaded the implementation of several initiatives to address the developmental needs of children and oversaw the first citywide HIV/AIDS project. While knowing that success in that position was always going to be questioned Gray believed that ensuring the safety net for those in need was a priority and had to become a priority for the District government.

He left government in 1994 and instead of looking to cash in on his time in government as so many others have he took the position as the first executive director of Covenant House Washington, an international, faith-based organization dedicated to serving homeless and at-risk youth. During his decade at the helm of Covenant House, Gray helped make the organization one of the most effective of its kind in the District, and led successful campaigns to purchase and renovate a crisis center for homeless youth and a multi-purpose center and built a new community service center in the far southeast community of D.C.

Then in 2004, he was convinced by his neighbors to run and he won election as the Council member from Ward 7. During his first two years on the Council he chaired a special committee on the prevention of youth violence, and continued his fight against the AIDS crisis by creating the Effi Barry HIV/AIDS initiative. After only two years he was convinced to run and won his citywide election for chair of the Council. Running on the theme of “One City,” he continued his lifelong focus on uniting the disparate racial and economic groups in his hometown.

As chairman, Gray was a leader in efforts to improve the Council’s operations, transparency and oversight capacity, and was a true champion for school reform. He spearheaded the Pre-K Expansion and Enhancement Act, which established a voluntary, high-quality pre-school program to provide 2,000 new classroom slots for three-and four-year-olds over six years. The mayor’s diligence resulted in that goal being met in September of 2010, well before the 2014 target. During his time as chair, the Council was rated one of the most respected legislatures in the nation.

What people should remember in judging Vincent Gray is that he didn’t ever anticipate being mayor. When he was sworn in as Council Chair on Jan. 1, 2011, Fenty was being sworn in as mayor and had just had an overwhelming victory winning every precinct in the District. It was clear to many as it was to Gray that Fenty could be mayor for life if he chose that route. It was only after Fenty squandered that good will and the polls showed him losing to Gray that Gray even got into the mayor’s race. Fenty had a bankroll of $5 million at the time Gray began his campaign. Even counting the ‘shadow campaign’ Fenty had $1.5 million more than Gray to spend on his campaign and the power of the incumbency to go along with that.

Gray has rightfully apologized for his 2010 campaign, and he agreed that as the candidate he had to apologize even if he personally didn’t do anything wrong. After living in the District all his life and having lifetime friends who worked on his campaign he found that some of them did illegal things in a very misguided effort to help him. They were wrong but legally and otherwise we should not be held personally accountable for the mistakes of our friends. We should apologize and he has done that. We should abide by the legal system that everyone must abide by and he has done that. In the three years of the investigation no one has accused him of a crime.

We are three years into the Gray administration and there is no question, even from many of those who keep challenging him with regard to the 2010 campaign, that the city continues to move forward and he has had many successes. There are challengers who suggest that the city is under a cloud because of the mayor and that has held us back. But not one of them can point to an area where we have been held back. Most of the challengers sit on the City Council and can’t point to one piece of legislation that they wanted to introduce that they couldn’t because of the investigation into the 2010 campaign. In fact the mayor and his appointed attorney general introduced a very strict campaign finance reform bill and the Council has thus far refused to pass it.

None of the mayor’s challengers has the administrative background to indicate they could administer the city government. At most they have run small office staffs and in one case run a small chain of restaurants, which is very different from administering a city with a budget of more than $10 billion. The question voters must ask themselves is if they believe the city is headed in the right direction, then why would they take a chance on changing administrations?

Slogans are easy to campaign on but the work of running a city is very different.

29
Jan
2014

Muriel Bowser’s very big problem

Muriel Bowser, mayor, D.C. Council, Democratic Party, primary, gay news, Washington Blade

Muriel Bowser’s supporters make a mistake if they believe she can rely on the preponderance of registered Democrats to win her way to the mayor’s office without earning each vote. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Muriel Bowser has a very big problem.

Not only is the Democratic candidate for D.C. mayor competing against a compelling and credible independent challenger in the Nov. 4 general election, some of her most ardent campaign supporters are plaintively imploring voters to support her utilizing an outdated and counterproductive message.

They may think they’re helping her, but attempting to coerce support with what they don’t appear to realize is an off-putting rationale is more likely to have the opposite effect. Their cocoon-bred perception of what might most matter to contemporary voters is way off the mark.

Whether Bowser wins or loses – and it’s looking like the outcome could go either way – she will inadvertently reveal a new reality about the electorate.

District voters, as with counterparts across the country, are increasingly less concerned about party affiliation than other factors when deciding our electoral choices. This is especially true in local elections.

Even Bowser supporters seem to understand this all too well. Recent entreaties essentially begging party-registered Democrats to support the party-designated candidate transparently belie the fear they won’t.

What these pleading partisans don’t comprehend, however, is that admonishing party-affiliated voters to back a candidate solely or primarily due to fealty to a particular party apparatus isn’t persuasive. Instead, it merely emphasizes candidate vulnerability and underscores that she may have more than a small problem prevailing.

In other words, in a modern political era in a rapidly evolving city with a substantial number of new residents and a growing younger voting-age demographic, it reeks of desperation.

Loyalty to political parties continues to weaken nationwide at an accelerating pace. In D.C., where an antiquated “closed primary” system precludes participation in the typically determinative initial vote if not registered with the overwhelmingly dominant Democratic Party, nearly one-in-five registered voters have nonetheless chosen the independent “No Party” designation when signing up. In half of the city’s political wards the number is higher, including in the fastest growing area of center-city Ward 2 where fully one-in-four registrations are independent.

Independents are the fastest growing segment of U.S. voters. Unaffiliated registrations have exceeded party-affiliated registrations in 11 of the 12 states with competitive statewide elections this fall, increasing 17 percent since 2008. Nationwide, the number of registered independents has grown by 11.2 percent in the past five years, while the percentage of registered Democrats and Republicans has continued to drop. In California, the secretary of state reported last month that both Republican and Democratic party registrations declined while “no party” independent registrations increased – with tens of thousands of registered voters switching away from both major political parties.

Fully 42 percent of all Americans now consider themselves independents, up from 36 percent in 2008, according to the latest Gallup survey. A majority of those under 35, at 54 percent, now self-identify as independents not aligned with either major party.

Further complicating the issue in D.C. is that local candidates essentially mount sole-source election efforts. The infrastructure of political parties is decidedly weak and general election campaigns are basically independent undertakings. For that reason alone, invoking a mythical party machine or even a purported adherence to vague party principles strikes District voters as ridiculous.

In a city where most candidates espouse common themes and hold similar issue positions in a larger political context, quibbling over party identification seems largely beside the point. It’s certainly no reason to blithely dismiss alternate candidacies without consideration.

To the consternation of the Bowser campaign, the recent appearance of “Democrats for David!” signage in yards and on social media indicates a potentially widespread willingness of party registrants to support At-Large Council member David Catania over the Ward 4 representative.

Bowser’s supporters make a mistake if they believe she can rely on the preponderance of registered Democrats to win her way to the mayor’s office without earning each vote.

Most of all, it doesn’t comport with modern voter attitudes – in D.C. or elsewhere.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

14
May
2014

Stop counting cranes – it’s embarrassing all of us

cranes, District of Columbia, gay news, Washington Blade

Instead of counting cranes candidates, how about telling us how you’re going to improve the business and development environment in our city. (Photo by Kathryn Rotondo; courtesy Creative Commons)

Counting the private sector construction cranes hovering over the city in recent years has become a sort of political blood sport in D.C. Arguing over ascribing political responsibility for them is one of the sillier debates in an otherwise lackluster mayoral campaign.

Embarrassing, too, because the answer is simple. D.C. politicians don’t deserve much credit for them.

It makes as much sense as believing they’re also due homage for recent and continuing population increases. As if people move here for the high taxes. Or households with children decide to relocate to the District for the quality and performance of the city’s hyper-costly public school system. Uh-huh.

The real question they should be asking themselves and challenging one another over is how they might best get out of the way so that the number of cranes might actually proliferate.

The irony is that a shift in focus to eliminating the city’s infamously arcane obstacles to development, density, and business and economic growth would have real benefits. Improvement in those arenas would provide more needed housing that would allow continued population growth, mitigate upward pressure on housing prices to improve the city’s affordability, create more jobs particularly for low-skill and entry-level workers most in need, and expand the city’s tax base to generate the public monies officials are so wont to lust over and freely spend.

Outdated zoning laws, obtuse development restrictions and obsessive approval regulations the city has largely retreated from fixing – instead proposing only modest and inadequate revisions inching forward at painfully slow pacing – are no help, either. Why aren’t voters hearing any bold proposals for reform in these areas?

The time-consuming and costly hurdles that developers must surmount, and the outsized powers of interference wielded by tiny groups of objectors and special interest citizens associations, exact extraordinary delays incurring exorbitant costs that also encumber finance sourcing. Parking build-out requirements alone add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of both residential and commercial units. This further inflates sale prices and rents in an already housing-expensive city and inhibits growth in the number of locally originating small businesses.

To sit down with local developers and owners of small and moderate sized community businesses to discuss the impacts of counterproductive city regulations and counterintuitive processes is instructive. It does, however, require packing a lunch and bringing a seat cushion – the tales they’ll tell are not only frustrating to absorb, they take a while to recount in full.

Try not to get them started on detailing the cumbersome and complex regulatory administration by an improved yet still languid and unsympathetic city government bureaucracy that too often appears to delight in exacting pain for pleasure. Otherwise, bring a lantern, too. This little chat will run long and late.

In a city brimming with national politicians who suffer from more-than-adequate delusions that government is the source and provider of all things good, it is to be expected that local candidates are drinking from the same well of hallucinogenic liquid. That, however, doesn’t make obsessive crane counting appear any less foolish.

Mayor Vincent Gray deserves much of the let’s-play-this-game blame on this. As is all-too-natural for incumbent politicians, independent market development progress occurring on one’s watch is commonly embraced for political benefit. The mayor often exalts in a current tally of the exact number of cranes jutting skyward across the city at any given moment. He tasks an executive staffer to keep contemporaneous count.

Less forgivable are Gray’s re-election challengers righteously claiming either greater personal responsibility or assigning credit to prior administrations. Some among the four D.C. Council members challenging Gray in the April 1 Democratic primary have more of a tendency to do so, but they all engage in this gamesmanship to one degree or another.

Instead of counting cranes candidates, how about telling us how you’re going to improve the business and development environment in our city.

That’s what we’re counting on.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

29
Jan
2014

There’s no place like Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rehoboth during the few weeks before Memorial Day is a wonderfully quiet town and long weekends on the eastern side of the Bay Bridge are always relaxing. I am lucky there are times I can work from home and sometimes that means working from the beach. It’s great to leave D.C. when the sun comes up on a Thursday morning and arrive at the beach in time to be online and working by 9 a.m.

Recently there was an article in the Washington Post reminding me again how fortunate I am. Sarah Halzack, in her column, “A not-so-flexible definition of flexible work,” had a graph that looked at many of the possible variations on flex time and work from home. It showed that between 2008 and 2014 the number of businesses that allowed employees to work from home went from 50 to 67 percent and my office is one of those. We have employees who work from home part of the week and others work from home occasionally if they need to be there for family or other reasons. But the graph suggests what is becoming less common is companies allowing for sabbaticals or career breaks. Halzack writes “In other words, it seems employers are more willing to accommodate short-term solutions in which staffers make a minor tweak to their schedules so they can, say, duck out for their daughter’s piano recital or avoid commuting during peak traffic hours. But if you’re seeking more of a schedule overhaul — especially one that would reduce your hours, instead of just reshuffling them — it appears employers are less willing to work with you.”

That would seem to be the result of businesses trying to do more with fewer people and asking all employees to increase their productivity. While that may be an admirable goal it means each employee needs to be there and working as often no one else is around to fill the gaps when one employee is off for an extended period of time. Even in small offices like mine it is great to allow for flexible hours but they need to be handled on an individual basis.

Reading the column while at the beach made me realize again the benefits of being able to spend some long weekends there and enjoy it before the really busy summer season begins. Working is definitely less stressful with the front and back screen doors letting in a nice breeze. Stress levels come down when thinking about heading out after five to happy hour for a glass of wine at the Blue Moon and being served by either Matt or Chandler, which sets a mellow tone for the evening.

When I was last at the Moon I got to see Meghan, one of the owners, who is working again after having her baby. She brought five-month-old Henry to the office to help her and he is absolutely adorable.

My last long weekend spent at the beach I went with friends to the Purple Parrot and saw owners Hugh and Troy who have made sure the place gets better each year. Friday it was MIXX on Baltimore Avenue and then a little fancier on Saturday for a superb meal at Eden also on Baltimore Avenue. I was there for Kentucky Derby weekend when the Doyenne of Rehoboth Beach, Tony Burns, had his annual Derby Party with a couple hundred of his closest friends, the best-looking people at the beach. They enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres served by bartenders including the very handsome Josh who will again manage Aqua Grille on Baltimore Avenue when it opens this weekend. Most everyone is waiting to see who is back and who the new crew of waiters will be working the Aqua deck. Breakfast one weekend morning with my sister and sister-in-law who live at the beach full-time made for the perfect weekend.

It’s terrific to have really competent staff that knows that even when I work from the beach they can reach me at all hours. In fact my deputy director has suggested that sometimes the staff is happier when I am out of the office for a few days.

Whether it’s for a few days of work away from the office, or a weekend or longer vacation, there is no place like Rehoboth Beach.

15
May
2014

Gay activist Robert Coggin dies at 62

Robert Coggin, gay news, obituary, Washington Blade

Robertg Coggin (Submitted obituary photo)

Robert Mitchell Coggin, a longtime D.C.-area resident who played a key role in helping to pass a gay rights law in Montgomery County, Md., in 1984, died Jan. 19 from complications associated with Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy. He was 62.

His friends Tanner Wray and Karl Debus-Lopez said Coggin became active in gay rights activities in 1972 when he co-founded the first gay student group, the Gay Student Union, at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1976.

Wray and Debus-Lopez said Coggin became the founder of the Suburban Maryland Lesbian and Gay Alliance in Montgomery County in 1982 after becoming a resident of the county.

“He was a leader in the fight to have Montgomery County, Md., pass a non-discrimination law that includes gays and lesbians in 1984,” the two said. “Over the years, Robert continued to be active with numerous gay and lesbian rights groups in their efforts to move forward on civil rights legislation.”

Coggin, who lived in Silver Spring, Md., was born in Danville, Va. He worked for many years for the National Institutes of Health in Maryland as an administrative assistant, Wray and Debus-Lopez said.

“During his time at NIH, Robert received many awards for his outstanding performance,” the two said. “Despite the fact that he had a chronic and degenerative illness, Robert’s outlook on life was always positive,” they said. “He enjoyed movies, theater, dinners out with friends, and he was a pioneering crusader in the fight for gay rights in the mid-Atlantic region.”

Through his estate, Coggin made arrangements to establish a scholarship fund for LGBT students at the University of Virginia, according to Wray and Debus-Lopez.

He is predeceased by his parents, Belva Mitchell Coggin and Henry Ernest Coggin, and a brother, William Henry Coggin. He is survived by numerous cousins and friends, including Debus-Lopez and Wray and his former partner Don Crisostomo.

A memorial service is being planned for the near future. Donations can be made to the University of Virginia Fund of Charlottesville, Va., under the name Robert Coggin, and to the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Tucson, Ariz.

29
Jan
2014

Missing gay man found in D.C. hospital

Jorge Ortega-Paredes, gay news, Washington Blade

Jorge Ortega-Paredes was last seen on May 28. (Photo courtesy of Luis Melgar)

A 38-year-old gay man who has been missing since May 28 was identified by a friend on Thursday morning as a patient at Washington Hospital Center eight days after he was admitted to the emergency room as an unidentified assault victim suffering memory loss.

Jorge Ortega-Paredes, a resident of Hyattsville, Md., apparently was attacked and robbed shortly after he left the apartment he and his husband share about 10:15 p.m. on May 28 to walk to the home of friends about two miles away in Tacoma Park, according to his husband, Luis Melgar.

“I’m very thankful,” said Melgar, who earlier in the week had feared his husband may not be alive.

Melgar said Ortega-Paredes is being treated for head and facial injuries caused by the assault that doctors say resulted in internal bleeding near his brain.

“He doesn’t remember his name. He doesn’t remember my name,” said Melgar. “But he can recognize faces.”

Hospital spokesperson So Young Pak said Ortega-Paredes is listed in fair condition. She said that under privacy rules the hospital cannot release any further information to the media.

According to Melgar, members of the hospital staff told him Ortega-Paredes arrived at the hospital by ambulance about 11:20 p.m. on the night he went missing. The ambulance had responded to a 911 emergency call from a citizen who saw Ortega-Paredes walking along East-West Highway in Hyattsville while bleeding and appearing disoriented, Melgar said he was told.

He arrived at the hospital emergency room with a backpack in his possession but no form of identification, Melgar said.

It wasn’t until Thursday, more than a week after he arrived at the hospital, that someone discovered papers in the backpack that included a list of phone numbers. A hospital staffer began calling the numbers and reached a friend of the couple who immediately called Melgar.

Melgar rushed to the hospital and formally identified his husband, ending what he said was a week of anguish over not knowing whether he would ever again see Ortega-Paredes alive.

In conversations with his husband at the hospital on Thursday, Melgar said Ortega-Paredes was able to communicate that two men attacked him and took his phone and wallet. It appears that one of them struck Ortega-Paredes in the head either with a fist or an object.

Although he’s optimistic that prospects look good for his husband’s full recovery, he told the Washington Blade he’s troubled that bureaucratic roadblocks and a possible display of indifference by at least one Hyattsville police staffer prevented Ortega-Paredes from being identified sooner.

“We called that hospital like three or four times on [on May 30] and asked if they had anybody without an I.D.,” Melgar said. “And they didn’t give us any information.”

When he asked about this on Thursday while visiting Ortega-Paredes at Washington Hospital Center, he was told by a staffer that the hospital’s policy prohibits the hospital from releasing information about patients admitted there, even if the callers are searching for a missing relative.

Melgar said he next learned from another hospital staffer that the hospital itself faced a roadblock when Ortega-Paredes struggled to tell nurses where he lived and mumbled something about Hyattsville. This prompted a nurse to call Hyattsville police to ask if they had a report of a missing person.

The nurse, according to Melgar, told a female officer or civilian staffer who answered the phone that the hospital had a physical description of an unidentified patient and would like to know if it matched that of a reported missing person.

“And the person who answered the phone said she couldn’t give out that information,” Melgar said the hospital staffer told him. “She just told the nurse to wait for Jorge to remember something.”

Melgar said he filed a missing persons report for Ortega-Paredes on May 30. Hyattsville police then released an alert to the news media with a photo of Ortega-Paredes appealing to the public for help in finding him.

Lt. Chris Purvis, a Hyattsville police spokesperson, told the Blade on Thursday that the case remains under investigation.

06
Jun
2014

14th Street shows need for parking

parking meter, 14th Street, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The following was submitted as a letter to the editor in response to Mark Lee’s column of Jan. 31, “Stop counting cranes, it’s embarrassing all of us.”

After nearly 10 years of reading this newspaper, I have come to respect the viewpoints of many of the columnists. Mark Lee, for instance, provides an interesting perspective each week as a community business advocate. I have come to recognize his regulation-is-bad-private-business-is-the-savior editorials well in advance. Many times I agree with him, but I think he has some misconceptions on the parking issue.

In the last year I have been fortunate enough to relocate to Logan Circle, and subsequently moved into one of the large 14th Street buildings that now dominate the area. Lee argues that legally requiring a certain amount of parking spaces hinders development and leads to higher rents. He seems to miss the impact on the residents, however. In my building, the street level is for businesses. As such, the first parking level under the building is used for their employees. If these folks did not have access to the parking structure, where would they park? Many are not D.C. residents, and thus couldn’t park on the street for more than two hours because they don’t have the resident permit.

Secondly, well over 50 cars are parked on the resident parking level of my building.  If this option were not included, that would mean 50-100 more cars on the street. Those familiar with the area know that off of 14th Street you have blocks of rowhouses, some with parking in back alleys and some without. Since several of these structures are divided into multiple apartments, there is barely enough parking currently to support all these people. If my building, in this example, did not have optional lower-level residential parking, this would create parking gridlock throughout the neighborhood.

Lee also suggests that taking away the parking requirement would reduce rental/condo rates. I doubt that considering the demand for city living. I also point out that in many buildings parking is not free. My building offers one space for several hundred dollars a month. That is not part of rent, but a separate fee for those that don’t want to search the street for parking.

I don’t argue his frequent point that the city is an overwhelming maze of confusion for permits, zoning and bureaucratic nonsense. However, a lot of progress could be made for the positive just by following some of Lee’s other suggestions. Putting more cars on the street will only negatively impact our way of life. Until D.C. becomes more pedestrian and bike friendly (such as more shopping options that don’t require a trip to Maryland or Virginia), cars will remain a part of life. Let’s keep them underground and out of the way.

—Chris Greaver, Logan Circle

05
Feb
2014

Adams Morgan restaurant named in anti-LGBT discrimination complaint

gay news, Washington Blade

Lambda Legal has brought a discrimination complaint against an Adams Morgan restaurant on behalf of a transgender woman. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

The national LGBT litigation group Lambda Legal has filed a discrimination complaint on behalf of a D.C. transgender woman who says she received a check from a bartender at an Adams Morgan restaurant with the words “GAY BITCHES” written on it.

The complaint, which was filed on Monday with the D.C. Office of Human Rights, says a bartender at Bistro 18 hookah bar and restaurant at 2420 18th St., N.W., brought the check to the table where Amira Gray was sitting with eight friends, two of whom are gay men.

According to the complaint, the incident took place on Aug. 11, 2013. It says the bartender brought the check after the group “continued to be denied table service, instead requiring us on each occasion we wanted something to seek service directly at the bar.”

The complaint says that Gray, a trans woman, and her friends had seated themselves and observed that the wait staff “was attentive to customers at other tables, giving them menus and taking their orders right away, and carrying the orders to their tables but no wait staff approached our table.”

A representative of Bistro 18 couldn’t immediately be reached. Calls placed to the establishment on Wednesday led to a recorded message saying, “We are not available now. Please call again – memory full.”

“Discrimination against LGBT customers is a widespread problem that often goes unaddressed,” said Dru Levasseur, director of Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Project. “That this happened in Washington, D.C., where LGBT people have strong protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and personal appearance, points out the importance of ensuring existing laws are enforced,” Levasseur said in a press release issued by the New York-based group.

Elliot Imse, a spokesperson for the D.C. Office of Human Rights, said that privacy rules prevent the office from commenting or acknowledging a complaint has been filed before an investigation is completed and probable cause is found that discrimination has occurred.

“If a person is denied the full and equal enjoyment of a service because of their gender identity or expression in a place of public accommodation, it could constitute discrimination under the Human Rights Act depending on the specifics of the case,” Imse said.

Levasseur said that like many people encountering what they consider discriminatory action by a business, Gray did not immediately come forward to file a complaint until now. He said the D.C. Human Rights Act allows citizens to file a complaint up to one year after the alleged discriminatory action occurs.

“As a transgender woman, I was extremely hurt, embarrassed and upset,” Gray states in her complaint. “I felt that the slur was meant as a slap in the face because of my gender identity and expression, my perceived sexual orientation, my personal appearance, and my association with my friends who are or may have been perceived as being lesbian or gay.”

A photo of the receipt, which was taken by one of Gray’s friends, shows that the words, “GAY BITCHES” were written directly below the words, “Thank You for Visiting.” The photo also shows that the bill for the drinks and hookah smoking device that Gray and her friends had ordered came to $152.30. That total included a $21.42 “automatic gratuity” and $11.90 in taxes.

“When one of Gray’s friends approached the manager to bring this to his attention, the manager snatched what he thought was the offending receipt out of the man’s hands and printed a new receipt without the slur on it,” the Lambda Legal press release says. “However, Gray’s friend kept the original receipt and captured photos of it,” the release says.

According to Levasseur, a Bistro 18 manager agreed to cancel the bill and not charge the group for its purchases after the friend complained about the service they received and showed him the receipt with the slur printed on it.

“She does not feel like that is enough,” Levasseur said in explaining why Gray decided to file the complaint.

Levasseur told the Washington Blade the receipt will be submitted to the Office of Human Rights as evidence along with statements from Gray’s friends who were present as the developments unfolded.

11
Jun
2014

Muriel Bowser’s vision includes all eight wards

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4, Washington D.C., D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council Member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It is with great pride that I strongly support Muriel Bowser and encourage all Washingtonians to vote for her in the Democratic primary on April 1, 2014. I have lived in Washington for more than 35 years and had the privilege of working for a mayor and serving as an ANC commissioner. What I have learned from those experiences is that our great city needs a leader with passion, determination and a willingness to hold people accountable regardless of personal loyalty or political expediency. We need a leader who understands that unifying the city takes more than putting a logo on government letterhead. We need a leader who isn’t satisfied with maintaining the status quo and has a vision for the future of our great city. Muriel Bowser is that kind of leader, which is why I support her.

I met Muriel during the 2006 Fenty campaign. She and I knocked on countless doors and helped him win the election. She was elected to replace him as the city Council member representing Ward 4 and has provided outstanding service to her constituents and been a vocal champion for economic development throughout the city. Muriel is a fifth generation Washingtonian who received her master’s degree in public policy from American University. Prior to serving on the Council, Muriel worked with Montgomery County government on economic development issues and helped develop plans for the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring. She also served her neighbors as an ANC Commissioner prior to joining the Council.

In 2011, Muriel authored and guided into law several comprehensive ethics reform bills. These reforms created the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, consolidated ethics laws into a single code of conduct, and required all City Council and other government meetings to be open to the public. In 2013, Muriel created Kids Ride Free, legislation allowing all D.C. students free bus rides to school in order to remove a barrier to attendance.

Muriel has been a strong advocate for our community. She voted for the marriage equality bill, held hearings on combating school bullying and co-introduced recently passed legislation that will provide additional resources for homeless LGBT youth.

Each election provides us with an opportunity to choose how we want to grow as a city. I have a great deal of respect for Mayor Gray and it would be folly not to acknowledge the support he has provided the LGBT community. That being said, I am disappointed in his challenges in presenting a compelling vision for the rest of this city. Supporters of Mayor Gray are absolutely correct when they state that this election is not about what happened in 2010. The shadow of that campaign provided a distraction that has made it difficult for him to govern. Mayor Gray takes great pride in restoring our fiscal reserves yet seemed blindsided by a growing problem with homeless families. It is great that we are well respected on Wall Street but that is cold comfort to those that are struggling. Mayor Gray is a very loyal leader. That loyalty is one of his most admirable traits but it is costing the city when he stands by agency directors whose slow reaction to crisis might put citizens’ lives in danger.

As mayor, Muriel Bowser will create a city that is second to none in providing economic opportunity to everyone and will help prepare District residents for high-paying jobs. She will lead a government that respects the great diversity of our city and speeds up school reform. She will be a champion of local business and wants to take steps to reduce the barriers to their success. She will hire agency directors who are committed to providing world-class city services.  She will continue to promote the restoration of unimpeachable ethics to city government. She will once again make D.C. proud across all eight wards. Please help this city move forward and vote for Muriel Bowser on April 1.

18
Feb
2014