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Catania is superior candidate for mayor

David Catania, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As a lifelong Democrat, I was interested to read Lateefah Williams’ March 12 piece in which she argues that LGBT voters should look no further than the political party of a candidate when choosing our next mayor. First, I know Williams and find her to be a passionate advocate for the causes close to her heart. However, the notion that we should blindly fall in line and support the candidate with a “D” at their end of their name does a disservice to our community and is not in the best interest of our city.

Williams would have us look only at a label rather than the quality of a candidate’s character and record. David Catania has fought for the LGBT community and stood up for “Democratic values” more than any other elected official in the District. His efforts to improve public schools, expand healthcare coverage to all District residents regardless of their immigration status, create a medical marijuana program and foster economic opportunity for the entire city speak for themselves and clearly reflect our shared values.

There is no other candidate in the race who can hold a candle to David Catania when it comes to issues affecting both the future of our city generally and our community specifically.  David not only authored the bill that brought the District marriage equality, but he was the chief executive of the tireless and relentless campaign to guide it to passage. It was David who brought the various voices of our community together behind an effective and unified strategy and it was David who fought against and stared down the prospect of a ballot initiative that could have been its undoing.

Because of David’s leadership as chair of the Council’s Committee on Health, the District increased the number of publicly funded HIV tests from 8,320 in 2005 to nearly 138,000 in 2012, the final year of his tenure as chair. Further, he was instrumental in taking the District from a place of ignorance about its epidemic to being a national leader in effectively tracking and understanding the spread of the disease. The District’s annual HIV/AIDS epidemiology report that David funded and championed is now a model for jurisdictions across the country. As a result of this work, the number of newly diagnosed cases fell from 700 in 2008 to 363 in 2012 and the number of HIV-related deaths went from 238 in 2008 to 69 in 2012. What’s more, because of his efforts to uncover and address the mismanagement of the city’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program, the number of District residents receiving life-saving medication for free has tripled since 2008 and there is no waiting list.

When the only acute care hospital east of the Anacostia River faced imminent collapse, David took action. He held hearings, rooted out the problems, championed the cause of saving the hospital, and led the effort to secure grants and loans to ensure the hospital’s survival. What was once a facility at risk of being unable to ensure basic patient safety was reborn as “United Medical Center” with new equipment, facilities and patient services. The hospital has seen patient volumes increase and its bottom line drastically improve. If not for David’s intervention, this critical component of the District’s healthcare infrastructure and social safety net would have been lost forever.

In 2013, David introduced legislation to undo the District’s prohibition on surrogacy agreements. Under District law, couples and single people wanting to have children face a fine of up to $10,000 or a year in jail if they enter into a surrogacy agreement. The District is the only jurisdiction in the country with such a prohibition. The legislation authored by David permits surrogacy agreements and establishes a legal framework to protect those agreements.

David authored and guided to passage legislation to undo laws that burdened our transgender brothers and sisters. Until last year, the District required expensive medical procedures before individuals could obtain a birth certificate that reflects their true gender identity. Seeing these laws as outdated and discriminatory, David did something about it. He introduced the “JaParker Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013,” which aligned the District’s requirements with modern medical standards and implemented privacy protections for those seeking a new birth certificate.

Yes, there was a time when David Catania was a Republican. But our community stands for being true to ourselves, true to our beliefs and true to the values of acceptance and fairness.  David Catania’s decision to leave the Republican Party more than a decade ago when it was clear that it did not align with his core values and go on to serve as an independent member of the Council is the logical extension of that same ethic.

David Catania may not have a “D” after his name, but I would put his record up against anyone who does. While some have spent their time worrying about labels, David Catania has been busy putting the District of Columbia first.

John Klenert has been a D.C. resident since the Lyndon Johnson administration. He is a longtime member of the Stein Club and serves on the Victory Fund Campaign Board.


Taking sides in ‘painful’ mayoral race

Hillary Rosen, mayoral race, gay news, Washington Blade

Hilary Rosen, a longtime LGBT advocate and CNN commentator, endorsed David Catania for mayor. A Blade survey of prominent D.C. activists reveals a split in support for Catania and rival Muriel Bowser. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

An informal survey of 37 prominent LGBT advocates in D.C. found that 13 of them would vote for Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) for mayor if the election were held this week, 12 would vote for Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), and 12 were undecided.

All but five of the activists identified themselves in the survey conducted by the Washington Blade as registered Democrats This development suggests a significant number of LGBT Democrats who are normally loyal to their party in D.C. elections are considering voting for Catania, the openly gay independent and former Republican.

Veteran transgender activist Jeri Hughes, who was among those saying she’s undecided in the mayoral race, appeared to reflect the views of many in the LGBT community in weighing their choice between Catania and Bowser.

“Party lines become blurred when the independent candidate represents the Democratic Party line supporting the needy and social welfare to a greater extent and better than most Democrats,” said Hughes.

“I am inclined to vote along my party line, Democrat, but I need to know more about Council member Bowser’s vision for the District,” she said.

Hughes was also among about 30 mostly Democratic LGBT activists that met privately with Catania on Monday at Catania’s campaign headquarters on Connecticut Avenue, N.W., to engage in a “frank” discussion on a wide range of issues, including non-LGBT issues, according to those familiar with the meeting.

Others attending the meeting were transgender activists Earline Budd, Ruby Corado, and Alexandra Beninda and gay Latino activist Jose Gutierrez.

Gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, who organized the meeting, said most of the attendees, including him, supported Mayor Vincent Gray in the April 1 Democratic primary and are now either undecided or are leaning toward Catania in the November general election.

Bowser beat Gray in the primary by a margin of 43 percent to 33 percent according to final returns released by the Board of Elections. Six other candidates, including another three members of the City Council, finished far behind Bowser and Gray.

Hudson said he now supports Catania. Although he said Catania’s record on LGBT rights is far more extensive than Bowser’s, his decision to back Catania is based on his belief that Catania is better qualified to lead the city.

David Catania, Muriel Bowser, mayor, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT advocates in D.C. are divided between David Catania and Muriel Bowser in the race for mayor. (Washington Blade photo of Catania by Michael Key; Blade photo of Bowser by Damien Salas)

Among the LGBT advocates supporting Bowser are Bil Browning, founder of the LGBT news blog Bilerico Project, and his partner, Jerame Davis, former executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats.

Other Bowser supporters, as identified in the Blade survey, include Kurt Vorndran and Lateefah Williams, both former presidents of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club; Courtney Snowden, public relations executive and former Human Rights Campaign official; A. Billy S. Jones, veteran gay rights activist; and Riley Temple, an attorney and gay rights advocate.

Gay Democratic activist and businessman Everett Hamilton, who serves as a communications consultant to Bowser’s campaign, said other Bowser supporters include Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign; Jeff Marootian, former LGBT outreach director for the Democratic National Committee; and veteran lesbian activist Sheila Alexander-Reid, a radio talk show producer and founder of the lesbians of color advocacy organization Women In the Life Association.

Also among Bowser’s LGBT supporters is Christopher Dyer, the gay activist who served as director of the City’s Office of GLBT Affairs under former Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Hamilton pointed to a statement released by Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz congratulating Bowser on the day following her primary victory. He said Wasserman Schultz’s strong backing of Bowser would prompt D.C. Democrats, including LGBT Democrats, to remain loyal to their party’s nominee.

“Muriel’s vision to move D.C. in a positive direction resonates with the District’s working and middle class families,” Wasserman Schultz said in her statement. “Her plans to invest in the city’s schools, infrastructure, and economic development embody the Democratic Party’s priorities to increase opportunity for all.”

Although Wasserman Schultz said she believes D.C. Democrats are committed to uniting behind Bowser following the April 1 primary, at least two nationally recognized lesbian and gay Democrats have come out in support of Catania.

Hilary Rosen, a communications firm executive, Democratic Party advocate and commentator on CNN, announced on her Facebook page last month that she’s backing Catania because, among other things, he’s a “candidate who can bring people together.”

Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff to former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and current principal in the Democratic leaning lobbying and public affairs firm Elmendorf-Ryan Communications, raised eyebrows in Democratic Party circles when he, too, announced his endorsement of Catania.

Among other things, Elmendorf serves as chairman of the board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which also has endorsed Catania. The group raises money for openly LGBT candidates for public office across the country.

“I think David is a candidate who can bring people together and most importantly has shown himself to be willing to do the work,” Rosen said in her Facebook statement. “For example, when he chaired the [D.C. Council] Health Committee he created accessible health clinics for residents all over D.C. but most importantly east of the River.”

Others who identified themselves as Catania supporters in the Blade survey include Deacon Maccubbin, former Lambda Rising bookstore owner; Joel Lawson, Dupont Circle civic activist; Roger Moffatt, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in the Southwest Waterfront area; Alexandra Beninda, transgender activist and member of the D.C. Human Rights Commission; and William Waybourn, former publisher of the Washington Blade. Each of them said they are Democrats.

Also identifying themselves as Catania supporters in the survey are Marvin Carter, CEO of the local LGBT charitable group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters; Charles Francis, public relations executive and founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged for the preservation of the papers of the late gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny; and Berin Szoka, a Libertarian Party activist and 2012 supporter of presidential candidate Ron Paul. Carter and Francis said they are registered as independent voters. Szoka said he’s a registered Republican.

Among the 12 Blade survey participants who identified themselves as being undecided in the mayoral race, gay activist Bob Dardano, transgender activist Toni Collins, and gay ANC commissioner and Georgetown University student Craig Cassey said they are “leaning” toward backing Catania. Each said they are registered Democrats.

Gay rights advocate and journalist Isaiah Poole and gay Asian and Pacific Islander association director Gregory Cendana said they are undecided but are leaning toward Bowser. The two said they are also registered Democrats.

Others identifying themselves as undecided are A. Cornelius Baker, former executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic; Bob Summersgill, a Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance; lesbian activist Barbara Helmick, a Ward 1 civic activist; attorney, tax preparer and Ward 1 civic activist Wallace Dickson; and attorney and Dupont Circle civic activist Edward Grandis. All five said they’re Democrats.

Another survey participant saying he was undecided was Robert Turner, the gay executive director of the D.C. Republican Party. Turner, a registered Republican, said the local GOP has the legal authority to nominate its own mayoral candidate and may do so in time for the June filing deadline for the November general election.

In addition to Bowser and Catania, gay Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors and Statehood-Green Party candidate Faith, a former Broadway musician and perennial D.C. mayoral candidate, will also appear on the November ballot for mayor.

Majors and Faith ran unopposed in their respective party primaries on April 1. However, Board of Elections returns show that Faith received 191 votes, 19 fewer than the 210 write-in votes cast for several people not yet identified by the Board.

A Board of Elections spokesperson said Faith was expected to be certified as the winner because she received more votes than any of the individual write-in candidates.

The returns showed that Majors received a total of 30 votes in the primary by Libertarian Party members. Three write-in votes were cast by members of his party.

The Blade’s survey included Majors’ and Faith’s names as mayoral candidates in the November election, but none of the LGBT advocates participating in the survey expressed support for them.

Majors, a D.C. real estate agent and longtime supporter of LGBT rights, has said he plans to wage an aggressive campaign espousing Libertarian Party principles and how they would benefit the city.

The Stein Club, the city’s largest LGBT political organization, did not endorse a candidate for mayor in the Democratic primary because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote of the club’s membership. Gray received the most votes but fell just short of the 60 percent threshold.

In a development that surprised some longtime Stein Club members, the club didn’t take immediate steps to endorse Bowser as the Democratic nominee at its regularly scheduled meeting on April 14.

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said the club’s officers would soon discuss plans for when to hold an endorsement meeting. She noted that the club’s bylaws prevent the club from endorsing a non-Democrat in races where a Democratic candidate is running.

Former Stein President Vorndran, who didn’t attend Monday’s meeting, said the club’s longstanding tradition since its founding in the 1970s has been to endorse Democratic primary winners at the club’s first meeting following the primary if the club had not already endorsed those candidates.

As a Democratic Party organization, endorsing primary winners almost never involved controversy assuming they were supportive on LGBT issues, Vorndran said.

“It was as routine as approving the minutes,” he said.

But he said the club’s apparent hesitation to endorse Bowser at its meeting this week suggests the club’s officers are uncertain that Bowser would garner the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement at this time.

With a number of club members supporting Catania, a sizable number of members would be expected to vote for the option of “no endorsement,” at least two club members told the Blade.

Peoples said the club and its officers are following an endorsement process adopted last year in which a club endorsement-political committee was formed to determine procedures for making endorsements.

“Our goal is to involve members in the process as much as possible,” she told the Blade. “At Monday’s meeting I said that we would take the feedback to the political committee and give them a chance to determine what the best next step is for the process,” she said.

“The only thing that can be inferred from that is that the Stein Executive Committee remains committed to an open and transparent endorsement process,” she said.

The possible complication in the Stein Club’s endorsement process is yet another example of how divisions within the LGBT community over the Bowser-Catania race may create tension between fellow Democratic activists.

“This race has been painful because I have been forced to make choices which adversely affect individuals whom I respect and admire,” said transgender activist Hughes.

“David Catania has been an LGBT champion, an exemplary and effective Councilman, and personally I love him,” Hughes said. “Muriel Bowser has supported LGBT rights and many in our community love her.”

Added Hughes, “It would be a relief to abdicate choice and rely solely on party line, but this choice will have a real impact on how the District will fare and prosper in the next four years.”


Vague D.C. statute hinders my attorney general run

Lateefah Williams, gay news, Washington Blade, attorney general

Lateefah Williams (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

This may come as a surprise, but for the past two weeks I have been privately exploring a run for D.C. attorney general. I decided to consider running after reading about the declared and potential candidates and feeling that there is no one in the race with an extensive background in public service or community advocacy.

While some people are salivating over the prospect of several “big law” partners showing interest in the race, I am concerned that underrepresented communities and the average person will not have a voice. The prospect of another attorney general who does not prioritize the pursuit of justice and service to all D.C. residents, particularly our most vulnerable residents, is a frightening scenario to me.

As a 37-year-old woman with more than a decade of experience as a licensed attorney (11 years in Maryland; six years in D.C.), I have a good blend of youth and seasoning. My previous experience includes serving as counsel to the Prince George’s County Maryland State Senate Delegation, political and legislative director for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, and as a law firm associate handling insurance defense, plaintiff-side tort law, and family law matters.

Upon first glance, the qualifications for the attorney general position appear basic enough. They are:


§ 1-301.83. Minimum qualifications and requirements for Attorney General.


(a)    No person shall hold the position of Attorney General for the District of Columbia unless that person:


(1) Is a registered qualified elector as defined in § 1-1001.02(20);


(2) Is a bona fide resident of the District of Columbia;


(3) Is a member in good standing of the bar of the District of Columbia;


(4) Has been a member in good standing of the bar of the District of Columbia for at least 5 years prior to assuming the position of Attorney General; and


(5) Has been actively engaged, for at least 5 of the 10 years immediately preceding the assumption of the position of Attorney General, as:


 (A) An attorney in the practice of law in the District of Columbia;


(B) A judge of a court in the District of Columbia;


(C) A professor of law in a law school in the District of Columbia; or


(D) An attorney employed in the District of Columbia by the United States or the District of Columbia.


So, you have to be a D.C. resident and registered voter, who has been a member in good standing of the D.C. Bar for at least five years. The tricky part is section (a)(5)(A), which requires that you have been “actively engaged” for at least five of the last 10 years as an “attorney in the practice of law in the District of Columbia.” As an attorney who has spent most of my career engaged in legislative and policy work, I decided to seek clarification on this requirement.

It is a well-known and accepted practice that many organizations hire attorneys to work in public policy positions because of the additional legal analysis skillset that we bring to the position. The D.C. Code does not define the term “actively engaged,” so it is not immediately evident how this provision applies to attorneys with the requisite years of bar membership, who are practicing law in less traditional ways.

When I first pondered running for attorney general two weeks ago, I decided to call the D.C. Board of Elections to see if I meet this provision. I called and asked to speak to an attorney, but the person who answered the phone asked my concern, relayed my question to one of the attorneys, and then told me that the attorney said it did not matter what type of law I practiced, so public policy is fine. With this assurance, for the next two weeks, I began the process of reaching out to friends, relatives and community advocates to gain a sense of whether there was interest in my candidacy and the level of support that I would have or could potentially obtain.  After numerous conversations and weighing the pros and cons of running, I made the decision to run. I decided to pick up my petitions on July 3, so I could begin circulating them at events during the July 4 holiday weekend.

When I arrived at the Board of Elections, I convinced the front desk personnel to allow me to speak directly with one of the attorneys.  The attorney that I spoke with said that they had not pondered my specific question and she verified that the term “actively engaged” has not been defined. She suggested that I reach out to the General Counsel of the D.C. Council for more guidance. I called the Council’s General Council while I was still at the BOE and asked him my question about the qualifications. He also said that my specific question had not been considered and that I should reach out to the attorneys at the BOE because they would be tasked with interpreting the statute. I then told him that I was calling from the BOE and an attorney there suggested that I call him. He then said he would reach out directly to the BOE attorney, which he immediately did once we ended our call.

I then spoke to the BOE attorney again and she advised me that the D.C. Council’s general counsel is continuing to research the matter, including the legislative history, and that I should have guidance on the matter well before the deadline to submit petitions.  However, both attorneys seemed to lean toward the interpretation that to have been “actively engaged” as “an attorney in the practice of law” you must hold a position that cannot be held by a non-attorney.  Thus, lawyers who are active bar members and have practiced for decades, but are currently employed as corporate vice presidents or nonprofit executive directors would be excluded if they had done this work continuously for the past 6 years.

I presented them with my exact scenario. During four of the years in question, while an active member of the D.C. Bar, I served as a nonprofit speech rights policy analyst for OMB Watch (now the Center for Effective Government) researching and analyzing how tax laws impact nonprofits. I even mentioned the caveat that the nonprofit speech rights director who hired me was also an attorney and my legal expertise was one of the reasons I was hired.

The second position was as the political and legislative director for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 (Metro’s largest union). This also may not meet their definition, even though at many organizations the legislative counsel reports to the legislative director.

The irony of all of this is that according to provision (a)(5)(D), if I was employed by D.C. government or the federal government, then I would only have to be an attorney, but the provision “in the practice of law” does not apply, so if someone graduates from law school, is admitted to the D.C. Bar, and works for the government in any capacity for five years, then they are eligible, but someone like me who practiced in Maryland for years in positions that would definitively count, then once licensed in D.C., used my legal expertise on public policy matters, is possibly precluded from running.

As I mentioned, the Council’s general counsel is continuing to research this matter and I expect him to give me guidance soon. I appreciate the time that the D.C. Council and Board of Elections attorneys took to immediately answer my questions and begin researching a scenario that does not appear to have been contemplated.  Even when I receive the D.C. Council’s general counsel’s opinion, it will serve as guidance, but it will not be official. Thus, if I decide to run and am challenged, the three-member Board of Elections would decide the matter and it could then be appealed to the D.C. courts.

Some may see this as evidence that the election should be held in 2018 and not 2014, but I believe this situation illustrates the opposite. If the D.C. Council was not so busy trying to push the election back to 2018, it may have paid more attention to important logistical matters surrounding the 2014 election. It is absolutely outrageous that in the midst of an election’s petition period, a potential candidate cannot receive definitive guidance on a key qualification for the race. It should increase the outrage that the result may serve to silence a candidate who is a member of several underrepresented groups that otherwise will not have a voice in this race.


Former Stein Club president weighs race for att’y gen’l

Lateefah Williams, gay news, Washington Blade

Lateefah Williams, an attorney and longtime LGBT rights advocate, said she plans to run for the newly created position of elected D.C. attorney general. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Former Gertrude Stein Democratic Club President Lateefah Williams, an attorney and longtime LGBT rights advocate, said she plans to run for the newly created position of elected D.C. attorney general if she determines her legal background meets the specific criteria established by law to hold the position.

Williams, 37, has a law degree from Georgetown University School of Law, is a member of the D.C. Bar and has practiced law in various capacities for more than 10 years.

But she said an attorney with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics told her that her legal experience may not meet the definition of a requirement that attorney general candidates must have been “actively engaged… as an attorney in the practice of law” for at least five of the past 10 years.

The requirement is part of a law passed by the City Council to establish qualifications for someone to become D.C. attorney general.

Over most of the past five years Williams has served as political and legislative director for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents Metro workers; and as a nonprofit speech rights policy analyst for the advocacy group OMB Watch. Prior to that she worked as a law firm associate for several years handling insurance cases, plaintiff related tort law and family law matters, according to a biography she released to the Blade.

“As an attorney who has spent most of my career engaged in legislative and policy work, I decided to seek clarification of this requirement,” Williams said in her regularly published biweekly column in the Blade.

“It is a well-known and accepted practice that many organizations hire attorneys to work in public policy positions because of the additional legal analysis skill set that we bring to the position,” she said.

“The D.C. Code does not define the term ‘actively engaged,’ so it is not immediately evident how this provision applies to attorneys with the requisite years of bar membership, who are practicing law in less traditional ways,” she said.

“I think I have a strong case for meeting these criteria,” she told the Blade.

Kenneth McGhie, general counsel for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, told the Blade on Monday that the board will not make an official determination on whether candidates meet the legal criteria for the position until after they submit a required 3,000 valid petition signatures needed to be placed on the ballot.

Once that hurdle is met, McGhie said, the board will look at the legal background of each of the candidates and make a determination on whether they meet the criteria for the job as specified in the law that created the elected attorney general post.

He said a candidate can appeal a decision by the board that he or she doesn’t meet the legal criteria and, should the candidate lose their appeal, they may take the matter to the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Williams said she told various community leaders and activists that she was considering running for the attorney general position and received widespread encouragement to run. She said she decided to hold off on filing papers officially declaring her candidacy until she obtains additional guidance on whether her legal background meets the statutory criteria.

“I didn’t want to begin raising money and collecting signatures and recruiting volunteers until this matter is at least reasonably addressed,” Williams told the Blade.

She noted that one of the board’s attorneys said a possible option for her would be to become a candidate, submit her ballot petitions and wait to see if a rival candidate files a challenge to her candidacy on the “qualification” question. The board would then make a formal ruling on the challenge following a hearing.

McGhie, however, said the board on its own will determine whether the candidates meet the legal criteria regardless of whether a rival candidate files a challenge.

The issue of an elected D.C. attorney general has been mired in controversy since voters in 2010 approved an amendment to the D.C. City Charter calling for an elected city attorney general rather than the current system that authorizes the mayor to appoint the attorney general.

Last year, the City Council voted to postpone the election for the position from 2014, as specified in the ballot measure approving an elected attorney general, to 2018, saying the city wasn’t ready to elect an attorney general.

Earlier this year, the D.C. Court of Appeals overturned the Council’s action in response to a lawsuit filed against the city by attorney Paul Zuckerberg, who has announced his candidacy for the attorney general position. The appeals court ruling held that the Council didn’t have legal authority to change the year in which the election was to take place.

The Board of Elections has tentatively scheduled a special election for the position. The special election is set to take place on the same day as the city’s regularly scheduled general election in November. It will allow candidates from any party or independent candidates to run for the attorney general position.

In addition to Zuckerberg, D.C. attorneys Mark Tuohey and Edward “Smitty” Smith have filed papers to run for the position.

“I decided to consider running after reading about the declared and potential candidates and feeling that there is no one in the race with an extensive background in public service or community advocacy,” Williams wrote in her column in the Blade.

As the only woman and only LGBT candidate in the race so far, she said she would bring to the attorney general’s position a perspective that other candidates don’t have.


Lateefah Williams enters race for D.C. attorney general

Lateefah Williams, gay news, Washington Blade

Lateefah Williams (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. attorney and longtime LGBT rights advocate Lateefah Williams announced her candidacy on Thursday for the city’s newly created position of elected attorney general, saying she has determined that her experience as a public policy attorney meets the legal requirements for the position.

Earlier this week Williams said she was considering running for attorney general but wanted to clarify what she said was a vaguely worded provision in the D.C. law creating the new position about the definition of the “practice” of law required for candidates running for the position.

“Although I sought clarification on the qualifications as an overabundance of caution, I am certain that I am beyond qualified to hold the position of Attorney General based on both the statutory criteria and my vast experience,” Williams said in a statement on Thursday.

The statute in question says a candidate running for the office must have “practiced” law for at least five years during a 10-year period prior to running for the position in order to qualify for the post. Williams says she considers her work as legislative director of at least two non-profit organizations as a form of law practice that meets the legal criteria for the position.

If elected, Williams would become the second known LGBT person to serve as the city’s attorney general either through an election or through appointment by the city’s mayor. Robert Spagnoletti, who’s gay, was appointed attorney general in 2004. D.C. voters in 2010 approved a change in the city’s charter to replace the longstanding system of an appointed attorney general to one elected by city residents.

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics has tentatively scheduled a special election for the attorney general position in November at the same time the city’s election for mayor, City Council members and other offices will be held.

Three other candidates are running for the attorney general position, and others are expected to enter the race before the deadline for filing ballot petitions in August. The three are Paul Zuckerberg, Edward “Smitty” Smith and Karl A. Racine. Each has been associated with law firms representing individual and corporate clients. Another candidate, Mark Tuohey, dropped out of the race on Wednesday.

Williams, 37, has a law degree from Georgetown University School of Law, is a member of the D.C. Bar and has practiced law in various capacities for more than 10 years.

Over most of the past five years Williams has served as political and legislative director for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents Metro workers; and as a nonprofit speech rights policy analyst for the advocacy group OMB Watch. Prior to that she worked as a law firm associate for several years handling insurance cases, plaintiff related tort law and family law matters, according to a biography she released to the Blade.

She is a past president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political organization.

Williams currently serves as Legislative Committee Chair for the D.C. Federation of Democratic Women, Recording Secretary for the Ward 5 Democrats and as a board member of the Wanda Alston Foundation, which provides housing and other services for homeless LGBTQ youth.

“I have spent my career as a public advocate,” Williams said in her statement released on Thursday. “For me, working in the public interest has not been something to do on the side while I enrich large corporations. Rather, I made a conscious choice to dedicate my career to public service and I believe that as a community-oriented public servant, I am best suited to represent all Washingtonians and protect our most vulnerable residents.”



Gay candidates trailing rivals in money raised for Nov. election

David Catania, candidates, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayoral candidate David Catania this week won the endorsement of the city’s police union. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Seven of the eight out gay or lesbian candidates running for various positions in the city’s Nov. 4 general election are trailing their opponents in the amount of money they have raised to support their campaigns.

According to the latest round of candidate reports filed on Aug. 10 with the city’s Office of Campaign Finance, D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who’s gay, is trailing Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) by nearly $2 million in money raised in the race for mayor.

The reports show that Bowser, the Democratic Party nominee, has raised more than $2.7 million since she began her campaign last year and had more than $1 million in cash on hand. Catania has raised just under $775,000 since entering the mayoral race earlier this year and had just under $464,000 in cash on hand, according to his finance report.

Former Council member Carol Schwartz, who’s also running for mayor as an independent candidate, has raised $65,623 as of Aug. 10 and had $50,375 in cash on hand as of that date. Schwartz’s report shows that $33,000 of the total amount she raised came from a personal loan she made to the campaign.

Gay mayoral candidate Bruce Majors, who’s running under the banner of the Libertarian Party, has so far raised $6,549 for his campaign and had $128 in cash on hand as of Aug. 10, as shown in his finance report.

Most political observers view Catania’s fundraising effort so far as a respectable showing in a city where Democrats make up the overwhelming majority of registered voters and where no non-Democrat has ever won election as mayor.

Catania’s campaign received a boost on Wednesday when the city’s police union announced it has endorsed him over Bowser and Schwartz.

In other city races, lesbian public relations executive Courtney Snowden came in second place in the fundraising department for the hotly contested 15-candidate race for two at-large D.C. Council seats up for grabs in November. Snowden is running as one of 11 independent candidates in the race in which a Democrat is only eligible for one of the two seats.

In the contest for the newly created elective position of D.C. Attorney General, lesbian attorney and former Gertrude Stein Democratic Club President Lateefah Williams appears to have finished last in fundraising in a five-candidate race, with $9,685 raised and just over $9,000 in cash on hand. Her opponents have raised between $45,000 and over $200,000, with some of them kicking in large sums of their own money they earned as attorneys for big name law firms.

“I see a pathway for overcoming the money advantage that several of my opponents currently hold,” Williams told the Blade. “During the petition signature phase of the campaign, I was not able to focus on fundraising to the extent that I would have liked,” she said. “Moving forward, I will be working with my fundraising team on a daily basis.”

Ward 1 school board candidate Scott Simpson, one of two gay men running in a five-candidate race, is leading the pack in money raised. His finance report shows he raised $22,493, with close to $20,000 in cash on hand. Rival gay candidate David Do has raised $11,420 and has $5,000 in cash on hand.

A campaign finance report for gay Libertarian candidate Martin Moulton, who’s running for the city’s non-voting “shadow” U.S. House seat, couldn’t immediately be found on the Office of Campaign Finance’s website.

In the at-large Council race, incumbent Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, is considered the odds on favorite to win re-election to the so-called “Democratic” seat.

Campaign finance records show Snowden has raised $87,123 since the start of her campaign and had $81,123 in cash on hand as of Aug. 10. Her lead rival, restaurant owner and progressive activist Khalid Pitts, who’s also an independent, has raised $115,873 since the start of his campaign and had $98,052 in cash on hand as of Aug. 10.

However, the campaign finance reports show that the total amount raised by both Pitts and Snowden include a $15,000 loan by Pitts to his campaign and an $11,000 loan by Snowden to her campaign.

Gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Marc Morgan, who’s running for the at-large seat as the Republican nominee, raised $18,516 and had $726 in cash, his finance report shows.

Several of the other independent candidates running for the at-large seat raised between $10,000 and over $50,000 since starting their campaigns. Among them former City Paper news reporter and civic activist Elissa Silverman, who came in third with $56,324 raised and $20,221 in cash on hand.

Silverman drew support from many of the city’s prominent LGBT activists when she ran for the same seat two years ago. But this time, Snowden’s finance report shows that many well-known local and national LGBT leaders gave money to her campaign, with no recognizable LGBT big-wigs giving money to Silverman.

Among those contributing to Snowden’s campaign were Rea Carey and Darlene Nipper, executive director and deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Paul Smith, the gay rights attorney who argued the 2003 Supreme Court case that overturned state sodomy laws; businesswoman and prominent Democratic Party activist Hilary Rosen; Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund Vice President Denis Dison (the Victory Fund endorsed Snowden); and former assistant U.S. Attorney General and public affairs and lobbying firm owner Robert Raben.


D.C. residents a pawn in Walmart’s chess match

Walmart, gay news, Washington Blade

LRAA is not perfect legislation, but sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and the LRAA is a very good step in the right direction. (Photo by Bobby P.; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

D.C. has long been a city with massive wealth disparities and those disparities only seem to be getting worse. What is different today, however, is that city officials seem to be catering to corporate interests over vulnerable residents more than ever.

I can understand why Mayor Gray and the D.C. Council’s decision over whether to support the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), which would require businesses that are more than 75,000 square feet and have more than $1 billion in sales to pay a minimum wage of at least $12.50 an hour, was difficult. On one hand, if the legislation passes, it would ensure that Walmart, the wealthiest corporation in the world, pays its employees something approaching a living wage rather than the poverty wages it is known for. The legislation also applies to a few corporations other than Walmart, but let’s be real, this is mostly about Walmart.

On the other hand, if LRAA passes, Walmart is threatening not to build the two planned stores east of the river and the one in Ward 5, which are slated to be built in communities where retail is needed most. Mayor Gray succumbed to Walmart’s threats and vetoed the legislation.  Just enough Council members appear to have followed suit to prevent overriding his veto.

Many people who oppose Walmart because of its abhorrent labor practices softened their stance solely because much-needed retail was going to underserved communities.  Although I am one of those who oppose Walmart, the argument that vetoing LRAA may delay development at Skyland Town Center in Ward 7 for a generation did give me pause.

Then it hit me.  We would not even be having this debate if Walmart built the first D.C. stores at Skyland Town Center and Capital Gateway, both in Ward 7, instead of in Northwest. Walmart’s leverage is based on the fear that it is those communities’ only hope to get major retail. I guarantee you that if the stores currently under construction were the two in Ward 7, the LRAA vote would not have even been close. It would have passed the Council by a veto-proof margin and Mayor Gray would have signed it. So, we are mere pawns in Queen Walmart’s chess match because city officials failed to request that Walmart build the Ward 7 stores first and now Walmart has backed the city into a corner.

Eric Jones, a local political operative, sees the situation differently.  “The reason the East of the River projects have not been started is not because of Walmart. There are other things that need to be done prior to Walmart coming to these locations, but if Walmart doesn’t come to these locations, the projects won’t get off the ground,” Jones said.

If that is the case, Walmart sure did not spend any time explaining why it did not build the East of the River stores first during its massive public relations blitz. Then again, it did not have to. Our city officials were too busy allowing Walmart to make the first move and then reacting to Walmart’s moves.

Some of the criticism, such as that the living wage jobs will not necessarily go to D.C. residents are potentially valid, but if the contention is that the major benefit of Walmart coming to D.C. is for residents who lack access to retail to have retail in their community, with lesser regard to the jobs aspect, then it makes even less sense that the city did not push Walmart to build the East of the River stores first.

Ask yourself this question: If Walmart had begun construction on the stores at Skyland Town Center and Capital Gateway, then threatened not to build the remaining stores, would you support the $12.50 minimum wage, knowing that Walmart is already coming to the communities that need it most?  If your answer is yes, then you have your answer about whether you should support the LRAA.

Walmart disregarded the District’s needs when it chose to build the three Northwest stores first and city officials let retail-starved communities down when they did not insist that the first stores be built East of the River. Walmart should not be rewarded for choosing to build in Northwest and then conveniently using LRAA as an excuse not to build stores in the communities where they are needed most.  I will concede that the LRAA is not perfect legislation, but sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and the LRAA is a very good step in the right direction.

Lateefah Williams’ column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is the immediate past president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Reach her at or follow her at twitter @lateefahwms.


Stein Club prez to step down, run for veep

Martin Garcia, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Martin Garcia (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a surprise development, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club President Martin Garcia has announced he will not seek re-election as president and will run instead next month for the club’s position of vice president for legislative and political affairs.

Garcia’s announcement comes nearly one year after he and a slate of candidates he recruited shook up the club’s established order by winning control of three of its five officer positions. In the process the challengers effectively wrested control of the club from its longtime leaders, including then President Lateefah Williams, who lost her re-election bid to Garcia.

“In my tenure as president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, I’ve been humbled by the LGBT leaders here in the city and proud of the work that we’ve been able to do together,” Garcia said in a statement. “We have been able to accomplish a lot in this last year and ensure that the Stein Club remains as influential in the District as it has always been,” he said.

Garcia, an account manager for a D.C.-based political consulting firm that works mostly with progressive Democratic candidates, said he decided to seek the club’s vice presidential post for legislative and political affairs so he could devote more time on the upcoming 2014 D.C. elections.

He said he is endorsing the person he would replace in the vice presidential post, Angela Peoples, in her bid to succeed him as president.

“She has shown outstanding leadership this past year…and I am excited to continue working alongside her to amplify the voice of LGBT Democrats in this city,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vincent Paolo Villano, who won election last year as vice president for administration on Garcia’s slate, has announced he will not run for re-election for that or another officer position at the club’s upcoming election on Nov. 18. And club treasurer Barrie Daneker, who was re-elected last year unopposed by the Garcia slate, also announced he’s not running again for an officer’s post.

Stein Club Secretary Jimmie Luthuli, who also won re-election last year unopposed, said at the club’s Oct. 14 meeting that she plans to run for an officer’s position but hasn’t decided which post to seek.

The vote in the club’s December 2012 election came after Garcia and his supporters recruited close to 50 mostly young LGBT activists to join the club within a week or two prior to the election, with some joining on the day of the election, so they could vote for the Garcia slate. The club has since changed its bylaws to require that people become a member for at least 30 days before being eligible to vote in a club election.


‘Incumbent’ slate wins Stein Club elections

Angela Peoples, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Angela Peoples won election as the Stein Club’s president Monday night in a hotly contested race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s vice president for legislative and political affairs, Angela Peoples, won election as the club’s president Monday night in a hotly contested race against transgender activist and longtime club member Jeri Hughes.

Peoples ran on a slate that she and Stein Club President Martin Garcia organized after the two decided to swap positions, with Garcia stepping down as president to run for the vice presidential position currently held by Peoples.

Peoples won by a vote of 49 to 24. Garcia ran unopposed and was declared the winner of the vice president’s position by acclamation.

Stein Club members supporting both Peoples and Hughes said both candidates were well qualified to serve as president but a majority chose Peoples as part of a new, younger leadership team that won control of the club in its 2012 election on a platform of reinvigorating the organization by aggressively building a larger, more diverse membership.

“This year we saw a lot of energy and enthusiasm and I think we’re going to carry that into 2014,” Peoples said after the election results were announced. “We’re going to continue to raise money, we’re going to reach out and hold candidates accountable to move our community and our issues forward,” she said, referring to next year’s D.C. mayoral and City Council elections.

“The Stein Club will be fine,” Hughes told the Blade in a statement after the election. “It was a fair election. I truly appreciate the support that I received.”

The Stein Club, which celebrated its 37th anniversary in October, is the city’s largest LGBT political organization.

Peoples and Garcia earlier this month invited three new members of the club — Diana Bui, Terrance Laney and Bobbie Strang — to join their slate of candidates for vice president for administration, treasurer and secretary respectively. Laney and Strang won in uncontested races after incumbent treasurer Barrie Daneker chose not to run for re-election and incumbent secretary Jimmie Luthuli ran for vice president for administration.

Shortly after Luthuli announced her intent to run for the vice presidential post Bui entered the race for the position as a member of the Garcia-Peoples slate.

During a candidate discussion period on Monday, Bui described herself as a “Vietnamese-American queer” who has worked in the fields of public relations, media and social justice advocacy. She said she would become a “fearless” advocate for LGBT equality if elected to the position.

Luthuli, who was not part of the Garcia-Peoples slate in the 2012 club election, said her status as a longtime club member and LGBT rights advocate would bring continuity and more experience to the club’s leadership team.

Bui beat Luthuli in the race for the vice president for administration post by a vote of 40 to 31.

Biographical information on members of their slate released by Garcia and Peoples says Bui serves as co-chair of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum D.C. Chapter. She also heads the immigration advocacy work for the Asian Pacific Labor Alliance in the role of membership and chapter coordinator, according to the biographical information.

Laney, the club’s treasurer-elect, recently worked on the successful marriage equality campaign in Rhode Island and previously served as special assistant to the CEO at the LGBT advocacy group National Black Justice Coalition.

Strang, who will assume her duties as Stein secretary in January, has been active with the D.C. Trans Coalition, Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), and the D.C. Center, information released by the club says. It says she has also worked at the D.C. Office of Latino Affairs and currently works as the first openly transgender employee at the D.C. Department of Employment Services.

Monday night’s election came just under a year after Garcia, Peoples and Villano organized a successful challenge to a slate organized by then-Stein Club President Lateefah Williams, resulting in the ouster of the club’s established leadership.

Supporters credited Garcia, a political consultant, with helping to recruit as many as 50 new members in December 2012 to back his slate, prompting Hughes and other longtime members of the club to complain that the new group “stacked” the election.

But Garcia and others, including many of the club’s longtime members, acknowledged that signing up new members immediately prior and up to the time of the election meeting was permitted under the club’s bylaws.

Earlier this year the club voted to change the bylaws to require that people be members of the club for at least 30 days to be eligible to vote in a club officers election.

Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, Bob Kuntzler, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the Stein Club cast ballots for their 2014 leadership. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Correction: This story originally reported that the vote for president was 73-24 instead of 49-24. We regret the error.


Local gay activist tapped to lead Stein endorsement forum

Earl Fowlkes Jr., Black Pride, Washington Blade, gay news

Center for Black Equity President Earl Fowlkes, Jr. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Democratic National Committee member and gay activist Earl Fowlkes of D.C. was scheduled to serve as moderator Thursday night, March 21, at a candidate endorsement forum where five Democrats running in a special election for an at-large D.C. Council seat were expected to court LGBT voters.

The event, organized by the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, was scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, 474 Ridge Street, N.W.

“Any candidate hoping to represent the entire District must be a vocal advocate for the issues our community cares about,” said Angela Peoples, the Stein Club’s vice president for political and legislative affairs.

“As the largest LGBT organization in D.C., the Stein Club is well positioned to endorse and use the organizing and fundraising powers of our members to help our chosen candidate push for victory on April 23,” the date of the special election, Peoples said in a statement.

Fowlkes, who served as an Obama delegate at the Democratic National Convention last summer, was chosen by the club’s officers to preside over a forum in which club members appear to be dividing their support among several of the candidates with strong records of support for LGBT rights. He also serves as CEO and president of the Center for Black Equity, a national LGBT advocacy organization.

Fourteen prominent club members, including former Stein treasurer and transgender activist Alexandra Beninda, recently announced their support for Elissa Silverman, a former Washington Post reporter and current budget analyst for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. The 14 activists are hosting an LGBT “meet and greet” for Silverman at the 17th Street, N.W., gay bar Cobalt on April 6.

Another ten prominent club members, including former presidents Kurt Vorndran and Lateefah Williams, announced they are hosting their own “meet and greet” for Anita Bonds, chair of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. The State Committee earlier this year elected Bonds as interim Council member for the at-large seat until the special election is held on April 23.

Other club members, along with LGBT activists not affiliated with the club, are backing Michael A. Brown, a former at-large Council member; and Matthew Frumin, an attorney and Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.

Not as many Washington D.C. LGBT activists have surfaced as backers of the fifth Democratic candidate, attorney and marijuana decriminalization advocate Paul Zuckerberg. But Zuckerberg says he is reaching out to LGBT voters.

All five Democratic candidates scheduled to appear at the Stein Club’s endorsement forum Thursday night have expressed strong support for LGBT equality, including marriage equality for same-sex couples. Brown, the only candidate who has previously served on the D.C. Council, has a strong voting record in support of LGBT rights, including his vote for the city’s same-sex marriage law in 2009.

With the club’s membership appearing to be divided among the candidates, it was unclear going into Thursday night’s forum whether any candidate would obtain the 60 percent vote among club members needed for an endorsement under the club’s rules.

“Stein Club members care deeply about this city and the people who live in it,” said Stein President Martin Garcia in a statement. “Electing the best Council member for our city’s LGBT community is part of the responsibility we have to the District.”

The remaining two candidates in the special election who are not Democrats – Republican Patrick Mara and Statehood Green Party candidate Perry Redd – have also expressed strong support for LGBT rights.

Mara, who has run for the Council before, has attracted gay and non-gay Democrats as supporters and is considered by political observers to have a shot at winning in an election where a low voter turnout is expected.

The five Democratic candidates’ responses to a Stein Club questionnaire asking them to state their positions on LGBT issues can be viewed at