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The difficulties of beating an incumbent

Vincent Gray, Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Jack Evans, Vincent Orange, mayor, District of Columbia, gay news, Washington Blade

Over the next less than 70 days, the struggle will be for the challengers in D.C. to make the case for how they can make a difference. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

The D.C. primary is less than 70 days away. There are numerous candidates running for office and nearly all incumbents have more than one challenger. Looking at a recent Washington Post poll it is clear that no challenger in the mayor’s race has yet created enough excitement around their candidacy to stand out from the crowd.

But creating that excitement is a very hard thing to do even for good candidates in races with numerous challengers. From the political perspective the problem of running against an incumbent is very difficult. From president to local school board, incumbents have an advantage and the only way to beat them is if you can first get voters to focus on things they have done wrong and then move them to buy into what you as the challenger can do right.

We recently witnessed a mayoral primary and election in New York where there was no incumbent on the ballot but the winning candidate, rather than focus on his opponents. ran against the mayor in office. Bill de Blasio was able to tap into an electorate tired of Michael Bloomberg after 12 years in office. He was able to run pitting the haves against the have-nots. That is often a way national races are run. One of the major issues in New York was universal pre-kindergarten. Instead of focusing on the issue he focused on “taxing the rich” to pay for it. It was very effective as a campaign issue even if he may not be able to do it now that he is in office.

De Blasio was able to tie incumbent Council President Christine Quinn, a lesbian, to Bloomberg and then benefitted when many in the LGBT community attacked her. That election showed that voters in New York have moved beyond guaranteeing votes to a candidate based on their being the same race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. De Blasio also did something hard to do and which could have backfired when he highlighted his family in the election. De Blasio is white. His wife is African American — beautiful, intelligent and she was once an activist lesbian. His son seems to have a great personality and great natural hairstyle to go with it; he captured the interest of the press and the imagination of the community. Clearly not all candidates have such an interesting family.

Now there are some candidates running across the nation who look at Bill de Blasio’s campaign as a blueprint for their own. Some see it as the rise of progressivism and the public finally fighting back against the economic inequality that we are seeing in the nation. But I would caution candidates to think twice about using New York as an example of how to run a campaign. Some think that it was former Mayor Adrian Fenty trying to model himself after Michael Bloomberg that caused many of his problems. There are few cities with eight million people and the diversity of New York. More are like the District, which is comparable to a collection of just a few neighborhoods in New York.

D.C. today has only 400,000 registered voters. Everyone in politics tends to know everyone else and their business. When a new mayor is installed in New York, he or she has a choice of millions of people to place in government positions. That isn’t the case in D.C. and it is the reason many people remain in their positions from one administration to another.

Challengers who generally have the same positions on the issues as the incumbent have a difficult time making themselves stand out. Challengers who are themselves incumbents in another office have the additional problem of having already staked out positions many the same as the person they are now challenging. In a small city like D.C. the issues always tend to be the same. They include education, public safety, fiscal stability, economic development and balancing the needs of the haves and have-nots, which includes dealing with gentrification.

Over the next less than 70 days, the struggle will be for the challengers for all offices in D.C. to make the case for how they can make a difference. First they will try to convince voters that the city isn’t moving in the right direction and present a believable plan to change things. If that doesn’t work they must make the case for why the incumbent can’t continue to lead.

Not easy in a one-on-one challenge but made even more difficult when there are multiple candidates having to run not only against the incumbent but against each other.


D.C. must have representation in Congress

State of the Union, 2014, Barack Obama, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

We must have our votes in Congress. But as we all work to that goal, our local government has more power than many realize. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

I serve on one of the most powerful elected legislative bodies in the nation. I am a member of the D.C. Council.

Whoa, hold on, I hear you say, how can that be when every law passed by the Council must go to, and may be changed by, Congress at will? And by a Congress where D.C. lacks any voting representation.

To be sure, D.C. statehood is one of the last remaining great human rights violations in the USA. Our city is entitled to full voting representation in the House and Senate and for that there can be no substitute.

Yet, in direct consequence of the congressional role, there is a widely held view that the D.C. government has little power.

On closer examination, that is far from the case.

D.C. may be the most unique political jurisdiction in the U.S. And since Home Rule was established on Dec. 24, 1973 — a 40th anniversary that went largely unnoticed — the D.C. government incorporates city, county and state functions. Thus, for example, motor vehicles, transportation and public works — functions that usually are not within the power of city/county government — are under our government.

Moreover, except for Nebraska, D.C. is the only unicameral state legislature in the U.S. And Nebraska’s single house has 49 members in contrast to D.C.’s 13. In our unicameral legislature, a law can be passed with the support of only seven votes and the signature of the mayor.

But what about this congressional review, where a D.C. law must lay over for 30 legislative days?

True enough. But how often do D.C. laws simply lay over in Congress without action or interference by them?

Almost always is the answer. Even though the heavy boot of a Congress where we have no vote is constantly hanging over the heads of District residents, Congress has used this authority only on rare occasions over the last 40 years — indeed only three times over the last 40 years — and not since 1991. In recent times, Congress has taken no action to disturb what in earlier times would have been viewed as enticing political targets — smoke-free workplaces and marriage equality come immediately to mind.

And D.C.’s congressional review is nothing like what many cities and counties must go through in order to take certain actions. In Virginia or New York, operating under what is known as the “Dillon Rule,” local government may only pass certain laws as expressly allowed by the state legislature. For example, in order for Mayor Bloomberg in New York City to gain control over the NYC public schools laws had to be introduced and passed in Albany in both houses and then signed by the governor. Mayor Fenty needed but seven Council members in D.C. to do about the same thing.

Congress also has the authority to impose restrictions on the District’s ability to raise funds, such as the congressional prohibition of a commuter tax, and override initiatives approved by District residents through referendum. But here again, the authority is increasingly not used. For example, prohibition on needle exchange and medical marijuana funding — both imposed in FY1998 — were lifted in recent years. Only the restriction on spending on abortions remains.

So too, Congress may use the District as a “laboratory” for its own initiatives that they think would be “popular back home.” Federal funding for opportunity scholarships for private schools and various actions related to charter schools are examples.

Forty years into the history of this relatively young government and we have accomplished a lot. The District’s legislature — among the most progressive in social policy in the country — also oversees one of the strongest economies in the country today. We must have our votes in Congress. But as we all work to that goal, our local government has more power than many realize.


NYC Council to skip St. Patrick’s parade

Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York City, Washington Blade, St. Patrick's Day parade

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will not march in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. (Photo courtesy NYCity News Service/Dennis O’Reilly)

NEW YORK – New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on Feb. 25 announced the New York City Council as an institution will not participate in the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade because organizers ban LGBT people from marching.

“The St. Patrick’s Day Parade should be a time when all New Yorkers can come together and march openly as who they are — but right now that is not the case for the LGBT community,” said Mark-Viverito.

Mark-Viverito’s announcement comes less than a month after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would not march in the annual parade for the same reason.

De Blasio’s predecessors — Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani — both marched in the parade. Former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn boycotted the annual event that takes place on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.

Mark-Viverito said individual Council members can march in the parade if they choose.


FBI investigating Quinn opponents in NY mayor’s race?

Christine Quinn, New York City, gay news, Washington Blade

Christine Quinn lost her bid last year to become New York City’s first openly gay mayor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The New York Daily News has reported that the FBI is investigating a possible extortion scheme hatched by an animal rights group to derail City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s campaign last year to become New York City’s first openly gay mayor.

In a series of articles beginning April 25, the Daily News has cited unnamed sources claiming that New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets (NYCLASS) is under investigation for allegedly making a threat to destroy Quinn’s mayoral campaign if she did not agree to a proposed ban on horse drawn carriages in Central Park and nearby streets.

“Sources said the FBI appears to be evaluating the nature of the threat and whether it went beyond the normal rough-and-tumble of politics and drifted into extortion,” the News reported.

Quinn, who held a wide lead in the early months of the campaign, finished third in the September 2013 Democratic primary with 15.5 percent of the vote.

Bill de Blasio, who held the elected position of Public Advocate, won the primary with 40.4 percent of the vote in a nine-candidate race. He went on to win the general election in November and was sworn in as mayor in January.

A spokesperson for the FBI’s New York Field Office declined to comment when asked by the Washington Blade if the FBI was investigating NYCLASS and others working with the group to oppose Quinn’s candidacy.

“NYCLASS knows nothing about any investigation, which makes sense because NYCLASS has done nothing wrong,” the group’s spokesperson, John Eddy, told the Blade.

In a development that most political observers say hurt Quinn’s campaign, she declined to support the ban on horse drawn carriages, saying she didn’t believe the horses were being mistreated. Quinn and others supporting the horse and carriage industry noted that horse carriages have been a New York tradition for more than 150 years and are an important tourist attraction.

NYCLASS officials have said forcing horses to travel along streets with cars and buses is a danger to the animals and has led to the injury and death of horses over the years. They have called on the city to replace the horses with vintage, 1920s era cars powered by electric engines.

According to the Daily News, NYCLASS retaliated against Quinn after it reportedly persuaded de Blasio to support the ban on horse carriages. At that point going forward it helped to fund a relentless campaign of negative commercials, robo-calls and mailings that “began the downfall” of Quinn’s campaign, the Daily News and other news outlets have reported.

In a follow-up story on April 27, the Daily News again cited unnamed sources as saying the FBI was looking into a $225,000 contribution to NYCLASS to help fund its anti-Quinn attack ads by “a union run by de Blasio’s cousin, John Wilhelm, and a key de Blasio fund-raiser, lawyer Jay Eisenhoffer.”

Known as the “Anyone but Quinn” campaign, the effort spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Quinn, with her poll numbers taking a nose dive within two months of the start of the campaign.

“Agents spoke with Quinn and at least four others, focusing on the funding of the anti-Quinn effort and why her chief rival, de Blasio, reversed his position and supported the [horse carriage] ban,” the Daily News reported.

Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor emeritus at New York’s Hunter College, told the Blade that although the attack ads from NYCLASS were not the sole reason for Quinn’s defeat, they played a significant role in her drop in the polls.

Sherrill attributed Quinn’s perceived closeness to then incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was highly unpopular among voters, as the main reason for her defeat. Sherrill said Quinn’s status as an out lesbian had “absolutely nothing” to do with her loss at the polls.

A New York Times exit poll showed that a majority of LGBT voters backed de Blasio over Quinn because they believed both were equally good on LGBT issues and believed de Blasio was better on non-LGBT issues.

The Blade couldn’t immediately reach Quinn or a spokesperson for comment. The Daily News reported that a Quinn spokesperson declined to comment when reached on April 26.

A public opinion poll conducted in January showed more than 60 percent of New York City voters support retaining horse drawn carriages. All three of the city’s major daily newspapers, including the New York Times, also favor keeping horse carriages.


LGBT rights take back seat at Africa summit

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Yoweri Museveni, White House, Uganda, U.S.-Africa Leaders' Summit, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at the White House on Aug. 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

LGBT rights largely took a back seat to economic issues during this week’s summit in D.C. that drew nearly 50 African heads of state.

President Obama on Tuesday broadly mentioned LGBT rights as he spoke with Takunda Chingonzo, a 21-year-old Zimbabwean entrepreneur, during a business forum that Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg co-hosted at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Southwest Washington.

Obama during a speech at the same event announced the U.S. had pledged an additional $33 billion to promote investment and further economic development in Africa.

“Some of the incredible cultures of some of our U.S. businesses that do a really good job promoting people and maintaining a meritocracy, and treating women equally, and treating people of different races and faiths and sexual orientations fairly and equally, and making sure that there are typical norms of how you deal with people in contracts and respect legal constraints,” said Obama. “All those things I think can then take root in a country like Zimbabwe or any other country. Hopefully, governments are encouraging that, not inhibiting that.”

Obama said during a White House dinner on Tuesday that he and his family have been “inspired by Africans — ordinary Africans doing extraordinary things.”

“Farmers boosting their yields, health workers saving lives from HIV/AIDS, advocates standing up for justice and the rule of law, courageous women asserting their rights, entrepreneurs creating jobs, African peacekeepers risking their lives to save the innocent,” he said.

John Kerry, gay news, Washington Blade, U.S.-Africa Leaders' Summit

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday specifically applauded Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, during a forum at the National Academy of Sciences.

“We will continue to stand up and speak for the rights of all persons with disabilities, and we will continue to stand up and speak out for LGBT activists who are working for the day when tolerance and understanding really do conquer hate,” said Kerry. “We will do so because we know that countries are stronger and more stable when people are listened to and given shared power.”

LGBT rights were not specifically included in the agenda of the summit itself that took place at the State Department on Wednesday.

“We have the opportunity to strengthen the governance upon which economic growth and free societies depend,” said Obama before he opened the gathering. “Today we can focus on the ingredients of progress: Rule of law, open government, accountable and transparent institutions, strong civil societies and respect for the universal human rights of all people.”

Homosexuality remains criminalized in more than 30 African countries.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in February signed into law the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill under which those convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts face a life sentence.

The White House subsequently cut aid to the East African country that funded HIV/AIDS programs and other initiatives. The Obama administration in June announced a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court on Friday struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, arguing parliamentarians passed it last December without the necessary quorum.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian bill into law that punishes those who enter into same-sex marriages with up to 14 years in prison. The statute also bans anyone from officiating a gay union, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

Museveni and Jonathan are among the African leaders who attended the White House dinner.

The African leaders, along with Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who described gay men as “vermin” during a February speech that commemorated his country’s independence from the U.K., are among those who posed for pictures with Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as they arrived.

“As the relations between Africa and the United States of America has evolved for centuries with significant impact on the economic and social well-being of our peoples, we believe that this summit is appropriate and laudable,” said Jammeh in a lengthy statement provided to reporters at the U.S. Institute for Peace on Wednesday. “It provides the platform and opportunity to move to a higher level of mutually beneficial cooperation between the United States and the countries of sub-Saharan Africa.”

Washington Blade, State Department

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at the White House on Aug. 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, the Council for Global Equality and more than a dozen other advocacy organizations late last month urged Obama to highlight LGBT rights during the summit.

“In the lead up to the African leaders summit, this is a time that we and members of civil society and the U.S. government really has to think about how we are addressing sexual minority rights issues overseas, particularly in Africa,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, during a pre-summit forum at the National Press Club in downtown Washington on July 30.

Obama discussed LGBT rights in Africa during a press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall in June 2013 that took place in Dakar, the West African country’s capital, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. Kerry in May touched upon anti-LGBT discrimination during a speech he made in the Ethiopian capital.

“This summit has provided and will continue to be a forum for candid discussions with African leaders on a range of issues, including on LGBT rights,” Ned Price of the National Security Council told the Blade on Tuesday.

Bloomberg — who backed efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Maryland and New York — earlier in the day told the Blade his views in support of LGBT rights “are well known” and he has “never been shy about them.”

He nevertheless stressed it is “not our job to go and try to promote things that I think countries should adopt.”

“I can do that in America as an American,” Bloomberg told the Blade. “I just think that it sort of steps a little bit over the bounds to go into another country and try to change their values. I’m not shy about expressing mine.”

Chalwe Mwansa, a Zambian LGBT rights advocate, is among the 500 fellows with the White House’s Young African Leaders Initiative who met with Obama last week.

Mwansa told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from New York where he is interning with IGLHRC that he is “very, very grateful” to the Obama administration for its public support of LGBT rights in Africa.

He nevertheless said he wished that summit organizers had done more to highlight LGBT rights on the continent.

“We’re Africans; we have our national identities,” Mwansa told the Blade. “There hasn’t been much space, there hasn’t been much platform for the inclusion of LGBTI people.”

Washington Blade, Barack Obama, Gambia

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet Gambian President Yahya Jammeh at the White House on Aug. 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)


NYC march against anti-gay attacks draws thousands

anti-violence, hate crime, Greenwich Village, Mark Carson, gay news, Washington Blade

Thousands of people marched in New York City on Monday in response to Mark Carson’s murder. (Photo courtesy of Karlo)

Thousands of people marched through the streets of lower Manhattan on Monday in response to the murder of a gay Brooklyn, N.Y., man that police have categorized as a hate crime.

Elliott Morales allegedly shot Mark Carson to death on West 8th Street in Greenwich Village shortly after midnight on May 18. New York Police Department officials told the New York Times and other media outlets that Morales shouted anti-gay slurs at Carson as he and a friend were walking on nearby Sixth Avenue.

The NYPD also said Morales, whom prosecutors have charged with murder and criminal possession of a weapon, stalked Carson before he allegedly shot him.

“I am horrified that a gay man was murdered in Greenwich Village after being assailed by homophobic slurs,” New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said. “I stand with all New Yorkers in condemning this attack.”

Carson’s family members and Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act on which the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in March, took part in the march that began at the LGBT Community Center and ended at the spot where Morales allegedly shot the Brooklyn man to death. Gay New York City Council members Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer and former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is among those along with Quinn who are running for mayor, also participated.

“We mourn Mark’s tragic and senseless death, and send a message that this violence must come to an end,” said LGBT Community Center Executive Director Glennda Testone.

Both the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council also issued statements on Tuesday that condemned Carson’s death.

“We denounce any and all acts of unprovoked violence,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “No American should be the target of violence — period.”

Anti-gay attacks rattle New Yorkers

Carson’s murder comes against the backdrop of a string of attacks against LGBT New Yorkers in recent weeks that have sparked concern and outrage among local advocates and politicians. The most recent of these took place in lower Manhattan hours after the Greenwich Village march.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters on Tuesday that Gornell Roman allegedly shouted anti-gay slurs at former Philadelphia party promoter Dan Contarino before he struck him several times in the head and the face around 10:45 p.m. on Monday after they visited two East Village bars and a pizza restaurant. Roman turned himself in at a Bronx police precinct late Tuesday.

Fabian Ortiz of Manhattan and Pedro Jimenez of Brooklyn allegedly shouted what Kelly described as “anti-gay derogatory statements” in Spanish and English at two men who were walking on Prince Street in Soho early Tuesday morning.

The Anti-Violence Project in a press release on Tuesday said it also continues to investigate reports of an assault against a transgender woman in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens on Monday night.

“These types of crimes are outrageous and we are going to do everything in our power to see to it that they certainly don’t occur,” Kelly said. “But if they do occur, we’re going to very aggressively investigate them and bring people to justice.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg described Carson’s murder during the press conference with Kelly as “a cold-blooded hate crime that cut short a life full of promise.” He reiterated his message that the city will do everything it can to combat bias-motivated crimes in the five boroughs.

“New York City has zero tolerance for intolerance,” Bloomberg said.

Kelly noted the number of hate crimes in the city is down almost 30 percent so far this year from the same period in 2012, but those motivated by anti-gay bias are up more than 70 percent over the same time. He also noted hate crimes often go underreported.

While Kelly noted these attacks are not related, Anti-Violence Project Executive Director Sharon Stapel told the Washington Blade on Tuesday “this kind of violence happens every day to LGBT people in New York City.” She said her organization tends to see a handful of high-profile incidents in the weeks leading up to gay Pride month each year that generate a significant amount of media attention.

“The difference between years past and this year is both the severity of the violence — including a fatality — and that there is such a great number of incidents in such a short period of time being reported by the media,” Stapel said.

The Anti-Violence Project on Friday will hold the first of its Community Safety Nights during which volunteers will canvass neighborhoods in which anti-LGBT violence has recently taken place and distribute information and other resources. This campaign will take place each Friday through June.

Quinn on Wednesday will also join Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Nathan Schaefer and other advocates and elected officials at a press conference on the steps of New York City Hall to urge the New York Senate to pass a bill — the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act — that would ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression before the current legislative session ends at the end of next month.

The New York Assembly earlier this month once again approved the bill.

“GENDA is part of a bigger conversation, which is the context in which this violence is happening is one in which LGBT people are not equal citizens in this country,” Stapel said.

Advocates seek ‘an end to this violence’

Yetta Kurland, who hopes to succeed Quinn on the New York City Council, told the Blade on Tuesday those who took part in the march in response to Carson’s murder were “sad and also while mourning really wanted to put an end to this violence.”

Karlo, a Manhattan make-up artist who also took part in the march, echoed Kurland.

“It doesn’t matter where oppression, homophobia, discrimination and hate crimes happen, it affects all of us,” he told the Blade. “That is why I had to be there.”

Bloomberg added all New Yorkers “can do our part to end hate crimes and spread tolerance.”

“No person regardless of what they look like or who they love should ever walk down the street in fear,” he said.


Powder in letter sent to HRC building tests positive for ricin

gay news, Washington Blade, Michael Bloomberg

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was also sent ricin-laced envelopes. The envelope for Mark Glaze was mailed to his office at the HRC building. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

New York City police announced late Wednesday that an unidentified suspect mailed letters containing poisonous ricin powder to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a prominent gun control advocate working out of the Human Rights Campaign building in Washington, D.C.

In a dramatic turn of events, Deputy New York Police Commissioner Paul J. Browne said preliminary tests determined a powdery substance sent to the D.C. office of longtime gay rights advocate Mark Glaze, who serves as director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, appears to be ricin.

“Anonymous threats to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in letters opened in New York City on Friday and by the director of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns in Washington, D.C. on [Memorial Day] contained material that when tested locally, preliminarily indicated the presence of ricin,” Browne said in a statement.

Browne’s statement, which was confirmed by an FBI spokesperson in Washington, contradicts a statement given to the Washington Blade on Tuesday by D.C. Fire Department spokesperson Lon Walls.

Walls said he was told that a preliminary field test of the powder sent to Glaze at the HRC building conducted by the DCFD’s Hazmat Unit indicated it was not hazardous. Walls and another D.C. Fire Department spokesperson couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Erika Soto Lamb, a spokesperson for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told the Blade on Tuesday that Glaze had been operating that organization as an employee of the Raben Group, a lobbying and political consulting firm that rents offices at the HRC building at 1640 Rhode Island Avenue, N.W.

Lamb said that Glaze recently decided to leave the Raben Group to work full-time as head of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He was in the process of removing his belongings from the Raben Group’s offices at the HRC building at the time the threatening letter arrived, Lamb said.

D.C. police, Fire Department investigators and FBI agents rushed to the HRC building about 5 p.m. Monday after Glaze called police to report he had just opened an envelope containing a threatening letter and the powdery substance, according to a D.C. police report.

The report says Glaze came to his office on Memorial Day to check his mail, among other things, and decided to open the mail while sitting on a bench in a park area just outside the HRC building on Rhode Island Avenue.

Lamb told the Blade the threatening letter targeted Glaze solely for his role as a gun control advocate and made no mention of HRC or LGBT related issues.

Bloomberg, who is one of the nation’s leading gun control advocates, serves as co-chair of the 950-member Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which Bloomberg helped to found.

The statement by Browne, the deputy New York police commissioner, says the anonymous ricin bearing letter sent to Bloomberg arrived at the New York City mail facility on Gold Street in Manhattan on Friday, May 24.

Members of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit who came in contact with the letter were being examined for “minor symptoms of ricin exposure that they experienced on Saturday but which have since abated,” the statement says.

“The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the NYPD Intelligence Division, which is responsible for the mayor’s protection, are investigating the threats,” Browne said in his statement.

Browne’s statement says the writer of the letter to Bloomberg made “references to the debate on gun laws” and is believed to be the same person who sent the threatening letter and powdery substance to Glaze in Washington.

Jacqueline Maguire, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Washington, D.C. Field Office, told the Blade the FBI is working with both D.C. and New York City police in the investigation into the threats against Bloomberg and Glaze.

Maguire said further tests of the powder sent in the two letters were continuing as part of a standard protocol for investigating incidents of this kind.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans. A fact sheet on the CDC website says ricin is commonly produced as a waste product in the production of castor oil from castor beans.

The fact sheet says purified ricin produced with the intention of using it as a poison attacks the human body by preventing cells from making proteins, causing cells to die.

“Eventually this is harmful to the whole body, and death may occur,” the fact sheet says, depending on how large the amount of ricin is ingested, inhaled, or injected.


Christine Quinn for mayor of New York

Christine Quinn, New York City, gay news, Washington Blade

Christine Quinn (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Christine Quinn is not a perfect candidate. So what? When was the last time anyone found a perfect candidate for any office? But Quinn is the best candidate running for mayor of New York because she has proven she has the toughness and the right experience to get things done and that isn’t easy in New York.

There are those that hold a grudge because of her Council vote that made it possible for Michael Bloomberg to run for a third term. But what people ignore is that it was the voters who gave Bloomberg a third term even if they now have buyer’s remorse. Yes he bought the race with more than $90 million of his own money and won by only 5 percent but he won at the ballot box. That can’t be blamed on Christine Quinn and that was four years ago and it’s time to get over it.

New York has always been a tough place to govern and, as a New Yorker who spent many years in politics there, it is something I can personally vouch for. Many like me found ourselves supporting candidates with whom we didn’t always agree. The perfect progressive can’t win citywide in New York because the city is made up of five boroughs each with a different electorate and differing needs.

There are issues that faced the Council where Quinn didn’t come around fast enough but she understood that in the long run she had to bring a majority along to win. In New York, over the years, issues like minimum wage, rent control or sick leave often had to go to the brink before compromises were reached. Having served as coordinator of local government under Mayor Abe Beame, some characterize me as a Tammany Hall Democrat. But like many politicians in New York, that is only half of the picture. I knew and had dinners with Carmine DeSapio and Frank Rossetti but also began the Heights Young Reform Democrats to support Congressman Bill Ryan and then worked for Bella S. Abzug (hard to get more progressive than that).

New York has the chance to make history by electing its first woman mayor and first lesbian mayor. I supported Abzug when she ran for mayor in 1977 and one of the reasons she lost was her unstinting progressive union stance. She called for the police to have the right to strike a few days before the 1977 blackout and all the looting that followed. That in essence ended her chance to be mayor.

Quinn in many ways is much more prepared and ready to be mayor than Abzug was. And I believe she is more interested in the job. Abzug was much more involved and interested in national issues than she was in getting the garbage picked up. She actually told that to a voter while campaigning in Washington Heights during the 1976 Senate primary, which Pat Moynihan won. A voter complained about the dirty streets and Bella looked at her and said, “I have much more important things to work on like war and peace, go talk to the mayor, he deals with little stuff like that.”

Quinn has a record of accomplishments she can be proud of and what she shares with Bella is the intelligence and chutzpah needed to lead in New York.

Christine Quinn can be a powerful voice across the nation for both women’s rights and LGBT rights if she is given the chance. She will have more of a platform and influence greater than any other candidate running simply because she is a woman and a lesbian and she can use it for the people of the city. The time is now to give her that chance and I urge New Yorkers to forgive her some mistakes and acknowledge that while she may not be perfect she is right for New York today and she is the best candidate to lead the city into the future.


Quinn rallies at Stonewall Inn in final push for mayor

Christine Quinn, New York City, gay news, Washington Blade

Christine Quinn faces voters Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn took her campaign to become New York’s first gay and first female mayor to the historic Stonewall Inn on Friday night for a rally launching her final push leading up to the city’s Democratic mayoral primary on Tuesday.

The rally, which drew more than 200 people, including many of New York’s most prominent LGBT rights advocates, came one day before an NBC 4 New York-Wall Street Journal poll showed Quinn trailing her lead rival, New York Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, by 16 points.

The poll also showed that she and rival Bill Thompson, the former city comptroller, were tied for second place in the race with 20 percent each.

Earlier polls had Quinn in the lead, but in the past month de Blasio has surged, according to several polls, putting him at 36 percent and in striking distance to capture the 40 percent threshold needed to win the Democratic nomination outright without having to compete in a runoff.

“We’re standing on hallowed ground on a place where people before us said we’re not going to get pushed around anymore,” Quinn told the Friday night rally. The event was held outside the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar that was the site of the 1969 riots by gays and transgender people in response to a police raid that’s credited with triggering the modern LGBT rights movement.

“And you know what?” said Quinn. “In the course of this campaign we’ve taken a lot of hits. We’ve been attacked over and over by my opponents and by independent expenditures. And we’re right here tonight on ground where people fought back against things much harder than we have – much harder than the attacks I’ve taken in this campaign.”

Added Quinn, “We’re moving forward because nobody has ever handed our community anything. We got there by organizing, by joining with our allies, by educating, and by pushing forward. And that’s what we’re going to do until Tuesday.”

The crowd replied by chanting, “Win with Quinn! Win with Quinn!”

But earlier in the day de Blasio was also cheered by gays as he campaigned in nearby Chelsea, a gay neighborhood in the heart of Quinn’s City Council district, according to a report by the New York Daily News, which has endorsed Quinn.

The LGBT-supportive de Blasio’s warm reception in what some said should have been unfriendly territory was viewed as yet another sign of Quinn’s struggle to capture enough votes to win a slot in the two-candidate runoff election scheduled to take place Oct. 1 if no candidate wins 40 percent of the overall vote on Tuesday.

Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor emeritus at New York’s Hunter College, told the Blade on Sunday that Quinn’s slide in the polls and struggle to beat Thompson for a second-place finish has “absolutely nothing” to do with Quinn’s sexual orientation.

Sherrill and other political observers say Quinn’s troubles, among other things, are due to the perception by many voters that she is closely aligned with three-term New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has become highly unpopular in the past few years.

“When you’re speaker you have a choice,” Sherrill said. “You either can oppose everything the mayor does or you can be a partner in governing and help shape policies and make them wiser and improve things,” he said. “And doing things that make you an effective speaker are frequently things that don’t make you a popular candidate for mayor.”

Spokespersons for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and the Human Rights Campaign, national LGBT advocacy groups that have endorsed Quinn, said volunteers and staff members from the two groups were in New York working on the Quinn campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort.

In addition to the Daily News, the New York Times and the New York Post have also endorsed Quinn for mayor, calling her a skilled and seasoned politician capable of doing the best job of running New York City at this time.

The NBC 4 NY-Wall Street Journal poll, which was conducted by the Marist polling firm, showed de Blasio with 36 percent; Quinn and Thompson with 20 percent; former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner with 7 percent; New York Comptroller John Liu with 5 percent; and Bronx pastor Erick Salgado and former City Council member Sal Albanese each with 1 percent.

The poll shows that women voters support de Blasio over Quinn by a margin of 34 percent to 21 percent even though Quinn is the only woman in the race. The poll shows that de Blasio is leading Thompson among black voters by a margin of 39 percent to 25 percent even though Thompson is the only black candidate in the race and de Blasio is white.


Jose Antonio Vargas ‘optimistic’ about immigration reform

Jose Antonio Vargas, National Council of La Raza, gay news, Washington Blade

Jose Antonio Vargas accepts an award from the National Council of La Raza in D.C. on March 5. (Photo courtesy of National Council of La Raza)

A gay former Washington Post reporter who came out as an undocumented immigrant nearly two years ago told the Washington Blade earlier this week the LGBT rights movement needs to do more to advocate on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform.

“When we talk about immigration, we’re talking about why our country looks the way it does,” Jose Antonio Vargas said, specifically applauding the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for their efforts. “I would think and I would hope and I would pray that the LGBT community should be at the center of that conversation.”

Vargas, who publicly disclosed his immigration status for the first time in an essay he wrote for the New York Times Magazine in June 2011, spoke with the Blade the day after the National Council of La Raza honored him along with California Attorney General Kamala Harris, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and United We Dream at their annual awards ceremony at the National Building Museum in D.C.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has repeatedly said his decision to come out as gay in 1999 while in high school in Mountain View, Calif., was less difficult than disclosing his immigration status, although his grandfather kicked him out of the house. Vargas, whose mother sent him from the Philippines to live with his grandparents outside San Francisco when he was 12, reiterated this point during a Center for American Progress forum on undocumented LGBT immigrants on Friday.

“I ruined the plan,” he said as he discussed his grandfather’s reaction to his decision to come out as gay. “The plan was to come to America, marry a woman and get my papers that way.”

Vargas has remained among the most high profile undocumented immigrants since disclosing his status.

He founded Define American, an organization that advocates on behalf of undocumented immigrants seeking citizenship, in 2011. Vargas last month testified in support of comprehensive immigration reform before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“It was definitely very stressful,” Vargas told the Blade as he recalled his testimony. His grandmother who once asked him whether he had to talk about his sexual orientation when he discussed his immigration status sat a few feet behind him during the hearing. “I’m only one person and it’s only one story, but there was an obligation to try to speak to the collective universal experience as much as possible.”

His advocacy on behalf of undocumented immigrants has not come without controversy.

He faced criticism for lying to his editors at the Post and other publications for which he worked about his status.

“Of course there’s criticism because I lied — I lied to my colleagues, I lied to my employers,” Vargas told the Blade immediately after the Center for American Progress forum during which he spoke. “I have no control over peoples’ judgment. All I ask for I guess is empathy.”

He responded further.

“It was either lie or don’t work,” Vargas said. “I wanted to work. I wanted to pay taxes. I wanted to contribute to my home. So that’s what I had to do.”

A Williams Institute report released during the Center for American Progress forum notes at least 267,000 of the more than 900,000 foreign-born LGBT adults currently living in the United States are undocumented.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said during the same Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at which Vargas testified the Uniting American Families Act that would allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their foreign-born partners for immigration purposes would not increase the risk of fraud among those seeking to enter the country. She wrote to Congress last fall that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would instruct personnel to consider “long-term, same-sex partners” as families while weighing the potential deportations of undocumented immigrants.

Napolitano told the Blade late last month the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the White House from placing a hold on marriage-based green card applications for bi-national same-sex couples in response to requests from New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and others.

Vargas said he remains hopeful about the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform.

“I’m optimistic about it because frankly everybody realizes and acknowledges the urgency,” he said. “We’re talking about a legacy issue for the White House as well and doing what’s right.”

Vargas once again sought to personalize the issue during the Center for American Progress forum as he discussed a man with whom he recently spoke after a panel at Elmhurst College outside Chicago. He said the man told him “he would like to give him papers,” but appeared to have an issue with his sexual orientation.

“I am not going back in the closet for anybody,” Vargas said. “The country will only get gayer, it will only get browner, it will only get more Asian. This is the inevitability. In 21st century American politics diversity is destiny. Ignore it at your peril.”