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Catania to run for mayor

David Catania, Washington D.C., District of Columbia, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Council member David Catania plans to file papers this week to run for mayor.

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) plans to file papers this week to become a candidate for mayor in the November general election, according to Ben Young, an official with Catania’s mayoral exploratory committee.

Catania, a 16-year veteran on the Council, would become the city’s first serious openly gay contender for D.C. mayor based, among other things, on a Washington Post poll in January showing him to be in a statistical tie with Mayor Vincent Gray if the two were to run against each other.

Young declined to comment on the timing of Catania’s expected announcement, which would come just days after U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen alleged in court documents that Gray knew about an illegal “shadow campaign” that Machen said helped Gray win his race for mayor in 2010. Gray has denied the allegations.

Some had speculated that Catania would wait to see who wins the Democratic nomination in the hotly contested April 1 primary before deciding whether to enter the race as an independent. Gray is being challenged by seven candidates, including four incumbent Council members.

The most recent poll, which was conducted before this week’s allegations by the U.S. Attorney, showed Gray in the lead, with Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) as his closest rival. The poll conducted by NBC4, WAMU Radio, the Washington Informer and Marist College Institute for Public Opinion showed Gray ahead of Bowser by 28 percent to 20 percent.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) had 13 percent, Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) had 12 percent, businessman Andy Shallal had 6 percent, and Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) had 4 percent. Former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis had 3 percent and civic activist Carlos Allen had less than 1 percent.

Veteran gay activist Bob Summersgill, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said the campaign finance allegations hanging over Gray’s head and the division among Democrats between the four Council candidates could help Catania in the November election.

“Yesterday’s news on the shadow campaign I think is not going to deter Gray’s supporters, so I still think he’s going to get the 25 to 30 percent of the vote that he needs” to win the primary, Summersgill said.

“But I don’t think the Democrats are going to line up behind him after the primary because of the scandal,” he said. “So I think that people are much more likely to look at David Catania.”

Summersgill and others watching the election believe current supporters of Wells, Evans and Bowser – including LGBT supporters of those candidates – could break from their party by voting for Catania rather than Democrat Gray.

No non-Democrat has won election as mayor in D.C. since the city received its home rule government from Congress and the first modern era mayoral election was held in 1974.

Others, however, say Gray could falter between now and the April 1 primary and another candidate, such as Bowser, could emerge as the Democratic nominee. If that were the case the D.C. electorate’s longstanding inclination to elect a Democratic mayor could once again prevail, according to some political observers.

Catania told the Blade in January when he formed his mayoral exploratory committee that he believes his long record of accomplishments as a Council member has benefited residents in all parts of the city and would make him a strong candidate.

“I think it underestimates the independence of our voters to suggest that they will vote for someone simply by virtue of their sexual orientation, or their gender or their color or geography,” he said. “I think we are entering an era where people no longer feel that they have to or are inclined to support a person who may be demographically similar to them.”

11
Mar
2014

Gray, Bowser in tight race

Vincent Gray, Muriel Bowser, mayor, race, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayor Vincent Gray and Council member Muriel Bowser lead a slate of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in next week’s primary. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Supporters of Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and his main rival, City Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), were making a final appeal to LGBT voters for support this week just days before the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

Two polls released on Tuesday and a separate poll released one week earlier each show Gray and Bowser in a statistical tie and far ahead of the other six mayoral candidates.

Bowser’s dramatic rise in the polls over the past month has prompted her campaign to step up its effort to urge supporters of the other candidates — especially Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) — to switch their backing to Bowser.

Although most observers believe the LGBT vote will be divided among several candidates, some activists say LGBT voters could be a deciding factor in the race if they coalesce behind either Gray or Bowser.

One of the polls released this week by the Washington Post shows Bowser with 30 percent support from a sample of likely voters, with Gray receiving 27 percent. An NBC4/Marist poll also released on Tuesday shows Bowser with 28 percent and Gray with 26 percent.

The poll released one week earlier and commissioned by WAMU Radio and the Washington City Paper showed Gray and Bowser each receiving 27 percent. All three polls show that Gray’s support has largely remained at the same level it was more than two months ago while Bowser’s support has risen by more than 10 points.

According to the NBC4/Marist poll released on Tuesday, among likely Democratic voters, Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) was in third place with 11 percent; Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) was in fourth place with 9 percent; and Busboys and Poets Restaurant owner and progressive activist Andy Shallal and Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) each had 4 percent.

Attorney and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis had 2 percent and businessman Carlos Allen had less than 1 percent. Fifteen percent of the respondents were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent.

“The latest polls are showing what we knew all along — that this is a two-candidate race,” said gay activist and businessman Everett Hamilton, who’s supporting Bowser. “All the candidates are great on our issues and we are really fortunate to have an embarrassment of riches among the candidates,” he said.

“So this election is really not about whether someone will be good on LGBT issues,” Hamilton said. “It’s about things that need to be better in this city.”

Transgender activist Jeri Hughes, who supports Gray, said she was troubled that some opponents of Gray are arguing that people shouldn’t vote for him because of the pending criminal investigation into an illegal shadow campaign on the mayor’s behalf in 2010.

At least four people associated with Gray’s 2010 election campaign, including businessman Jeffrey Thompson, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the raising of more than $660,000 in illegal campaign funds. But despite statements by U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen that more is to come in his ongoing investigation, which began four years ago, no charges have been filed against Gray, who strongly denies any involvement in illegal campaign activities.

“I don’t think the people moving toward Bowser are LGBT people for the most part,” Hughes said. “This is due to allegations against the mayor. Nothing has been proven. I’m very disappointed that so many people are buying into innuendo,” she said.

“I can’t turn away my support because of innuendo,” said Hughes. “I believe the mayor is of the utmost integrity and most people I know in the LGBT community share this view.”

Hughes and Lane Hudson, a local gay Democratic activist who founded an independent LGBT group supporting Gray called Gray Pride, are among a number of activists who consider Gray’s record on LGBT issues to be the strongest in the nation for a big city mayor.

Transgender activists have described as groundbreaking a first-of-its-kind city job training program initiated by Gray aimed at low-income transgender residents, who often face prejudice and discrimination when seeking employment. Also considered groundbreaking by activists was the mayor’s recent directive requiring health insurance companies doing business in the city to cover gender reassignment surgery and other procedures deemed medically necessary for transgender people in the process of transitioning.

Hudson, however, acknowledges that the campaign finance scandal has chipped away at Gray’s support among voters, including some LGBT voters.

“It will be a close race,” Hudson said. “The turnout will be crucial. The more activist types are favoring Gray,” he said. “I feel he is getting around half to a majority of LGBT votes.”

Evans and Wells supporters, meanwhile, questioned whether the latest polls accurately reflect the view of the people who will actually turn out to vote. They urged supporters to remain loyal to their respective candidate in a hotly contested election with an outcome that seasoned political observers, including LGBT advocates, said was unpredictable, in part, because the voter turnout is expected to be at an all-time low.

A low turnout is expected, according to political observers, because voters are unaccustomed to having a primary – or any city election – in April. In a controversial action, the D.C. Council voted last year to move the primary from September to April 1.

In addition to Democratic candidates, gay Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors is running unopposed in his party’s mayoral primary on April 1, ensuring that he will be on the ballot in the November general election.

Also running unopposed in the April 1 primary is Statehood-Green Party candidate Faith, a former Broadway musician who has run for public office several times in the past.

At a campaign rally Monday night at the D.C. gay bar Number 9, Evans reminded the mostly gay crowd that he has been on the front lines in support of LGBT rights since he began his tenure on the Council in 1991 when he led the effort to repeal the city’s sodomy law. In his GLAA questionnaire response, Evans lists nearly two-dozen LGBT-related bills he has introduced, co-sponsored or supported that have passed since he became a Council member.

Jack Evans, Washington Blade, gay news

‘I’m the alternative that you need,’ said Jack Evans. ‘And I can win if you vote for me.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Evans said he’s telling anyone who will listen – including LGBT voters – that he has a shot at winning if everyone familiar with his long record of accomplishment on a wide range of issues votes for him.

“What I’m saying to people is I’m the alternative that you need,” Evans said. “And I can win if you vote for me.”

All of the candidates except Allen have expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality. Although Allen has expressed general support on LGBT issues during candidate forums, he received a “0” rating from the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance for failing to return a questionnaire asking about specific issues. The non-partisan GLAA rates on a scale of -10 to +10.

Gray received a +10, the highest possible rating from GLAA. He received 58 percent of the vote in the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s mayoral endorsement forum, falling four votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement under the club’s rules. With support from Stein Club members divided among the candidates, the club did not endorse anyone for mayor.

Wells received a +9.5 GLAA rating; Evans received a +9, Shallal received a +6, Bowser received a +5.5, Lewis received a +4.5, and Orange received a +3.

The mayoral candidates responding to the GLAA questionnaire each expressed support for a wide range of LGBT issues and initiatives proposed by the non-partisan GLAA. GLAA President Rick Rosendall noted that none of the mayoral candidates were designated as hostile or in opposition to a significant LGBT issue.

Wells supporters point to his role as chair of the Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, where he has pushed through a number of important LGBT-related bills, including a measure easing the ability of transgender people to obtain a new birth certificate to reflect their new gender. Wells has also monitored police handing of anti-LGBT hate crimes in a series of oversight hearings on the subject.

Orange supporters, including LGBT backers from his home base in Ward 5, note that, among other things, he helped push through legislation to create the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs and worked with gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in securing Council passage of an amendment that added transgender people to the D.C. Human Rights Act’s prohibitions against discrimination.

In addition to being a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, Shallal said he regularly arranges for his Busboys and Poets restaurants to host and sponsor LGBT-related events, including “a monthly queer open series that encourages self-expression for the LGBT community.”

Lewis said that as a senior State Department official in the Obama administration, she backed then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s implementation of domestic partnership benefits and spousal privileges to same-sex partners of U.S. Foreign Service employees. “I was proud to have been a part of the administration that made it possible for landmark legislation like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to become law,” she said on her GLAA questionnaire response.

A breakdown of the GLAA rating scores for each of the candidates and their questionnaire responses can be accessed at glaa.org.

26
Mar
2014

Bowser or Catania?

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

The race between David Catania and Muriel Bowser for mayor is dividing the LGBT community. (Washington Blade photo of Catania by Michael Key; Blade photo of Bowser by Damien Salas)

D.C.’s overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning LGBT community will likely be navigating unchartered waters this summer and fall as an LGBT-supportive Democrat, Council member Muriel Bowser, runs against a prominent openly gay Council colleague, independent David Catania, in a hotly contested race for mayor.

“I have no idea how it will come out,” said Rick Rosendall, president of the non-partisan Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.

“Many people are talking about supporting Catania,” Rosendall said. “At the same time, some people are circling the wagons as Democrats.”

Rosendall is among many activists who see a potential dilemma for LGBT voters in a city in which virtually all elected officials and nearly all credible candidates for public office are supportive on LGBT rights. Many have longstanding records of support on issues that were once considered highly controversial, such as the city’s same-sex marriage law.

Bowser’s decisive victory over D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary appears to have come with the support of large numbers of LGBT voters, even though the city’s most prominent LGBT leaders backed Gray.

A Washington Blade analysis of 18 voter precincts believed to have large concentrations of LGBT residents shows that Bowser won 14 of them, with Gray and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells, a Council member from Ward 6, each winning two of the “LGBT” precincts.

Several of the precincts won by Bowser are located in areas long known as “gay” neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Adams Morgan and Shaw. Other precincts she won are in areas considered up and coming neighborhoods into which many LGBT people are moving, such as the 14th and U Street, N.W. corridor, Bloomingdale, and Ledroit Park.

Everett Hamilton, owner of a local public relations firm and longtime gay Democratic activist, is serving as a volunteer communications strategist for the Bowser campaign. He said he believes Bowser captured the majority of LGBT votes for the same reason that she won the overall citywide vote.

“At the end of the day, LGBT people, like all city residents, are going to vote for the person who can best run the city and who they believe is best for the city,” he said.

With a gay brother and a gay campaign manager, Hamilton said no one can dispute the fact that Bowser and her campaign have strong ties to the LGBT community, Hamilton said.

Other political observers, however, point out that Gray was ahead of Bowser and the other mayoral candidates until U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen took the extraordinary step of implicating Gray in an illegal scheme to raise more than $600,000 for Gray’s 2010 mayoral election campaign less than a month before the primary.

Gray has long denied having any knowledge in the scheme that led to the indictment of businessman Jeffrey Thompson, who pleaded guilty to orchestrating the scheme in exchange for being promised a more lenient jail sentence. It was Thompson who has told prosecutors Gray knew about the illegal activity and approved it.

The revelations by Machen resulted in an immediate rise in support for Bowser that many observers believe led to her victory at the polls.

Catania’s LGBT supporters, meanwhile, have said that Catania’s reputation as a reform politician with a strong legislative record on issues such as healthcare, education, and LGBT rights will have none of the negative baggage that Gray had as the general election campaign for mayor moves forward.

Longtime gay Democratic activist Paul Kuntzler, one of the founders of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, surprised many in the LGBT community last week when he announced his support for Catania over Bowser. Ben Young, Catania’s campaign manager, said “many more” prominent LGBT Democrats would soon announce their support for Catania.

Veteran gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, a Blade columnist, has emerged as one of Catania’s leading critics, saying Catania’s status as a former Republican whose philosophy isn’t as progressive as people think will work against Catania in a city with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.

Angela Peoples, president of the Stein Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, said the club’s bylaws prevent it from endorsing a non-Democratic candidate when a Democrat is running in a particular race.

Even if the club could endorse a non-Democrat, Peoples said she expects the club to back Bowser, although its members have yet to set a date to vote on an endorsement.

“As always, I will certainly yield to the will of the membership,” she said. “This election poses an interesting situation for many folks and for LGBT folks in the District as there is an LGBT candidate on the ballot,” Peoples said.

“However, I think what I’ve seen thus far coming out of the primary is Democrats are uniting around Councilwoman Bowser. And I think that’s great to see,” she told the Blade.

Peoples said the club would likely adopt a plan for an endorsement vote at its April meeting scheduled for next Monday night.

The city’s most prominent transgender activists, who were solidly behind Gray in the primary, also have yet to say whether they will back Bowser now that she defeated a mayor that many in the trans community considered a champion for their rights.

Although Bowser has voted for all transgender equality measures that have come before the Council, Catania has been the author of several of those measures, including a landmark bill removing longstanding obstacles to the ability of trans people to obtain a new birth certificate to reflect their transition to a new gender.

10
Apr
2014

Graham: ‘I’m not bitter, I’m not resentful’

Jim Graham, Democratic Party, Ward 1, Washington D.C., Washington Blade, gay news

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said a low voter turnout and a barrage of editorials by the Washington Post attacking him on an ethics issue played a key role in his defeat in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

Political newcomer Brianne Nadeau, a civic activist and communications firm executive, won the primary by a decisive margin of 59 percent to 41 percent in a development many political observers considered an upset given Graham’s stature as a four-term Council member.

“The bottom line is she brought out her people and my people didn’t respond,” Graham told the Blade in an interview on Tuesday.

“I’m not bitter. I’m not unhappy,” Graham said. “I’m not resentful. You know, it took me a while to decide to even run. I got a very late start,” he said. “It’s another adventure for me in life.”

Graham acknowledges that the ethics charge filed against him over his taking sides in a Metro development contract matter that led to his Council colleagues voting to reprimand him played a role in the outcome of the election.

But he said the decision to move the primary from its traditional date in September to April 1 also prevented him from running a campaign as effectively as he would have liked. Graham noted that the traditional September primaries came at a time when the Council was in recess for the summer.

“I found it very hard to campaign, be a chairman of a committee, to be a full-time Council member, and to be a fundraiser,” he said. “It’s very, very hard to do it all in a difficult race. If you have an easy race it’s not a problem.”

Graham also took strong exception to claims by some in the LGBT community that it’s no longer necessary to have an openly LGBT Council member in a city in which virtually all elected officials and all serious candidates – including Nadeau – are strong supporters of LGBT rights.

“Well they’ve said that before,” said Graham. “So why don’t they tell the Victory Fund to shut down?”

He was referring to Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national LGBT organization that raises money to elect openly LGBT candidates across the country.

“And is Harvey Milk going to turn over in his grave?” he said. “It’s absurd on its face. There’s no need for a Victory Fund? There’s no need for an NAACP? There’s no need for the National Council of La Raza? It’s absurd.”

 

Washington Blade: We’d like to get your perspective on why the Ward 1 election turned out the way it did. Some of your supporters are pointing to the Washington Post’s criticism of you in its editorials.

Jim Graham: Well you know it was 27 editorials in about 11 months — all negative, all on a single person. It does have an impact. There’s no question about that. But I think ultimately the answer to your question is simple, because her people came out and voted and my people, for whatever reason, did not respond the same way.

So, you know, that’s what happened. So she won. And I think to some extent I was running against the Washington Post…

And the bottom line is she brought out her people and my people didn’t respond. I don’t know if it was because of the weather or the early primary or what it was. People have said to me, well run again as an independent, and there will be a greater turnout. There may be some truth to that but we’ll never know.

 

Blade: It was a record low turnout.

Graham: Oh my God, I had precincts where the voting was at 17 percent. And there were precincts which she carried by a vote or two that, had they voted, she would have lost. But that’s all just academic at this point.

I had a cordial exchange of emails with her. And if she wins the final election I offered to help her with the transition if she wants.

 

Blade: In terms of your own campaign, did you do things differently based on what you were facing?

Graham: You know you can do that Monday morning quarter backing. She got more votes, and it was a very light turnout, and that coupled with the changing demographics in the ward and the Washington Post editorials. And there was a general feeling for change because of all of my Council colleagues who have gone to jail or who are going to jail. And with Gray, what [U.S. Attorney Ronald] Machen did to Gray is unbelievable in its impact on the votes. All of that made it a very difficult election for me to win. And she was shrewd and tactical. That’s what I would say.

I’m not bitter. I’m not unhappy. I’m not resentful. You know, it took me a while to decide to even run. I got a very late start. I raised a lot of money in about five weeks, but – but I got the feeling for what I needed to get. It’s another adventure for me in life…

I’m not feeling cross or angry or any of those feelings. I really am not. I’m just feeling like, OK, let’s get on with it. Now, this nine month interregnum – oh my God. And you can see what’s happening because with Mayor Gray’s administration there are people who are leaving. He’s lost his transportation director and there’s going to be more that will follow. People have to look for jobs for themselves. It’s a very difficult time…

I found it very hard to campaign, be a chairman of a committee, to be a full-time Council member, and to be a fundraiser. It’s very, very hard to do it all in a difficult race. If you have an easy race it’s not a problem…

I never ran a campaign like this. My campaigns were always in August or September or late July. It was hot, but you only had one purpose in life, which is to run an election. I had a lot of purposes this time.

…If you have a tough campaign, wow. You’re trying to chair a hearing; you’re trying to prepare for a hearing plus all the other demands on your time. It’s very difficult actually. So I’m not sure I want to have it in June also.

 

Blade: Some people have said during this campaign that it may no longer be necessary to have an openly gay member of the D.C. Council because all the candidates and incumbents are so supportive. They say straight allies are now just as capable of advancing LGBT issues as an LGBT Council member.

Graham: Well they’ve said that before. So why don’t we tell the Victory Fund to shut down? And is Harvey Milk going to turn over in his grave? It’s absurd on its face. There’s no need for a Victory Fund? There’s no need for an NAACP? There’s no need for the National Council of La Raza? It’s absurd. Why are they saying that?

10
Apr
2014

The unfinished business of the mayor’s race

Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney of the District of Columbia, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen, Jr. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

BY A. Cornelius Baker

The District of Columbia has now entered into an extraordinary period of political instability that threatens the positive direction of our city. Since the defeat of Mayor Vince Gray, we have now seen an unruly Council begin a silly round of political posturing on the priorities submitted for consideration in the Mayor’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request, the resignation of two senior officials with the expectation of more to come, and the deep uncertainty of the governance in our city for the next nine months. The April 1 primary election was indeed a joke on the citizens — but nobody should be laughing.

As the Blade has recorded, on March 27 I had the privilege of welcoming Mayor Gray to my home for a fundraiser in support of his campaign. More importantly than the money contributed that evening was the opportunity to belatedly thank the mayor for his many efforts to better the lives of LGBT people and the most marginalized in our city. It was a long overdue show of support. While the mayor has kept a steady hand on continuing the economic progress of the city, including bringing down unemployment, he has also paid attention to the smart ways that government can serve to improve the lives of transgender men and women, support the formerly incarcerated (or as he has designated ‘returning citizens’), and address the divide between rich and poor neighborhoods. These are issues I care about.

Unfortunately, the mayor and his administration got off to a slow start embroiled in amateurish political snafus that have contributed to the constant hounding to discredit him that we have seen over the past three years. And despite the many gains that have been accomplished, I must admit to being disappointed that the response to the HIV epidemic has not been led by more robust leadership with a bold vision to take advantage of the remarkable moment of scientific advancement that is at hand. That aside, as a member of the Mayor’s Green Ribbon Committee for a Sustainable DC, I have seen his direct involvement in an initiative that represents remarkable foresight in transforming the city into a 21st century laboratory to promote the health of citizens and grow toward an innovative future — as opposed to being a quaint museum for the wealthy.

The allegations against the mayor and his associates in the last campaign continue to create an air of illegitimacy to his election. This has harmed the city in significant ways. First, it has prevented the mayor of the nation’s capital from being at the forefront of setting a progressive agenda that puts forward new ways of thinking about urban America. Second, the mayor’s record of inclusion and expanding the franchise of our democracy has gone unnoticed and the lives of the poor and marginalized have again been pushed to the sidelines. Lastly, the citizens have been dealt a bad hand that has resulted in a significant disengagement from a fundamental responsibility of citizenship with disturbingly low voter participation in the recent primary.

All of this brings us to the unfinished business of the election.  After three years of investigation, the U.S. Attorney has produced a plea agreement with Jeffrey Thompson in exchange for a lenient sentence in admittance of violations in at least 25 federal and local campaigns, including illegal contributions to the mayor’s campaign. Ironically, the day after the primary, the Supreme Court ruled that Thompson’s actions are largely irrelevant to future campaigns as the wealthy can now invest with few limits to pursue their vision of our republic.  In the meantime, despite his public statements of the mayor’s guilt and borderline smear campaign, the U.S. Attorney has not filed charges. This is not acceptable.

As a gay man, I have lived most of my life committing a crime through sex, or love, and just by being. I do not believe that government authority is absolute. We must be vigilant against its powers to harass and oppress its citizens. As a black gay man I am deeply familiar with how we can be easily marginalized and the multiple layers of discrimination in our lives. While I respect the rule of law, the rules and the law must also treat us fairly to earn our respect. The situation we have against the mayor — and by extension the aspirations of our city —  is not just.  The U.S. Attorney must charge the mayor now or shut up and leave him alone.

I do not have an opinion of the mayor’s guilt, only a presumption of innocence till proven otherwise. If convicted, then the mayor will have to decide to resign so that his good work may continue unfettered by scandal. If there are no charges or if he is found not guilty, then the voters must be allowed to decide how we want our city to go forward and under whose leadership, including Mayor Gray’s option to run as an independent before the June 30 filing deadline.

It is time we get to the unfinished business of the mayoral election.

A. Cornelius Baker is a Ward 1 resident.

15
Apr
2014

Reject divisive rhetoric in mayor’s race

rhetoric, voting, District of Columbia, independent voters, gay news, Washington Blade

Turnout in the Democratic primary was a record low since home rule came to the District of Columbia.

Two weeks ago, I wrote here in the pages of the Washington Blade the reasons that I support independent candidate for mayor, David Catania. The title of the column questioned whether it was more important to have loyalty to a political party or to continue the progress we are seeing in our city.

I felt like it was an important question to answer given the unique nature of the primary we just endured and the choices before us in the general election. After a careful examination of the records of the two candidates, I feel that David Catania offers far more substance and a solid record of accomplishment compared to Muriel Bowser.

A supporter of Bowser’s wrote a response to that column and his main premise is that Democrats should support the Democratic nominee unless she has done something to disqualify herself. I suppose some will ascribe to that train of thought, though such an approach would deprive voters of a campaign that addresses the issues most important to our city. Perhaps that is the strategy of the Bowser campaign, but I hope not.

Turnout in the Democratic primary was a record low since home rule came to the District of Columbia. Bowser’s plurality in that primary represents a small fraction of eligible voters in D.C. and fewer actual votes than any other nominee in at least 20 years, even as our population has grown.

The primary campaign was also woefully short on addressing issues because of the juggernaut of U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen’s investigation of the 2010 campaign. His inability to bring finality to his investigation before the primary, along with reckless accusations made through the media, significantly influenced the outcome of the primary. Simply put, the general election is much needed in order to have an election in which voters can make a choice between candidates without the cloud that hung over the primary and surely was a contributing factor to the record low turnout.

Now that our choices have narrowed to David Catania and Muriel Bowser, there is no longer a reason to divert attention from the issues. So far, however, I have yet to hear any rational arguments from the Bowser campaign or its supporters on why she is more qualified and has a more compelling vision for the future of our city. To suggest that Bowser deserves to win the general election because she has done nothing to disqualify herself as the Democratic nominee is an incredibly low bar.

Most disappointing in the column last week was a not-so-veiled charge that I employed bias based on race and sexual orientation in my decision not to support Bowser, “Would Muriel Bowser be deemed qualified enough if she were a white gay man like David Catania or Lane Hudson? I wonder” and “gay Democrats need a more compelling reason to vote for a non-Democrat than the fact that said candidate is also gay.”

Given that I supported a straight black man in the primary, Mayor Vince Gray, it is a preposterous suggestion. Also, in my column I did not even mention that Catania is gay. Suggesting that his sexuality is why I, or other gay Democrats, support him ignores the rationale I laid out and insinuates that gay voters are too shallow or dumb to consider the complex issues of a campaign and arrive at an informed opinion.

For all those who have been ashamed of the history of local politics in D.C. for so many reasons and have longed to have a campaign that we can be proud of, this is our chance. But it is up to us as the voting public to demand better. It should also be made clear by Muriel Bowser’s campaign that such negative and divisive rhetoric has no place in public discourse.

Failure to do so would risk advancing harmful divisions in our community. D.C. can do better and committing to avoiding this type of rhetoric is very much needed to set the proper tone for the coming campaign. It would also show that Muriel Bowser has the wherewithal to show leadership on this issue and is committed to an inclusive campaign.

07
May
2014

D.C. man sentenced to 7 years in anti-gay stabbing

Howard Theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Attackers called 16-year-old victim anti-gay names in a 2012 stabbing outside the Howard Theatre. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on June 28 sentenced District resident Ali Jackson, 20, to seven-and-a-half years in prison for the June 2012 stabbing of a 16-year-old gay male outside the city’s Howard Theatre.

A statement released by the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia says prosecutors classified the incident as a hate crime based on evidence that Jackson made threatening statements and anti-gay slurs at the time of the attack.

“Violence fueled by hate tears at the fabric of our society,” said U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen in the statement. “As this prison sentence demonstrates, in the District of Columbia, we have zero tolerance for violent crimes driven by ignorant prejudice.”

Jackson pled guilty in January to a charge of assault with intent to kill in connection with the stabbing incident. The sentence handed down against him on June 28 by Judge Patricia Broderick came after two others involved in the incident pled guilty in March to a charge of simple assault.

Police and prosecutors said Ali Jackson’s sister, Alvonica Jackson, 26, and her boyfriend, Desmond Campbell, 34, held the victim by his arms and neck, preventing him from fleeing as Ali Jackson stabbed him with a knife three times – in the left arm, the left side of his back, and the left leg. Alvonica Jackson and Campbell also hurled slurs at the victim during the attack, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office statement.

Alvonica Jackson was sentenced earlier this year to 360 days of incarceration with all but 30 days suspended. She had also been charged with second-degree theft for stealing money at the Howard Theatre. Campbell was sentenced to 180 days in jail with all but 30 days suspended. The suspended part of the sentences for both is contingent on their complying with the terms of two years of probation following their release from jail, to which they were also sentenced.

02
Jul
2013

Ex-Marine guilty of manslaughter while armed

Marine Barracks, gay news, Washington Blade

Lance Corp. Phillip Bushong was stabbed to death across the street from the Marine Barracks. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court jury on Monday found a 22-year-old former U.S. Marine guilty of manslaughter while armed for the April 2012 stabbing death of a fellow Marine following an altercation in which he allegedly shouted an anti-gay slur.

After four days of deliberations that began prior to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend the jury found then Pfc. Michael Poth not guilty of a more serious charge of second-degree murder while armed.

Judge Russell Canan, who presided over the trial that lasted nearly 10 days, scheduled a sentencing hearing for Poth on Feb. 7. A conviction on manslaughter while armed carries a maximum penalty of 60 years in prison, although voluntary sentencing guidelines allow judges to hand down a significantly lower sentence.

A second-degree murder while armed conviction could have resulted in a 70-year prison sentence.

Poth has been held in jail since the time D.C. police arrested him on April 21, 2012, minutes after witnesses said he stabbed Lance Corp. Phillip Bushong, 23, in the upper chest with a pocketknife on 8th Street, S.E., across the street from the Marine Barracks.

“Today a District of Columbia jury held Michael Poth accountable for stabbing a fellow Marine to death on a public street near their barracks,” said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen under whose office the case was prosecuted.

“Their guilty verdict makes clear that our community will not tolerate the deadly violence that so often arises from petty disputes.”

The lead prosecutor in the case stated at a pre-trial hearing last year that the stabbing appeared to be a hate crime. But the government never formally classified the case as a hate crime, a designation that could have resulted in a more severe sentence.

Marine Corps officials discharged Poth from active-duty service on less than honorable circumstance shortly after his arrest. Poth had been stationed at the 8th and I Streets, S.E. barracks at the time of the incident. Bushong, who was stationed in North Carolina, was visiting friends in D.C. at the time of the altercation that led to his death just days before he was scheduled to be honorably discharged from the Marines.

Poth’s defense attorney argued that Poth, who admitted he stabbed Bushong, did so in self-defense following a verbal altercation that turned violent. The attorney, Bernard Grimm, told the jury that Bushong was the aggressor and that he followed Poth after the two got into a verbal exchange.

One witness, a friend of Bushong’s who testified that he’s gay, told the jury Poth called him and Bushong a faggot. The witness, congressional staffer Nishith Pandya, said Bushong was straight and the two were platonic friends. Pandya testified that he did not know how Poth could have known he’s gay, although at least one witness said Poth may have seen Bushong and Pandya hugging each other on the sidewalk as they left a bar.

Grim argued that Poth was smaller than Bushong. He cited testimony by a Marine guard who witnessed part of the altercation and who said he saw Bushong put one hand on Poth’s shoulder and pulled back his other hand as if he were about to throw a punch. It was at that point that Poth stabbed Bushong, according to witnesses.

Grimm also argued that at least one witness testified that Bushong was ordered to leave one of the bars along the street where the incident took place because he was intoxicated and was acting in a boisterous manor. Poth was also believed to have been intoxicated, witnesses said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman, the lead prosecutor in the case, said Poth hurled the anti-gay slur with the intent of provoking Bushong into a confrontation to give Poth an excuse to stab Bushong. Liebman cited testimony by witnesses that Poth became angry over a remark that Bushong made to Poth when the two Marines first crossed paths on 8th Street sometime earlier in the evening.

He noted that a witness testified that she heard Poth say to himself that he planned to stab someone as he walked along 8th Street after the earlier exchange of words between Poth and Bushong. A D.C. police detective testified that Poth said shortly after his arrest that he hoped Bushong would die when he overheard someone say over a police radio that Bushong was being taken by ambulance to a hospital.

Prosecutors said Bushong was pronounced dead at the hospital about two hours after the stabbing. An autopsy showed he died of a single knife wound that punctured his heart.

“He announced his intention,” Liebman told the jury in disputing Poth’s claim of self-defense. “He is looking for Lance Corp. Bushong. He wants to do what he said he would do. He wants to stab him.”

In concluding his closing arguments, Liebman said, “You don’t get to proclaim self-defense when you proclaim intent to stab someone before you come into contact with them. The law doesn’t allow you to use deadly force before you have contact.”

Local attorney Dale Edwin Sanders, who practices criminal law in D.C. and Virginia, said the verdict appears fair in a case where the victim was shown through witness testimony to have decided to engage in an altercation rather than walk away from it, even though the stabbing was unjustified.

“I’m sure the prosecutors think this is a major victory,” Sanders said. “They didn’t get their second-degree murder conviction but in D.C. the penalty for manslaughter is nearly as great as it is for Murder II,” he said.

“This sounds like a well-reasoned verdict, a compromise verdict,” said Sanders. “The jury didn’t buy the self-defense claim because they would have acquitted him on both charges if they accepted self-defense.”

Sanders added, “This is not like the jury gave him a pass…He’s convicted of a deliberate homicide. They’re just saying it wasn’t pre-meditated. Manslaughter is a form of murder without pre-meditation.”

03
Dec
2013

U.S. Attorney challenges use of civil rights law

Peter TerVeer, gay news, gay politics dc

Peter TerVeer (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The United States Attorney for the District of Columbia filed court papers on Dec. 17 arguing that a gay man, who sued the Library of Congress for firing him because of his sexual orientation, failed to show he’s entitled to protection under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The court filing by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., who was appointed by President Obama, places the Obama administration in the awkward position of opposing a gay discrimination claim under Title VII.

In a lawsuit filed against the Library of Congress in August 2012, former management analyst Peter TerVeer, 30, says he was fired from his job after being harassed and humiliated for more than a year by a supervisor who repeatedly quoted biblical passages condemning homosexuality.

The lawsuit charges that although TerVeer was targeted because he’s gay, he suffered employment discrimination and harassment based on his gender, gender stereotyping and his religious beliefs, which he says didn’t conform to those of supervisor John Mech.

Title VII of the famed 1964 Civil Rights Act bans discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender and, according to recent court rulings, gender identity, but not sexual orientation by itself.

According to the lawsuit, TerVeer and Mech had a cordial working relationship from the time TerVeer was hired in February 2008 as a management analyst in the library’s Auditing Division. It says TerVeer received high performance ratings and two promotions between 2008 and 2010.

The lawsuit says Mech allegedly became hostile and unfairly critical of TerVeer’s work performance and created an unbearably hostile work environment after Mech learned TerVeer was gay.

The government’s filing of a motion to dismiss the case on legal and procedural grounds comes at a time when gay rights attorneys are seeking to persuade courts to treat anti-gay discrimination as a form of sex discrimination protected under Title VII.

“We believe that the allegations in the complaint are insufficient to substantiate a Title VII claim,” said Charles Miller, a spokesperson for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.

Miller pointed to an April 2012 ruling by the Library of Congress’s in-house equal employment opportunity division, which investigated TerVeer’s allegations of discrimination and harassment and dismissed an in-house complaint he filed in September 2011 on grounds that the allegations could not be substantiated.

“The Executive Branch is of course opposed to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and this filing does not reflect any contrary policy,” Miller told the Blade.

But Christopher Brown of the D.C. law firm Ackerman Brown, which is representing TerVeer, said the government’s motion to dismiss the case “relies on legal precedent that excludes LGBT employees from protection under Title VII.”

Brown declined to comment further on the government’s arguments, saying TerVeer’s legal team prefers not to comment in detail on pending litigation.

Greg Nevins, supervising attorney for the gay litigation group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is monitoring the TerVeer case, said the government’s motion to dismiss appears to be arguing that TerVeer did not present sufficient evidence to show that his supervisor targeted him for discrimination because TerVeer displayed mannerisms or behavior of a stereotypical gay man, which some might view as being effeminate.

“I think what the U.S. Attorney is saying here is a masculine gay man or a feminine lesbian would not be covered under Title VII,” Nevins said. “Some court rulings have essentially said Title VII does not apply to sexual orientation.”

In a landmark ruling last April, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declared that transgender people are protected against job discrimination under Title VII because bias against their gender identity is equivalent to sex discrimination. The EEOC ruling followed several appeals court decisions holding that transgender people were protected under Title VII.

Lambda Legal and other LGBT advocacy organizations say they hope to persuade courts that gay men and lesbians enjoy Title VII protections. They argue that sexual orientation discrimination is also linked to gender role stereotyping and bias, regardless of whether the victim is perceived as masculine or feminine.

TerVeer’s lawsuit says he also was targeted for retaliation after he filed his discrimination complaint with the library’s in-house EEO office, which is known as the Office of Opportunity, Inclusiveness and Compliance.

“Plaintiff’s discrimination and retaliation claims fall short,” Machen and two other government attorneys argue in their Dec. 17 motion seeking to dismiss the case, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“Plaintiff alleges that he was subject to harassment after his employer learned that he was gay, and he presents his claim as one of non-conformity with sex stereotypes,” the motion to dismiss says. “But the detailed allegations in the complaint do not provide what courts have held is required to show that sex stereotyping was the cause of his employer’s actions.”

The motion to dismiss adds, “[C]ourts have generally required plaintiffs to set forth specific allegations regarding the particular ways in which an employee failed to conform to such stereotypes — generally relating to an employee’s behavior, demeanor or appearance in the workplace — and allegations to support the claim that this non-conformity negatively influenced the employer’s decision … In this case, however, plaintiff fails to offer anything more than the conclusory statement that, as a result of his sexual orientation, ‘he did not conform to the defendant’s gender stereotypes associated with men under Mech’s supervision.’”

One civil rights attorney familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. Attorney’s office was fulfilling its role in defending its client — the Library of Congress — and should not be faulted for arguing against TerVeer’s attempt to invoke protection from Title VII.

“The government’s argument that the complainant fails to allege sufficient facts to state a claim … are typical arguments that they’d make equally if the plaintiff were female or black rather than gay,” the attorney said.

The government’s motion to dismiss the case is based mostly on procedural and legal grounds rather than on the merits of TerVeer’s specific allegations of discrimination and retaliation.

The government’s motion cites legal and procedural grounds to seek the dismissal of a separate claim in the lawsuit that the firing violated TerVeer’s Fifth Amendment constitutional right to due process and equal protection under the law.

In addition, it cites procedural grounds to call on the court to dismiss separate claims in the lawsuit that the library violated the Library of Congress Act, which bans discrimination based on factors unrelated to an employee’s ability to perform his or her job; and an internal library policy banning sexual orientation discrimination.

Library investigation finds no substantiation of discrimination

The motion to dismiss releases publicly for the first time the April 26, 2012 ruling by the library’s Office of Opportunity, Inclusiveness and Compliance (OIC) that rejects TerVeer’s allegations on grounds that they could not be substantiated or proven.

The 14-page ruling by the OIC, which was filed in court by the U.S. Attorney’s office as “Exhibit D,” was based on an in-house library investigation into a discrimination complaint filed by TerVeer on Nov. 9, 2011, according to OIC acting supervisor Vicki Magnus.

Magnus discusses the findings in an April 26 letter to Brown, TerVeer’s attorney, which the U.S. Attorney’s office submitted in court as part of Exhibit D.

“Based on the available evidence, the Office of Opportunity, Inclusiveness and Compliance (OIC) does not find sufficient evidence to support Complainant’s allegations that he was discriminated against based on religion, sex, and reprisal, and that he was subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment in his meetings with supervisors regarding performance and in actions taken by supervisors regarding his performance,” Magnus said in her letter.

In what potentially could be damaging to TerVeer’s lawsuit, Magnus notes that the OIC investigation into TerVeer’s discrimination and retaliation complaint included interviews of and testimony by five of TerVeer’s co-workers. Each of the five testified that they personally observed less than satisfactory work performance by TerVeer, according to the OIC ruling.

In his complaint, TerVeer accuses his immediate supervisor, John Mech, and a higher level supervisor, Nicholas Christopher, of giving him a lower job performance rating based on anti-gay bias.

The five co-workers, “each of whom personally observed complainant’s performance, fully support the reasons presented by management justifying their decision to issue complainant poor performance ratings and to deny complainant a [performance based salary increase].”

Brown, TerVeer’s attorney, declined to comment on the OIC ruling or its potential impact on the lawsuit.

The library’s official reason for firing TerVeer was his failure to report to work after a leave of absence he requested and received permission to take had expired. TerVeer told reporters in a news conference in April that his doctor and therapist urged him to take a leave from work after the hostile work environment he said Mech created caused him to suffer severe emotional distress.

He said the library refused to grant his request to be transferred to another office under another supervisor, making it impossible for him to return to work.

02
Jan
2013