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GLAA revises ratings for Evans, two others

Jack Evans, Washington Blade, gay news

GLAA upgraded its evaluation of Jack Evans. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance on Tuesday changed its rating for D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) from a +8 to +9, saying it based the revision on new information that Evans submitted to the group.

At its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on March 11, the group also upgraded its ratings for Democrat Calvin Gurley, who’s running for D.C. Council Chair against incumbent Phil Mendelson, from a 0 to a +1; and for Darrel Thompson, a Democrat running for the Ward 6 D.C. Council seat, from +2 to +3. GLAA gave Mendelson a rating of +10 in its initial round of ratings.

The group’s ratings are based on a scale of -10 to +10, with +10 being the highest possible rating.

“The leading development in this round of mid-campaign adjustments is the revised rating of Democrat Jack Evans (+9), which puts him in a tight cluster with Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray (+10) and fellow Democratic challenger Tommy Wells (+9.5),” GLAA President Rick Rosendall said in a statement. Wells is a Ward 6 Council member who’s giving up his Council seat to run for mayor.

GLAA says Gurley’s original rating of 0 was based on his not turning in a GLAA questionnaire, which asks about candidates’ positions on LGBT-related issues. When Gurley later returned the questionnaire it only resulted in a one point increase because his answers were “uninformed, argumentative, and lack substance,” GLAA says in a statement.

The group’s statement says Thompson’s original questionnaire responses were “weak” and lacked a response to a question asking about his record or accomplishments on LGBT issues. He later submitted information on his record, GLAA says, resulting in a boost in his rating from +2 to +3. The new information discussed Thompson’s past work on LGBT-related issues as a staff member for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), and then Sen. Barack Obama.

GLAA’s rating system assigns a maximum of plus or minus three points to a candidate’s record.

Thompson has said through a spokesperson that his GLAA rating doesn’t reflect what he considers his strong support across the board for LGBT rights. GLAA has said its ratings are based on its assessment of whether a candidate’s questionnaire responses go beyond an expression of support to show an understanding of the issues and insight into how they can be addressed.

12
Mar
2014

D.C. activists seek to ‘build on victories’ in 2014

Vince Gray, activists, Vincent Gray, District of Columbia, gay news, Washington Blade, Capital Pride Parade

Mayor Vincent Gray announced late last year that he would seek re-election. The primary is slated for April 1. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT activists in D.C. acknowledge that they live in a city that has had one of the nation’s strongest anti-discrimination laws protecting their community for more than 20 years, the city passed a same-sex marriage law in 2009, and virtually all elected officials strongly support LGBT equality.

With that as a backdrop, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance last week released its 2014 Election Year Agenda for LGBT Equality in Washington, D.C., which, among other things, calls for more than a dozen policy initiatives and for the approval of five LGBT-related bills currently pending before the City Council.

In an announcement last week, GLAA said the 16-page policy document was used to formulate a questionnaire on LGBT issues that the group has sent to all candidates running in the April 1 D.C. primary for mayor and seats on the City Council, just as it has done in every city election since the early 1970s.

“We have won most of the policy reforms for LGBT equality, which is reflected in the title of this year’s policy brief, ‘Building on Victory,’” said GLAA President Rick Rosendall.

“What remains mostly falls into two broad categories – translating our model policies and laws into reality, especially for at-risk populations including LGBT youth and transgender persons, and remaining vigilant,” Rosendall said.

The issues covered in the five pending bills include:

• The Surrogacy Parenting Agreement Act, which calls for updating the city’s surrogate parenting law that gay rights attorneys have called archaic to add provisions to better enable same-sex couples to enter into surrogacy agreements.

• The Domestic Partnership Termination Recognition Amendment Act, which calls for changing D.C.’s existing domestic partnership law to enable couples that don’t live in D.C. to terminate their partnerships in a way that is recognized by courts in other states.

• The LGBTQ Homeless Youth Reform Amendment Act calls for, among other things, city funds to pay for beds reserved for LGBT youth in homeless shelters and other homeless facilities that activists say traditionally have not met the needs of LGBT or “questioning” youth.

• The Conversion Therapy for Minors Prohibition Act calls for prohibiting licensed therapists in the city from seeking to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of people under the age of 18 through so-called “conversion” therapy. Advocates for the legislation point out that virtually all professional mental health organizations have said the therapy is harmful to the mental health of those participating in such therapy, especially young people.

• The Marriage License Issuance Act calls for amending the city’s marriage law to eliminate the current mandatory, three-day waiting period for obtaining a marriage license. Marriage reform activists, both gay and straight, have called the waiting period requirement an unnecessary relic of the past.

The GLAA policy brief also calls for a requirement by city regulators and the mayor’s office that health insurance plans offered to D.C. government employees and the city’s Health Link insurance exchange program under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act include full coverage for sex reassignment surgery and hormone treatment for transgender people.

GLAA’s candidate questionnaires ask all candidates running for mayor and for the City Council to state whether they would support such a proposal.

“This is a huge priority in our community,” said Nico Quintana, senior organizer for the D.C. Trans Coalition.

 

Voters to choose among friends in election

 

Many LGBT activists have said that since nearly all of the candidates running this year for mayor and seats on the City Council have strong records of support on LGBT issues, LGBT voters will likely choose among them based on non-LGBT issues.

Mayor Vincent Gray, who some activists say has the strongest record on LGBT issues of any mayor in D.C. history, is being challenged by four members of the City Council, all of whom have expressed strong support for the LGBT community.

Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) each have longtime records as strong supporters of LGBT equality. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), who opposed same-sex marriage when he ran for mayor in 2006, has said he changed his mind and has become a committed supporter of the city’s same-sex marriage law while continuing his support on all other LGBT-related issues.

Former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis and, Busboys and Poets Restaurant owner and businessman Andy Shallal have also expressed strong support for LGBT rights. The positions of lesser-known mayoral candidates Carlos Allen, a music promoter, Christian Carter, a businessman and civic activist, couldn’t immediately be determined.

Political observers say the LGBT vote, which surveys show will likely comprise at least 10 percent of the vote in the April 1 Democratic primary, could be a key factor in the outcome of the election.

But based on interviews with LGBT activists following the campaigns of the mayoral candidates, the LGBT vote will likely be divided among Gray and his City Council rivals, although many activists believe Gray remains highly popular in the LGBT community.

David Catania, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) has said he will enter the mayor’s race as an independent if Vincent Gray wins the primary and becomes the Democratic Party nominee. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In looking beyond the primary to the November general election, gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) is being viewed as the wildcard of the 2014 mayoral race. Catania last fall formed an exploratory committee to consider whether to enter the mayoral race, knowing that as an independent he doesn’t have to file papers as a candidate until June, long after the winner of the Democratic primary is known.

In a development that startled some political observers, Catania told the Washington Post that he has already decided he will enter the race if Gray wins the primary and becomes the Democratic Party nominee.

In every mayoral election since the city obtained its home rule government in 1974, the Democratic Party nominee has won his or her race as mayor in the November general election. Catania, however, is telling potential supporters that this year is different and that the electorate is “tired” of politics of the past.

LGBT voters, who have long supported Catania in large numbers, could be faced with a dilemma if forced to choose between Gray and Catania, according to some LGBT advocates.

Next week: A preview of City Council races and the prospects for gay longtime Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

08
Jan
2014

BOWSER TOPPLES GRAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02
Apr
2014

Most mayoral hopefuls favor liquor-licensing reform

Mova, gay news, gay politics DC, alcohol, ANC, Adams Morgan, liquor license, licensing

This campaign cycle candidates have been asked a specific question regarding the next step in reforming the city’s alcohol licensing system for bars and restaurants. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

Every election the non-partisan Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance elicits candidate positions on issues of interest to the LGBT community. GLAA’s policy brief and questionnaire is the basis for ratings assigned to D.C. vote-seekers. GLAA will soon release scores for candidates competing in the April 1 party primaries.

This campaign cycle candidates have been asked a specific question regarding the next step in reforming the city’s alcohol licensing system for bars and restaurants. Repairing regulations to ensure the process is fixed to be fair for local businesses has long been of compelling concern to the gay community. LGBT residents have witnessed how existing rules allow infamous “Gang of 5” ad hoc license protest groups and small “citizens groups” to directly intervene, attempting to delay or deny licensing.

With LGBT voters comprising 10 percent of the District’s adult population, and likely a higher percentage of voters, candidates covet a high rating.

The question, one of 12, is as follows: “Will you support strengthening Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) reforms by eliminating license protests filed by citizens associations and ad hoc groups, requiring stakeholders to participate in the community process provided by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission?”

While all candidates, including those competing for Council seats, were asked to respond, here’s how the seven-of-eight questionnaire-returning Democratic mayoral candidates measured up:

• Best Answer: Mayor Vincent Gray. He’s a “YES” and demonstrates his keen understanding of the need for reform while clearly enunciating why: “Frivolous licensing protests filed with the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) stand in the way of businesses operating free of special operating protocols. Protests by ad hoc groups…should not interfere with the issuance of ABC licenses to businesses.”

• Great Answer: D.C. Council member Jack Evans. He’s a “YES” and provides a rationale: “I have heard from both residents and businesses that the ABC Board takes too long to make decisions. I think this needs to be a more decisive process…Dragging out some of these cases months and months really can be very unfair to everyone and unnecessarily divisive.”

• Good Answer: Restaurateur Andy Shallal. He’s a “YES” and utilizes his direct experience with the licensing scheme: “I am familiar with the problems that face the owners of restaurants that serve alcohol. My restaurants all serve alcohol, and I have had to deal with the ABC’s regulations for each of them.”

• Straightforward Answer: D.C. Council member Vincent Orange. He’s a “YES” – his solitary affirmative response.

• “Gets It” Answer: Reta Jo Lewis. Although beginning, “I will have to study this issue with greater detail,” she notes, “I am the daughter of entrepreneurs – small business owners. I have a tremendous respect for creating great communities through small business, innovation and entrepreneurship. The current regulations…caus[e] significant barriers for small businesses…all of our processes are convoluted and outdated. I know we can do better.”

• Most Disappointing Answer: D.C. Council member Tommy Wells. He declines to answer the question, instead stating, “This is a proposal that needs further study.” He goes on to contort the issue, failing to reprise his passionate arguments in favor of this specific proposition from the dais during Council debate leading to modest initial reforms in Dec. 2012 limiting “Gang of 5” protests.

• Worst Answer: D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser. She fails to answer the question, utilizing a politician’s “dodge,” but indicates she is “not inclined to limit their ability to protest licenses,” albeit incorrectly referencing ANCs. While Bowser has consistently exhibited reluctance, ambivalence and lack of leadership on licensing reform, she notes joining a Council majority approving “some limitations” of protest groups. Trying to play both sides, however, she “continue[s] to think they lend value to the process.”

With long-overdue reforms supported by most mayoral candidates, it is hoped that courage will strengthen Council candidate backbones. Down ballot, some remain fearful of a diminishing few shrill voices while the broader electorate grows intolerant of fealty to their shenanigans.

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

12
Feb
2014

Catania enters race for mayor

David Catania, gay news, Washington Blade

David Catania is the first serious openly gay contender for the office of D.C. mayor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) filed papers on Wednesday to become a candidate for mayor in the November general election, saying he has the “values and the vision and the tenacity” to tackle the challenges facing the city.

As a 16-year veteran on the Council with a long record of legislative accomplishments, including his role as author of the city’s historic marriage equality law, Catania becomes the first serious openly gay contender for the office of D.C. mayor with a shot at winning.

“This is a city that believes strongly in equality of opportunity, a strong sense of fairness and the importance of playing by the rules,” Catania said at a news conference outside the city’s Reeves Center municipal building, where he registered his candidacy.

“These are the values we all share and these are the ones that have guided me since I was elected,” he said.

In what many LGBT activists will likely view as a twist of fate, a large segment of the city’s LGBT community has already lined up behind the re-election campaign of Mayor Vincent Gray, who they consider the most LGBT-supportive mayor in the history of the city.

The potential dilemma of LGBT voters having to choose between an out gay candidate with a longstanding record of support on their issues and a pro-LGBT mayor they consider a longtime friend and ally was likely heightened on Wednesday when Catania reiterated his call for Gray to resign.

When asked by reporters at his news conference what he thought about revelations by the U.S. Attorney earlier this week that Gray was aware of an illegal “shadow campaign” orchestrated by businessman Jeffrey Thompson to benefit Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign, Catania said he believes the allegations to be true.

“I made my feelings known about the mayor’s shadow campaign when it was first disclosed nearly two years ago,” he said. “I said he should have resigned then and I believe that today.”

Catania, however, said the timing of his declaration of candidacy for this week was set in motion over a week ago, before the revelations of the U.S. Attorney were known, when he set up a campaign bank account that required him to formally enter the race this week.

Catania said he’s ready to run against Gray or any of the other seven Democrats challenging Gray in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary, including four of Catania’s Democratic colleagues on the Council.

In response to questions by reporters, Catania said he’s not at all deterred by the fact that he’s an independent and former Republican running in a city with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate. No non-Democrat has ever won election as mayor in the District of Columbia.

“I want to be as clear as I can be,” he said. “I won more citywide races than everyone else in the race combined. I’ve won five times citywide. I’ve represented every corner of the city since 1997.”

Catania added, “I believe I have the values and the vision and the tenacity to tackle the challenges facing the city and I have the record of accomplishments that supports it. So I’m not worried about who prevails in the Democratic primary. I’ve got a record that I’m very proud of and that I’m very excited to share, and I’m very excited to talk about my vision for the city.”

The most recent poll on the Democratic primary, which was conducted before the latest revelations about Gray’s alleged 2010 shadow campaign, show Gray leading his closest rival, Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), by a margin of 28 percent to 20 percent. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), were trailing with 13 percent, 12 percent and 4 percent respectively.

Businessman Andy Shallal had 6 percent, attorney and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis had 3 percent, and civic activist Carlos Allen had less than 1 percent.

Political observers, including Bob Summersgill, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said that if Gray squeaks out a victory in the primary with around 30 percent of the vote or less, many of the Democratic voters that backed his rivals could turn to Catania in the November election.

When asked by the Blade where he thinks the LGBT vote would go in the general election, Catania said he believes he would be a strong contender for that vote based on his record on a wide range of issues.

“I think people are going to vote their interests and their values,” he said. “And I hope we can refrain from having constituency voting blocs. I don’t think that’s good for anybody.”

But he added, “I’m happy to put my record as an LGBT advocate against anyone. I hear in these forums how everyone takes responsibility and credit for same-sex marriage. But I was there. I know members who never showed up for the hearings and never said a word on the dais,” he said.

“I know the difference between those who have revisionist history and those who were there,” he said. “And so whether it’s having been the first openly gay elected member of the Council, from championing everything from HIV education and treatment to same-sex marriage to adoption to transgender rights, I’ll put my record against anyone’s.”

When asked about a recent independent report indicating shortcomings in the D.C. Police Department’s handling of anti-LGBT hate crimes, Catania praised Police Chief Cathy Lanier but said he would not discuss personnel issues before the election.

“I think Cathy Lanier has been an excellent chief,” he said. “Now we can all do better and learn from our mistakes…[T]here’s always room for improvement both in terms of the reaction of the LGBT community, internal affairs and others,” he said.

A transcript of Catania’s news conference follows:

Reporter: So you just filed your papers today to run?

Catania: Actually, this has been in the works for some time. We decided in January that this would be the week we would announce. In fact, just last Wednesday, before any of the latest revelations came out, we opened our bank account and by law we have five business days to file. And so last Wednesday we opened our bank account, always with the intention of filing this week. And of course you know what has happened in the intervening time known to all of us.

Reporter: What do you think about what’s happened with the mayor this week?

Catania: Well, I made my feelings known about the mayor’s shadow campaign when it was first disclosed nearly two years ago. I said he should have resigned then and I believe that today.

Reporter: What is your path to victory at this point? Does the mayor have to win the primary?

Catania: No. I want to be just as clear as I could be. I won more city wide races than everyone else in the race combined. I’ve won five times citywide. I’ve represented every corner of the city since 1997. I believe that I have the values and the vision and the tenacity to tackle the challenges facing the city and I have the record of accomplishments that supports it. So I’m not worried about who prevails in the Democratic primary. I’ve got a record that I’m very proud of and that I’m very excited share and I’m very exciting to talk about my vision for the city.

Reporter: This is a city that remains hugely Democratic.

Catania: That’s right. And I would be delighted to put my record against any of those who have Democrat by their name as it relates to democratic values. I think my record more embodies democratic values than the field of candidates running as Democrats. If you look at what I’ve done for marriage equality, medical marijuana, smoke free D.C., cutting the rate of uninsured children and adults in half in this city, my work with HIV, and most recently my work with respect to education, including a fair funding bill which is finally going to give the resources for poor kids to catch up. And so labels are fine but I think the people are looking for a leader who’s actually delivered. And there’s one thing I can say – I’ve delivered.

The others have talked a good game and good for them for having labels. But I’ve actually delivered.

Reporter: You’re a former Republican and you’re also a white person. How does that play into the racial mix of this city?

Catania: Well I think the citizens of this city want a leader that shares their values. And it doesn’t matter what label you have. Clearly I do. This is a city that believes strongly in equality of opportunity, a strong sense of fairness and the importance of playing by the rules. These are the values we all share and these are the ones that have guided me since I was elected. So with respect to labels, you know, I think they may matter with some but by and large if you look at where we are in the city and if we’re going to secure our future we need a leader who shares our values, has a vision, and has the tenacity to get the job done.

Reporter: You’re campaigns have actually taken money from Jeffrey Thompson and then I guess you had a really serious falling out with him. Would you give back the money you took from Jeffrey Thompson or did you give the money back?

Catania: You know, Mr. Thompson held a fundraiser for me in 2006. And so the bulk of the funds that were raised through that fundraiser were in 2006. Unfortunately, as you know, we, unlike federal campaigns, we close each of our campaigns out – by law we’re required to – at the conclusion of the election. So the money has simply been closed out. Now the money – whatever was left over – went to a constituent services fund. And so it’s not like I have additional monies lying around to do that. And I think we’re prohibited by law from taking our existing campaign funds to pay back the debts of another campaign.

Reporter: Were you the chairman of the Health Committee when the agreement to give Jeffrey Thompson more money signed out? You fought that, didn’t you?

Catania: I think what’s interesting is that we’re here today because of the work of the Committee on Health when I became chairman. In 2005 when I became chairman of the committee the first thing I wanted to do was kind of survey the landscape of the area of responsibility that I had, which included the city’s three largest contracts for managed care and for Medicaid. And so I actually put the money in in 2005 to conduct an audit of our three managed care organizations, including Jeff Thompson’s. That audit is what ultimately led to Mr. Thompson having to settle with the city with $17 million in 2008. So it’s not about having a falling out one way or another. I was doing my job. I wanted the city’s largest contracts to be subject to an audit. They were. It demonstrated that he was helping himself, candidly, and that resulted in him having to pay some money back. I suspect that’s part of what inspired him to try to find leaders that were more malleable. I wasn’t one of them.

Reporter: The mayor calls him a liar. He says everything he says is a lie, lie, lie.

Catania: Well I think this whole subject, this whole drama we’ve had with Jeff Thompson – this great drama – the time has come for this to end. And you know we need to be talking about how we’re going to make sure our kids are ready to succeed. We need to be talking about an affordable housing plan and a public safety plan of action for Fire and EMS. The less we talk about Vince Gray and Jeff Thompson the better. That’s for others to talk about. I’m talking about my vision for the city, which doesn’t include serving as a human lie detector for Jeff Thompson or Vince Gray.

Reporter: What about this settlement. Did you think that settlement that was reached with Chartered Health was good and above board or did you think –

Catania: Which settlement, the first one or the second?

Reporter: The one that was agreed to [by the city] and paid him.

Catania: This was obviously an attempt to square accounts with the shadow campaign as far as I am concerned. It was laid out as meticulously as it could be. Jeff Thompson in 2008 had to pay $12 million because he stole from the city. And then two weeks after he wins his primary his group begins putting in motion the very settlement that ultimately, that Mayor Gray advanced – that we paid him the money from the false claims actions against the city. Do I believe the mayor knew it and participated and do I believe the city actually paid the shadow campaign money back? Yes, I believe that…

Reporter: You have a reputation for being a little difficult. I won’t even say the words that some – [Tom Sherwood interrupts: The Rahm Emanuel of D.C.?]

Catania: Well listen, we’re not cutting the crusts off cucumber sandwiches here. This is not a garden party. This is about running a $12 billion organization where the lives of 640,000 people depend on someone being honest, having values and a vision and being faithful to those values and those visions. And so I’m not going to apologize for the passion that I take to this job. I think most of us are outraged when they have Fire and EMS officials just standing by while our citizens are in harm’s way. I think most of our citizens are outraged when the see half of our African American males not graduating on time for high school. I think most of our citizens are outraged when they see our homeless in rec centers. So I’m not going to apologize for that outrage. I’m not going to apologize for the passion. It’s helped me get though some of the toughest measures in the last 15 years, 16 years on the Council…

Reporter: Concerning the police department, there was an independent report that just came out saying there are some shortcomings in their handling of hate crimes and that the chief may have caused the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit to not be able to do its job as well as it could. If you were elected, have you decided whether you would retain the police chief?

Catania: Look, I think Cathy Lanier has been an excellent chief. Now we can all do better and learn from our mistakes. But I want to make clear I’m not talking about personnel decisions until after the election. It is the right of every mayor to select those individuals that he or she wishes to work with. I think that Chief Lanier has been an excellent chief but there’s always room for improvement both in terms of the reaction of the LGBT community, internal affairs and others.

Reporter: We’re now in the primary. Will you be out campaigning or will you wait to see who wins the primary?

Catania: No, the race starts today, Tom. The race starts today.

…If we’re electing leaders rather than administrators I think it’s time for people to look at the record. And among those who are running for mayor if you look at what have they done in the last 15 months. I think that’s a fair subject for discussion and it’s what I intend to talk about during this race. But look, it isn’t about who the Democratic nominee might be. I have an affirmed agenda that I believe is consistent with the values of our residents. I think we can do better. We have incredible fundamentals. When I look at our economy and I look at the values of our citizens and we have yet to capture the entire trajectory, the entire direction of those values…

Q: The leading candidates in the Democratic primary are all very supportive on LGBT issues. The mayor says he’s very supportive. Whoever wins the primary, how do you think the LGBT vote will go in the general election?

A: Lou, I think people are going to vote their interests and their values. And I hope we can refrain from having constituency voting blocks. I don’t think that’s good for anybody. I’m happy to put my record as an LGBT advocate against anyone. I hear in these forums how everyone takes responsibility and credit for same-sex marriage. But I was there. I know the members who never showed up for the hearings and never said a word on the dais. I know the difference between those who have revisionist history and those who were there. And so whether it’s having been the first openly gay elected member of the Council, from championing everything from HIV education and treatment to same-sex marriage to adoption to transgender rights, I’ll put my record against everyone’s or anyone’s.

Q: Can you say something about the EMS?

A: You know, I’m very open to the idea of separating the EMS and putting it candidly under the Department of Health because I see the EMS as the front line of the Department of Health. These are the front line deliverers of health services. The way it has been organized, specifically it’s been subsumed by the Fire Department and has not been able to stand on its own. And so I’m open to the idea of separating the two…

Q: Would you retain Chief Ellerbe as fire chief?

A: No. I’ll make an exception because that’s so glaring.

Q: How do you assess your chances?

A: Good.

Q: Why do you think they’re good?

A: Well I think this is an election about change. I think the electorate is eager to have a leader instead of an administrator and I think the work that I’ve done touches many constituencies across the city. Who else can claim that they saved our public hospital? Who else can lay claim to a marriage equality bill that finally made all of our families equal before the law? Who else can claim that they produced the lowest rate of uninsured children in the country? Who else championed medical marijuana or the most comprehensive mental health system for young people in the country? So I think it’s time to ask some of those who are running on the inertial of a label why they believe they have a chance of winning having accomplished so little.

12
Mar
2014

LGBT activists rally for Gray at re-election kick-off

Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Today, I apologize to you for the pain that my campaign caused. I ask for your forgiveness,’ Mayor Vincent Gray said of his 2010 mayoral campaign. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

At least a dozen LGBT activists joined more than 500 city residents on Saturday for Mayor Vincent Gray’s first rally to launch his 2014 re-election campaign.

Several of the activists said Gray’s mention of LGBT people two times in his speech at the rally highlighted his long record of support for the LGBT community.

The event was held in a packed auditorium at an arts and recreation center on Mississippi Avenue in Southeast D.C. known as THEARC.

“I look around this room and I see folks from every part of our city,” Gray told the gathering. “I see enormous talent and tireless dedication. I see white, I see black, I see brown, and every color in between,” he said.

“I see straight, I see gay, and I see transgender. I see rich and I see poor,” he said. “But above all, I see what makes us the greatest city in the greatest country on Earth — I see a community.”

In another part of his speech Gray said the accomplishments of his first term included his longstanding effort to unify the city’s diverse and growing population.

“We are bringing together young and old, black, brown and white, Latino, Asian, immigrants from throughout the world, gay, straight, able and disabled,” he said.

Gray is being challenged by eight candidates in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary, including four City Council members, all of whom have records of support on LGBT issues.

Much of the coverage of Gray’s speech by the media focused on his apology to the city for the campaign finance irregularities associated with his 2010 mayoral campaign, which led to criminal charges and guilty pleas by four of his top campaign staff members. Gray has said the campaign finance law violations by the four staffers happened without his knowledge.

“I know that the 2010 campaign caused many people great pain,” Gray said in his speech. “I know that our city suffered embarrassment. Today, I apologize to you for the pain that my campaign caused. I ask for your forgiveness.”

Gray added, “Although I cannot apologize for the misdeeds of others, the 2010 campaign was my campaign, and I am deeply sorry for the pain and embarrassment it caused.”

The LGBT activists attending the rally joined virtually everyone one else in the packed auditorium in rising to their feet to give Gray a prolonged ovation in response to his apology. Many in the audience chanted, “Four more years, four more years” before sitting down to listen to the remainder of Gray’s speech.

“I thought it went extremely well,” said gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, a member of Gray’s 2014 campaign finance committee.

“It’s an overflow crowd. There are hundreds and hundreds of people here,” Hudson said. “The mayor gave a great speech. He addressed very well the 2010 election issue and laid out a real clear vision for the next four years.”

Asked how the LGBT vote is likely to break down in the April 1 primary, Hudson said, “I think it will probably split just like it did in the last election. But one thing that’s clear is Vince Gray is the best mayor in the entire country on LGBT issues.”

At least four prominent transgender activists attended the rally, including Earline Budd, Jeri Hughes and Alexandra Beninda. Budd and Beninda were appointed by Gray to the D.C. Human Rights Commission as the first-ever transgender people to serve on the commission.

“He has done what I think is vital to this city in so many ways in terms of economic development,” said Beninda. “Within our transgender community he definitely has a place in our hearts because he has done so much – with Project Empowerment, with the Transgender Awareness Campaign,” she said in referring to a city-sponsored job training program and a trans related non-discrimination campaign initiated by Gray.

“He has done more than anybody else has ever done in the city for the transgender community,” Beninda said.

Hughes and Budd said Gray, while breaking new ground in his support for the transgender community, has an exceptionally strong record in support of the entire LGBT community. The two also said the city as a whole has prospered under Gray’s tenure as mayor.

LGBT activists who are backing other candidates, including Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), have said those candidates are also strong supporters of LGBT rights and that LGBT people should select a candidate based on non-LGBT issues.

Longtime gay activists Deacon Maccubbin and Bob Summersgill said they are backing Wells over Gray, among thing things, because Wells has a stronger record on ethics in government issues.

Gay rights advocate and D.C. Department of Health official Ivan Torres, who attended the Gray rally on Saturday, said he believes Gray comes out ahead on non-LGBT issues.

“You can have any preferences that you like,” Torres said in referring to LGBT people supporting candidates running against Gray. “But you cannot deny that in the past four years Washington, D.C. has gone forward — forward in so many ways — economic development, the unemployment rate has gone down, and development is there, and the integration of us gay people, the gay and lesbian community, the transgender community into governance.”

13
Jan
2014

Dismay, disinterest win D.C. mayoral primary

disinterest, gay news, Washington Blade, primary

Slightly less than 25 percent, political party-registered voters eligible to cast ballots in the city’s April 1 partisan primary election did so.

Dismay and disinterest won the day in D.C.’s primary election by a record-setting margin. Similar to the mayoral contest determining the overwhelmingly dominant Democratic Party’s nominee for mayor, it wasn’t even close.

Voters didn’t much like their choices.

Had they been sufficiently motivated to breeze through one of the 143 precinct locations, they would have discovered more poll workers than the sparse turnout of voters at most moments during the 13-hour ordeal. Despite it taking nearly five hours for the startlingly and chronically dysfunctional D.C. Board of Elections to complete its preliminary tally after the polls closed, voter dissatisfaction with their ballot box options had long been apparent.

Barely one-in-four, slightly less than 25 percent, political party-registered voters eligible to cast ballots in the city’s April 1 partisan primary election did so. In 2010, the participation rate was 37 percent, with 137,586 voting – including nearly 134,000 in the Democratic primary. According to unofficial returns, this year’s totals won’t crack six digits as far fewer than 100,000 of the 369,035 primary-eligible registrants showed up at the polls.

Never before in the city’s electoral history have so few chosen to vote in a mayoral primary. Throughout the day and across the city it was evident that voter turnout would produce a jaw-dropping paucity of votes.

It was the first time turnout has ever been lower than the prior nadir of 32 percent in 1998. Pending the final tally, it is likely that the actual raw number voting will exceed only that of 1986 – when there were one-third fewer eligible voters among a much-smaller District population.

Indications of a looming electoral debacle were evident when early voting poll numbers were announced last weekend. The two-week-long opportunity to vote in advance enticed approximately 37 percent fewer to do so than in the previous mayoral primary, despite an expanded number of voting locations and no notable differential in the number of party-aligned partisans. In 2010, more than 22,000 party-registered voters cast ballots in advance of primary election day. This year only slightly more than 14,000 were reported.

These substantial declines had been forecast by the campaign manager for incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray, who was defeated for Democratic Party re-nomination in a wide margin loss to D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser. Accuracy in that prognostication, however, was small comfort in light of the drubbing Gray experienced and his nine-month lame duck tenure ahead.

The real reason for the plummeting participation is apparent. Conjecture that a much earlier primary date – moved up sooner-than-required from the traditional September date in order to comply with federal voting rules designed to better accommodate overseas voters and deployed military personnel – was the cause of the embarrassing lack of engagement misses the mark.

Too many voters believed the incumbent had won election in 2010 by deception and cheating, the “too green” leading alternative failed to instill confidence she was either experienced enough or adequately prepared to take the helm, and the rapidly fading also-ran competitors weren’t worth the effort.

More than that, though, was a thing worse.

When both Bowser and Gray came to realize that their battle would be predominantly waged in targeted areas of the city’s eastern portion, all pretense of running genuinely citywide campaigns ceased in the final weeks. Whole swaths of the city began to feel more like observers than stakeholders.

Bowser’s theme of “All Eight Wards” and Gray’s hackneyed “One City” slogan became self-parodies. When Gray paraded around select neighborhoods with former mayor Marion Barry and countenanced the Council member’s unique brand of racially tinged commentary it was simply too much for too many, including supporters. Bowser seemed to always be nearby, as if the rest of the city mattered little. Both candidates failed to inspire or excite voters, depressing turnout and heightening disgust.

Responsibility for the desultory result lies with them. The response from the voters of the city could not have been more crystal clear.

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

02
Apr
2014

Gray, Mendelson receive top GLAA ratings for April primary

Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

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

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and City Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) on Thursday received a +10 rating from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the highest possible rating score on a scale of -10 to +10, in their respective races for re-election in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

Gray and Mendelson, who are longtime supporters of the LGBT community, were the only two candidates to receive a +10 among a total of 43 candidates rated in contests for mayor and seats on the City Council.

Council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who are running for mayor, came in close behind Gray with ratings of +9.5 and +8 respectively. Both have also been longtime supporters of the LGBT community.

GLAA is a non-partisan LGBT advocacy group founded in 1971. It says it rates candidates on the basis of their past records on LGBT, AIDS and other issues deemed important to the LGBT community and on their responses to a detailed questionnaire that asks about those issues.

The group has said it gives higher ratings to candidates that go beyond just expressing support on LGBT issues when they show through their questionnaire responses an understanding of the issues and how best to address them.

GLAA President Rick Rosendall called the LGBT related records of Wells and Evans “excellent” and noted that the group said in its statement that Evans has the longest record of support due to his 20-year tenure as a Council member. He said Gray and Mendelson received a +10 score because both had undertaken a large number of pro-LGBT initiatives in the last few years that, along with their strong past records, gave them an edge over the other candidates.

“Mr. Gray’s accessibility, responsiveness, and follow-through have made him highly effective on LGBT issues,” GLAA said in its statement. “He has been a champion for transgender people, including with Project Empowerment job training.”

Among the other mayoral candidates running in the April primary, Busboys and Poets restaurant owner and progressive political activist Andy Shallal received a +6; Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) received a +5.5; attorney and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis received a +4.5, Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) received a +3; and businessman and civic activist Carlos Allen received a “0” rating.

In its statement accompanying the ratings, GLAA said Allen received an automatic score of “0” under the group’s policy for candidates who don’t return the questionnaire and have no known record on LGBT issues.

All of the Democratic mayoral candidates that returned the questionnaire expressed strong support for LGBT rights in general.

Among the non-Democratic mayoral candidates, GLAA gave Statehood-Green Party candidate Faith a +3.5 and gay Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors a +2.

Majors, a longtime LGBT rights advocate, received a +2 rating because “his party’s ideological distrust of government is at odds with policies and reforms favored by GLAA,” the group said in its statement. “Consequently, many of his responses were interpreted as non-responsive or negative,” the statement says.

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) received a +7.5 compared to his sole opponent in the Democratic primary, public relations executive and community activist Brianne Nadeau, who received a +5.

Political observers say Graham is facing his toughest re-election race this year for a fifth term on the Council

GLAA said it gave Graham higher points for his long record of support on LGBT and AIDS related issues, citing his work recently on pushing through a bill to provide better services to homeless LGBT youth. The group gave him a slight edge over Nadeau in the substance of his questionnaire responses.

But the group gave Nadeau a slight edge over Graham over the two candidates’ positions on an issue GLAA has long considered important – whether tiny, ad hoc neighborhood citizens groups should be given legal standing to protest liquor licenses of restaurants and bars.

GLAA favors giving exclusive authority to challenge liquor licenses to the city’s elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissions rather than un-elected ad hoc groups, which nightlife advocates say unnecessarily block or delay the approval of licenses for nightlife establishments, both gay and straight. Nadeau, a former ANC commissioner, said she supports giving ANCs the sole legal standing to contest liquor licenses.

GLAA said Graham didn’t take a position on the issue in his questionnaire response, saying he described instead how he helped facilitate a committee of citizens and businesses representatives to consider the issue.

In the Council Chair race, GLAA said Mendelson’s +10 rating reflects his record as an ally who has shepherded through the Council a long list of LGBT supportive bills, including the marriage equality bill.

The group said it gave Mendelson’s opponent, Democrat Calvin Gurley, a “0” rating because Gurley didn’t return the questionnaire and also has no known record on LGBT issues.

Among the five Democrats running in the At-Large Council race, challenger Nate Bennett-Fleming, who currently serves as the city’s non-paid “shadow” U.S. Representatives, received a +7, one point higher than the +6 rating GLAA gave to incumbent Council member Anita Bonds, who won the seat in a special election last year.

Both are strong supporters of LGBT rights. But the slightly higher rating for Bennett-Fleming, a recent law school graduate relatively new to the local political scene compared to Bonds, who has been active in politics and government since the 1970s, is likely to raise eyebrows among some local activists.

GLAA President Rick Rosendall said Bennett-Fleming’s questionnaire responses included a few more substantive insights than Bonds’ but called both candidates’ responses “very good,” saying GLAA considers a rating of +5 and above to be a good showing for a candidate.

The ratings for the other At-Large Democratic candidates were: Pedro Rubio, +3; John Settles II, +2.5; and Kevin Valentine Jr., 0. Valentine is among the candidates who didn’t return the questionnaire and have no known LGBT record, GLAA said.

Among the non-Democratic At-Large candidates running in their respective party primaries, Statehood-Green Party candidate Eugene Puryear received a 4.5; Statehood-Green Party candidate G. Lee Aikin received a +3; and Libertarian Party candidate Frederick Stein, who didn’t return the questionnaire, received a “0.”

Gay Republican candidate Marc Morgan, who’s running unopposed for the GOP nomination for the At-Large Council seat, received a +2. GLAA said he didn’t return the questionnaire.

In its statement accompanying the ratings, GLAA said Morgan’s record of involvement in LGBT rights activities in Ohio and Arizona and his involvement with the National Minority AIDS Council in D.C. were counted in his favor and viewed as “very admirable.”

The statement says Morgan lost points for “his support for anti-gay politicians John Boehner, Robert Ehrlich, and Laura Knapereck,” which “detract from his record.” Boehner, a Republican and Speaker of the U.S. House, among other things, has blocked the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, an LGBT rights bill, from coming up for a vote in the House. Ehrlich is a former Maryland governor and Knapereck has served in the Arizona legislature.

In the remaining Council races, GLAA issued these ratings:

Ward 3: Council member Mary Cheh (D), +8.5; Ryan Sabot (Libertarian), “0” [Questionnaire wasn’t returned].

Ward 5: Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D), +4.5; Kathy Henderson (D), “0” [Questionnaire was returned but GLAA disagreed with most responses]; Carolyn Steptoe (D), -2.

GLAA said Steptoe didn’t return the questionnaire and is viewed as having a negative record for testifying in support of placing D.C.’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum in 2010.

Ward 6: Charles Allen (D), +8.5; Darrel Thompson (D), +2; Pranav Badhwar (Libertarian), +2.

Allen, the former chief of staff for Wells, received the highest rating for a non-incumbent running in the primary. In its statement, GLAA said Allen has a long record of support for LGBT issues both as a former Council staffer and former president of the Ward 6 Democrats.

GLAA’s detailed analysis of its ratings, including links to the candidates’ questionnaire responses, can be found here: http://www.glaa.org/archive/2014/primaryratings.shtml

14
Feb
2014

Lackluster D.C. primary due to candidates, system

Independent voter, elections, primary, candidates, D.C., gay news, Washington Blade

D.C.’s old-fashioned system of limiting primary election participation to those signed up with a respective political party excludes nearly one-fifth of registered voters.

The District’s mayoral contest has captured nominal sustained interest and enlisted little notable passion. That signifies a lot more about the candidates and the city’s primary election restrictions than it does public civic-mindedness.

Even the date of this year’s April 1 partisan party nominating process provides an all-too-easy punch line.

Despite the newly condensed primary election schedule and intensified politicking, the campaign has unfolded at a seemingly languid pace before a largely disengaged electorate. Even the long-anticipated possibility that allegations of impropriety or acts of illegality either known to Mayor Vincent Gray or possibly involving sanction during his successful 2010 defeat of the prior one-term incumbent took the tenor of a predictable development.

No primary election contender in the usually determinative Democratic race, including the incumbent mayor and four D.C. Council challengers, has generated much momentum. Not only are the candidates clumped close to one another in measured support, the winner will almost certainly prevail capturing only a minority of votes.

Even Council member David Catania’s confirmation that he will run as an independent candidate in the November general election caused only a momentary stir. It merely complicated prognostications predicting ballot outcomes now and later.

Both candidate appeals to shrinking factions of voters in a primary election system limited to party-registered voters and bickering over credit for private sector contributions outside their domain have proven to be the ultimate public turn-offs. As early voting began this week, it is expected that low turnout will be the big winner.

First, D.C.’s old-fashioned system of limiting primary election participation to those signed up with a respective political party excludes nearly one-fifth of registered voters. The District is one of a rapidly dwindling number of jurisdictions excluding non-aligned voters from the opportunity to fully engage in choosing candidates.

Nationwide, 23 among 30 of the largest cities and 80 percent of all municipalities permit all voters to participate in primary elections, under a variety of voting schemes. The likelihood that adoption of an equal-access voting process would lead to diminished party allegiance, however, precludes the possibility that officeholders from the city’s dominant Democratic Party will approve legislation introduced by Council member David Grosso to modernize the local system.

With nearly half of all U.S. voters now self-identifying as independents, along with a majority of those under 35 years of age, alienation from partisan primaries will continue to grow. In California and New Jersey, for example, 21 percent of new voter registrations and 47 percent of all voters, respectively, are non-aligned. Heightened interest and increased participation requires equal access.

Although Catania’s general election campaign is likely to increase voter participation in what is expected to be a competitive race regardless of who is designated Democratic standard-bearer, this anomaly will only serve to mask the outlier nature of District election protocols.

Of equal importance, D.C. voters have suffered astonishingly amateurish and unimpressively contentious chatter by candidates. Preoccupied with arguing over who deserves credit for the city’s strong growth, economic development, cultural vitality and overall vibrancy, candidates accustomed to counting construction cranes have devolved to taking credit for them.

Voters are smart enough to know that city officials can’t claim much in that regard – except whether they create the government regulatory, operational mandate and business taxation environments allowing the private sector to flourish. For voters unwilling to renew Gray’s contract, Council member Jack Evans is the only primary candidate with both experience in and commitment to fostering business conditions producing continued progress.

Regardless of who is selected by whatever portion of voters determines the outcome, the local business community will arise early the next day to tend to the task of moving the city forward and keeping its economy humming.

The sooner local politicians understand their reliance on enterprise and entrepreneurs to fuel the city, and the imperative to open the political process to all, the better candidates they will become and the more interested we will be.

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

20
Mar
2014

Mayor Gray has earned our support

Lane Hudson, Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

Lane Hudson at Mayor Gray’s re-election campaign kick-off event on Sunday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It was nearly four years ago that a man with an impeccable reputation decided to challenge the incumbent mayor. Up to that point, Vince Gray had a lifelong career in non-profit management dedicated to improving the lives of others. He served for two years on the D.C. Council before being elected as its chair. By all accounts, his tenure was seen as a time of civility and productivity.

Once he put his hat in the ring to challenge Adrian Fenty, what followed was terrible to watch. The Fenty campaign worked vigorously to cast Gray as the new Marion Barry and the Washington Post editorial board was happy to play the accomplice. The largely white half of the city was mostly willing to go along with it.

While it could not be further from the truth, the betrayal of a few people furthered the notion that Vince Gray was just as the Fenty campaign had sought to portray him.  Those people are in jail or rightfully headed there soon. In the meantime, Mayor Gray has focused on doing his job.

Last week, he addressed the 2010 campaign in a wide-ranging interview with WUSA reporter Bruce Johnson and also during his re-election kickoff rally. He expressed remorse for the embarrassment that the misdeeds of his former staff had brought to the District. More importantly, he asked us to forgive him for it.

That’s exactly what we should do. He has said repeatedly that he had no knowledge of the misdeeds of the 2010 campaign and three years of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney has given us no reason to think otherwise.

On the issues, Mayor Gray is superior to every other candidate. He is the most LGBT friendly mayor in the country and is incredibly proud of it. He has always been a supporter of marriage equality in spite of coming from Ward 7, where support for marriage equality is among the lowest in the District. Under his leadership, D.C. developed a job training program for transgender residents and began the very first, and only, transgender awareness publicity campaign run by a local government. D.C. public schools have taken a much more proactive stance against bullying LGBT students and some high schools are actually sponsoring LGBT student pride days.

At this week’s Stein Club meeting, Mayor Gray said he absolutely supported D.C. recognizing the marriages performed in Utah before the Supreme Court stayed the lower court’s ruling pending appeal. Responding to a question from transgender Stein Club Officer Bobbie Strang, he also expressed support for outlawing transgender exclusions in insurance plans that are regulated by D.C. government. This would make a huge difference for the transgender community. These are positions that no one else in the race has taken.

In addition to his record, Vince is unmatched in strength of character. He was born and raised in the District and chose to stay here to build a life, a career and a family. His entire professional career, other than a brief stint running the D.C. Department of Health, was managing non-profits that provided services for people with mental disabilities and homeless teens. This is a man whose entire life has been about serving the neediest among us. That is exactly the kind of person I want leading our city.

Also, in a stark change from the previous mayoral administration, Mayor Gray and his staff have been readily accessible and very responsive to the LGBT community. He doesn’t only make himself and his staff available to our community and our advocacy organizations, he has also been very generous with his time, attending more LGBT events than any previous mayor.

Needless to say, the District is doing pretty darn good too: Cranes in the air, $1.5 billion in the bank, more than 1,000 new residents each month, rapidly improving test scores in public schools, nearly $200 million for affordable housing projects, lower unemployment numbers, burgeoning development east of the river, a growing technology sector and many more good things happening here. We are starting to appear on lists for good reasons instead of bad ones.

To sum it up, we’ve got a good thing going with Mayor Vince Gray. Let’s keep things headed in the right direction. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Lane Hudson is a D.C.-based Democratic activist and writer.

14
Jan
2014