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Arena launches Summit discussion series

Arena Stage, Mead Center for American Theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Arena Stage’s Mead Center for American Theater. (Photo by Nic Lehoux; courtesy Bing Thom Architects)

Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks will host a series of panel discussions about theater at Arena Stage (1101 Sixth St., S.W.).

The first is slated for Monday at 7 p.m. at Arena’s Kogod Cradle and will feature Arena’s Molly Smith, Ryan Rilette of Round House Theatre, Eric Schaeffer of Signature Theatre, Paul R. Tetreault of Ford’s Theatre and Paata Tsikurishvili of Synetic Theater.

The discussions will focus on addressing challenges of the art form. Future installments are set for March 24 and April 28. Tickets are free but reservations are encouraged. Visit arenastage.org for details.

13
Feb
2014

Vote for next generation of leadership in D.C.

vote, elections, leadership, slate, gay news, Washington Blade

Honing in on four key problems facing our community: a lack of good jobs, ever increasing costs of housing, prohibitive wages for our workers, and the denial of D.C.’s claim to statehood.

By ANGELA PEOPLES

For some time now, wooing and turning out young voters is the name of the game for Democratic candidates at all levels of government. In the District of Columbia, an influx of young professionals over the last decade and the racial and socio-economic shift that have followed make engaging this group more important, yet more elusive than ever.

It’s hard to believe that this city’s main draw for newcomers is the opportunity to work in politics and government, and somehow, that would mean local politics would take “a back seat to the existential angst of being a 20- or 30-something in this city,” as Robert Samuels wrote in a Washington Post article last week referring to youth involvement in local elections.

But Robert Samuels hasn’t met the leaders behind the Rent Is Too Darn High slate.

I moved to D.C. in 2008 with a laser-like focus on being a part of the movement for social change at the national level. As an advocate for the United States Student Association, a national youth advocacy organization, I was inspired daily by the energy, passion and ability of my peers working to make higher education affordable. Over the years, I developed roots in the District community. This community is comprised of people in similar circumstances: 20- and 30-year old D.C. transplants with deep progressive values and a belief in the power of people to change their surroundings.

The fact that our views at times clashed with our role in the rapidly gentrifying city we called home — and yes, we do call D.C. home — was not lost on me. Having been raised in a household of school board presidents and churchgoers, the call to contribute to my local community grew stronger.

That calling brought me to the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club to help serve as the voice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Democrats in D.C. This group connects my passion for politics and progress with my commitment to being a community leader in the city I call home. And now, in the middle of my second term on the executive board of the Club, we’ve made it a point to engage young community members.

Serving as a leader of the largest constituent group in the D.C. Democratic Party has its challenges. There were those who questioned my authenticity, my ability to lead and even my sexuality. But for every one person who cast doubt on the spirit of this new generation of community leaders, there were two others who stood firmly behind us.

I continue to be inspired by many of these leaders who answered the call to fight for change at home and across the country. Many of these folks are now running for City Council, leading local organizations like the Washington Interfaith Network, the Youth Pride Alliance, TransLaw, and the Latino/a GLBT History Project.

One such group is the Rent Is Too Darn High slate for D.C. Democratic State Committee, the largest and most diverse slate seeking to give this body a fresh start. So while the Washington Post might make a debatable argument about youth involvement in the mayoral election, what is absolutely clear is that young people and LGBT people are energized by and driving engagement in local politics.

Representing the wisdom of long-standing community leaders joined by the fresh perspectives of young organizers, this slate is honing in on four key problems facing our community: a lack of good jobs, ever increasing costs of housing, prohibitive wages for our workers, and the denial of D.C.’s claim to statehood.

I’m convinced that one path to changing these conditions is through the effective stewardship of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. For too long, this organization has fought against transparency and accountability, and now wrestles with the perception of being complicit in corruption.

Unlike other candidates and slates, the Rent Is Too Darn High candidates bring native Washingtonians together with D.C. transplants to tackle head-on the policies depriving our communities of what they need to support their families. With Rent Is Too Darn High candidates at the helm of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, we can have a significant role in bringing these issues in front of the mayor’s office and the City Council.

So as a fellow D.C. community member, come April 1st, I’m giving my support to all the candidates bearing the Rent Is Too Darn High name. And I urge all LGBT people committed to a new generation of Democratic leadership in D.C. to do the same.

Angela Peoples is president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.

25
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

Graham fires back at opponent, files ethics complaint

Jim Graham, gay news, gay politics dc, homeless youth, complaint

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) filed a complaint with the city’s Inspector General against his Democratic opponent Brianne Nadeau. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) added fuel to the fire in the hotly contested Ward 1 D.C. Council race this week when he revealed he filed a complaint last Friday with the city’s Inspector General against his Democratic opponent Brianne Nadeau.

The complaint, which Graham released to the Washington Post, accuses Nadeau of underreporting her income in 2009 to enable her to be eligible for an interest-free city loan to purchase a condominium under a city program for low- to moderate-income residents.

Nadeau released a statement saying she did “everything 100 percent by the book” to obtain her loan and accused Graham of “abusing his office and spending taxpayer dollars to attack a political opponent.”

The Ward 1 Council seat for which Graham and Nadeau are competing is one of six Council seats up for grabs in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary. The other seats in contention are the Council Chair position, one of two at-large seats, and the seats representing Wards 3, 5 and 6.

Also on the primary ballot is D.C. congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who’s running unopposed; and candidates running for the shadow U.S. Senate and House seats.

Graham, who has held the Ward 1 Council seat for 16 years, is running for a fifth term in office in what observers say is his toughest re-election bid to date.

In his complaint, Graham charges that he observed what he believes to be “serious irregularities” and “perhaps fraud” in a loan application filed by Nadeau in which she allegedly failed to report that her income had increased from the time she initially applied for the loan two years earlier.

Under rules for the Home Purchase Assistance Program, known as HPAP, Nadeau would have been eligible for a loan of $33,050 to cover her down payment and closing costs if her income was below $50,000, which Graham says it was when she first applied for the loan in 2007.

But according to Graham, Nadeau’s income rose to over $50,000 by 2009, when she received the loan while employed by the office of U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.). Under the HPAP program, Nadeau’s higher income meant she was only eligible for a loan of $14,450. The fact that she received the higher amount, according to Graham, raises serious questions about her ethical conduct as well as to whether she committed fraud.

Tom Fazzini, Nadeau’s campaign manager, told the Blade on Wednesday that Nadeau fully reported all of her income, including the income above $50,000, to the Greater Washington Urban League, which the city had retained to administer the HPAP program. He said Graham took out of context an email Nadeau sent to the Urban League saying her income had not changed since 2007.

When asked by the Post to explain a possible discrepancy in her reported income in the email in support of her loan application, “Nadeau said that her base salary had not changed but that she had received bonuses that increased her pay,” the Post reported.

“I have made all the documentation publicly available, which clearly shows that Jim Graham is distorting communications I had with him when I sought his help as a constituent five year ago,” Nadeau said in her statement.

“This is the same corrupt behavior that caused the D.C. Council to reprimand him and strip him of responsibility,” she said.

Fazzini said HPAP officials initially approved her loan at the higher amount when her income was at a lower level but cancelled the loan contract when she was unable to complete the purchase of the condo within a one-year deadline. He said the purchase couldn’t be completed because the condo building was still under construction and the delay in its completion prevented Nadeau from making the purchase at that time.

According to Fazzini, HPAP officials may have had the discretion to allow Nadeau to obtain the higher loan amount under a new contract the following year, even though her income rose above the $50,000 limit, because the missed deadline for the earlier contract was the fault of the condo developer rather than Nadeau’s.

Graham’s allegation against Nadeau follows a barrage of attacks against him by Nadeau during the past two months over a vote last year by the City Council to reprimand Graham on an ethics violation. The Council’s action, in the form of an 11 to 2 vote, stemmed from allegations that he improperly intervened in the approval process for a Metro development project.

Graham has said he acted in what he believed to be in the best interests of his constituents by arguing against one of two developers seeking the Metro contract on grounds that the developer was unqualified to do the work.

26
Mar
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

There’s no place like Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15
May
2014

Let some air out of the trend-tired ‘cult of the bike’

bicycle, gay news, Washington Blade, bicyclists

It’s time for bikers to make the transition from roadway rebel to responsibly sharing the same small streets. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

What is it about D.C. and bicyclists?

Maybe the nation’s capital really is a hometown for “third-rail” topics. Do we fight-to-the-death our nonsensical pitched battles and relentlessly defend external cultural signifiers because we live at the national ground zero for identity politics?

One can almost imagine the pre-arrival dialogue between two partners on the way to a dinner party: “Now, remember, don’t ask John about his job that he lost two weeks ago, Susan is no longer pregnant and, please, don’t tell that story about almost hitting that guy on the bike who swerved in front of you on the way home last week. You know how sensitive Robert is about bike lanes.”

Regardless of the cause or reason, Washingtonians have become entirely too agitated about bicycle anxiety — both those who ride them and those who don’t.

In recent years, and during local political campaigns, bikes have even become symbolic proxy for the many demographic upheavals and economic tidal waves crisscrossing the city. Well, along with dog parks, that is.

Last week the city had another one of its periodic explosions of hot tire air. Prompted by a provocative and partly tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top opinion piece by Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy, hatin’ was hurlin’ fast and furious. It followed a somewhat scolding transportation column by colleague John Kelly reminding bicyclists of the riding-on-sidewalks prohibition in the downtown commercial area and pedestrian angst over violations.

There were quick calls for the newspaper to fire longtime columnist Milloy. (Really? Yes, really.) The famously near-universality of biking aficionados among bloggers and alternative media reporters fueled some of that, but it was a road we’d all been down before. No one needed a street map to know where we were headed.

Soon a “protest ride” from Dupont Circle to the Post’s offices was announced, drawing approximately 40 bikers, to demand that Milloy engage in “dialogue” on the matter. Television crews interviewed smug bicyclists miming that oh-so-trendy and despicable retort to “disagreeable” opinions – referring to them as “unacceptable words” and “unacceptable thinking.” One imagined a lurking “hate speech” allegation.

We are talking about bicycles, people, only bikes. Those slender self-powered metal objects utilized for transport and that many worldwide, especially the poor and low-skill workers in many places, use to get to and from jobs and tasks. While D.C. has a relatively robust bike riding and sharing rate among U.S. cities, it’s possible to count on fingers and toes the number you’re likely to see pedaling to work and home each day on a commute by foot, bus, subway, taxi or car. A near-negligible percentage of residents use a bike as a commuting or transit method.

Yes, D.C. is a wonderfully “walkable, livable” and “bike-able” place with a full array of transportation options. I’ve lived in Washington for more than three decades and have never owned a car.

Bicyclists need to release some air out of their tires. I suspect they may be clueless how irksome many perceive the tiresome whining that biker desires are not being met, there aren’t enough dedicated bike lanes, they’re inadequately lauded as environmental angels, they shouldn’t be subject to common courtesies or city rules.

It’s time for bikers to make the transition from roadway rebel to responsibly sharing the same small streets. It won’t be easy, alongside all the cars, taxis, buses, someday-streetcars, pedestrians, business delivery trucks and other vehicles crammed on the city’s narrow thoroughfares. It is dangerous out there.

Let’s also try to remember that this is not one of D.C.’s most pressing problems. In a now only-pseudo-booming city teetering on the edge of a metropolitan area recession where housing costs are skyrocketing, job creation is halting, homeless people are languishing in a morass of misery despite wildly out-of-control service costs due to government mismanagement, hyper-sensitive two-wheel drama reads ridiculous.

Let’s keep that in mind while we finally start acting adult about accommodating mutual access and shared usage.

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

 

17
Jul
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

AIDS groups coping as contractor stops paying Medicaid claims

Vince Gray, Washington D.C., Gay News, Washington Blade

‘In light of the financial problems of Chartered, I will be taking steps to protect the District’s health care provider network,’ said Mayor Vincent Gray in a statement. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health and several other D.C. health care organizations say they are continuing to provide services to Medicaid clients with HIV/AIDS following the announcement in April that a city contractor had stopped paying Medicaid claims.

Whitman-Walker and several other local providers serving HIV/AIDS patients told the Blade they have so far managed to get by without getting paid for patients on Medicaid following the financial collapse of a city contractor that has operated D.C.’s Medicaid program.

A Washington Post story on Sunday reported that many small health care providers, including doctors’ offices and small clinics serving low-income clients, were struggling to keep their doors open since the Medicaid payments stopped last month.

The Medicaid problem began earlier this year when Chartered Health Plan, the company that arranged for Medicaid payments to doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers entered into voluntary receivership after encountering severe financial problems.

Under its contract with the city, Chartered managed Medicaid related issues for more than 100,000 low-income D.C. residents, according to a statement released in April by the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance.

The Post reported that Chartered Health Plan, once a multimillion dollar company, faced near financial collapse this year as an apparent result of revelations in late 2010 that its owner, Jeffrey E. Thompson, allegedly financed a “shadow campaign” in support of Vincent Gray’s 2010 mayoral election.

The United States Attorney’s office continues to investigate issues surrounding the campaign, which the city’s Office of Campaign Finance has said violated the city’s campaign finance law. Gray has said he had no knowledge of the so-called shadow campaign and has cooperated with investigators looking into the matter.

Whitman-Walker spokesperson Chip Lewis said Chartered owes Whitman-Walker just over $40,000 in back Medicaid payments for patient services.

“Whitman-Walker Health is absorbing the delay in payments from Chartered Health Plan within our current operations,” Lewis told the Blade. “Going forward, we do not anticipate this outstanding balance will create a major financial burden as it is a relatively small amount of funds compared to our monthly operating budget of $2.2 million.”

Ron Simmons, executive director of Us Helping Us, and Lloyd Buckner, executive director of MetroHealth, formerly known as the Carl Vogel Center, said the city’s Medicaid payment delays haven’t adversely impacted their respective organizations at this time.

Both organizations provide services for people with HIV/AIDS and both accept patients on Medicaid, the two said.

Michael Weinstein, director of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which operates an AIDS clinic and pharmacy in D.C., said, “Medicaid is not a big funder to our clinic” and the interruption of Medicaid payments in D.C. “is not significant to us.”

An official with La Clinica del Pueblo, a D.C. clinic that provides AIDS-related medical services for the Latino community, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“In light of the financial problems of Chartered, I will be taking steps to protect the District’s health care provider network that has taken years for us to develop,” Mayor Gray said in a statement in April.

“My primary goal is to protect the stability of the community-based providers that will be at risk of closing their doors and turning away patients if there is a significant delay in being paid,” Gray said.

Gray said that he directed his Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, BB Otero, and the Department of Health Care Finance to develop a plan to provide relief for providers hit the hardest by the Medicaid payment cutoff.

The Post reported that since the time of the mayor’s announcement last month the city has retained a new company, AmeriHealth Caritas of Philadelphia, to replace Chartered Health as the city’s lead contractor for Medicaid services.

30
May
2013

Donald Despertt, 30

Donald Despertt. (Screen shot via LinkedIn.com)

Donald Despertt. (Screen shot via LinkedIn.com)

Donald Allen Despertt, a senior advertising coordinator at the Washington Post who was involved with a separate business that produces entertainment events, including LGBT and AIDS fundraising events, died in Washington on June 17. He was 30.

In recent years, Donald Despertt served as a volunteer event organizer for D.C. Black Pride, one of the city’s largest LGBT events, in his role as chief operating officer at Omega Entertainment, an event planning company, according to his friend Michael Stratton.

Despertt’s interest in business and entrepreneurship surfaced in a May 1999 article in the Washington Times when he was a junior at D.C.’s Theodore Roosevelt High School. The article noted that he began training for a career as an entrepreneur in the sixth grade and started his own baking business when he was 15.

Biographical information posted on his LinkedIn page says he won the National Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship in 1999. One year earlier, the same organization named Donald Despertt first place winner in its Business Plan Competition contest.

He graduated from Roosevelt High as class valedictorian in 2000 before beginning his undergraduate studies at Georgetown University in marketing, operations and information management. He later served as advertising manager for The Hoya, the Georgetown University student newspaper.

In 2010 and 2011 Despertt served as director of men’s promotion for the White Attire Affair fundraising event for Al Sura, a D.C. charitable foundation that gives money to AIDS service organizations.

“He was a wonderful person who did all he could to help community organizations that helped people,” said Abur-Rahim Briggs, president of Al Sura.

A viewing and funeral service were scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 3, at Peace Baptist Church at 712 18th St., N.E. Interment was scheduled to follow the service at D.C.’s Glenwood Cemetery.

02
Jul
2013