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Keeping Dem mayor trumps loyalty to Gray

Vince Gray, Vincent Gray, David Catania, District of Columbia, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) (on left) and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. (Washington Blade file photos by Michael Key)

Now that Council member David Catania (I-At Large) is running for mayor, it is more important than ever for Democrats to elect a candidate who cannot only win the Democratic primary, but who can also prevail in the general election.

I like Catania on a personal level, despite his public brashness, and I understand how significant it would be to have an openly gay mayor, but I am a loyal Democrat and I make no apologies for that. I strongly believe in the principles of the Democratic Party and I believe that candidates who support those principles are the best candidates to lead. While many D.C. Council members who have held one of the two seats reserved for the non-majority party have been Democrats who have changed their party to qualify for the seat, Catania was a Republican when he was first elected to the D.C. Council. He changed his party affiliation to independent due to homophobia in the national Republican Party. Ideologically, he is not my choice for mayor.

In past columns, I have used this space to acknowledge that I am undecided in the mayor’s race. While I am not going to endorse a candidate today, I will not pretend that the shadow campaign does not factor into my final decision. Truth be told, if there were no shadow campaign, I would have already made up my mind to support Mayor Vincent Gray. He is doing a good job running the city and his support for the LGBT community, specifically transgender people, has been groundbreaking. Though Gray fell just short of receiving the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club endorsement, the overwhelming support he received over the other mayoral candidates is a testament to his wonderful LGBT initiatives.

That said, specific details about the allegations against Mayor Gray that came out on March 10 during shadow campaign financier Jeffrey Thompson’s guilty plea make it difficult for me to support Mayor Gray. I’m not going as far as others and suggesting that he drop out of the race, but, at this point, to support him, I need to know that there is no smoking gun that proves Thompson’s allegations and that the overwhelming public perception is that Gray, and not Thompson, is telling the truth. Sadly, it seems unlikely that these conditions will be met.

These questions need to be answered in less than one week. Early voting starts on March 17 and by that time, Democrats may need to start lining up behind one candidate.  I am going to stop short of saying who that candidate should be.

One saving grace is that this news is coming out now and not after the Democratic primary. Even as I have leaned toward supporting Mayor Gray, my greatest fear during this election season has always been that Gray would be implicated in the shadow campaign after the Democratic primary and Catania would use that to defeat him in November.

Democrats cannot afford to lose the mayoralty and no individual is bigger than the party. At some point, we may have to decide to put personalities and petty differences aside and, for the good of the D.C. Democratic Party, unite behind the candidate with the best chance of prevailing in the general election.

We are in a unique situation, not just because of game-changing allegations leveled against the mayor shortly before the Democratic primary, but also because, for the first time since home rule, a non-Democratic candidate has a legitimate chance to be elected mayor. A January Washington Post poll listed a potential race between Gray and Catania as a statistical dead heat before this latest bombshell. Most likely, if the poll were taken today, Catania would be in the lead.

I believe we should still hear Mayor Gray out and give him a chance to clear his name. However, while it may not be fair and it is against my legal training, the burden of proof has clearly shifted. Generally, the prosecution must prove a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the same rules don’t apply in the court of public opinion and if, in another week, Gray has not convinced a significant portion of the electorate that he is telling the truth, for the sake of the D.C. Democratic Party, it may be time to unite behind one of the other frontrunners.

Lateefah Williams’ biweekly column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is a D.C.-based political and LGBT activist. Reach her at lateefah_williams@msn.com or follow her on Twitter @lateefahwms

12
Mar
2014

Smooth sailing on first Equality Cruise

Equality Cruise, gay news, Washington Blade

Sixty-nine passengers took part in the inaugural Equality Cruise. (Photo by Steve Charing)

A total of 69 passengers participated in Equality Maryland’s first Equality Cruise Jan. 12-19. Those participating were mostly from the Baltimore-Washington region but some came from Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee. They included a diverse group of LGBT people and allies. Carnival Cruises donated a portion of the group’s proceeds to Equality Maryland.

Travel arrangements were made by Equality Maryland’s office manager, Vanessa Bowling, who also owns Vanessa Addrienne Travel. She, along with Doug Rose, communications volunteer for Equality Maryland, served as hosts for the group.

The cruise took place aboard the aptly named Carnival Pride, which departed from Baltimore. It sailed to Port Canaveral and then on to Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas before returning. Both Bowling and Rose hosted a meet-and-greet as the ship departed Baltimore. They also arranged group gatherings including pre-dinner socials and organized a “red party” in the Pride’s dance club.

Tokyo Derekston of Glen Burnie, Md., enjoyed her first cruise.  “I’m having a great time,” she said during its midpoint. “As long as people stop asking me to sing.”

Bowling indicated that she intends to send out surveys about what people would like in the way of future cruises and ports of call. The Equality Cruise’s maiden voyage went well and there is optimism that the size of the group will increase next year.

22
Jan
2014

Taking sides in ‘painful’ mayoral race

Hillary Rosen, mayoral race, gay news, Washington Blade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16
Apr
2014

Why I support Jack Evans for mayor

Jack Evans, Washington Blade, gay news

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

By DENNIS BASS

Twenty-five years ago, elected officials weren’t talking about gay rights. But Jack Evans was.  He led the fight for domestic partnerships, civil unions and gay marriage, and helped repeal laws that discriminated against gays and lesbians.

Long before it was popular, Jack championed equality regardless of sexual orientation. He didn’t do it because it was politically correct. He did it because it was right. He was there at the start of the gay rights movement in D.C. and he has been an ally of our community and its most skillful advocate over the last two decades.

When he first ran for Council in 1991, there were some who said Jack would not have the same commitment to gay issues as an LGBT candidate. Council member Evans has certainly proven those people wrong. Today, Jack has undisputedly the strongest record of any candidate on the issues that matter not only to our community, but also to the entire District.

When Jack was first elected, gay people were routinely harassed and arrested for committing sodomy. In his first year on the Council, Jack led the fight to abolish the repressive anti-sodomy law, after years of failed attempts.

In 1998, Jack became the first elected D.C. official to publicly support same-sex marriage, and year after year Jack has sponsored successful legislation to guarantee LGBT people the rights of straight married couples in areas such as adoption, health care, inheritance, and domestic partnership, until the Council finally adopted full marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

But Jack’s efforts didn’t stop with marriage equality. He has relentlessly waged battles to enact medical marijuana, condom availability, needle exchange programs, reporting of bias-related hate crimes, and LGBT sensitivity training for Metropolitan police, fire, and EMT personnel –overcoming the often-hostile objections of some fellow Council members and opposition in Congress.

In recognition of all he has done for the LGBT community, Jack Evans was awarded the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance Distinguished Service Award.

When you combine Jack’s record on LGBT issues with his other achievements in fiscal management by balancing the District’s budget; bringing to D.C. the convention center, baseball stadium and Verizon Center, along with other job-creating projects; and supporting education reform that is beginning to show benefits in D.C.’s schools, I can’t see how the choice could be any clearer.

Yes, “the District is doing pretty darn good,” as one of Mayor Gray’s supporters said, but much of the credit for what’s happening now goes to Jack Evans’ efforts, who, as the long-time chair of the Council’s Finance and Revenue committee, laid the groundwork for much of the prosperity and progress that we’re seeing today.

What kind of an LGBT advocate will he be as mayor? Jack says that, even in a city like Washington where much has been accomplished, the fight for LGBT rights is far from over.  As mayor, Jack Evans will continue his advocacy on LGBT issues by increasing funding for health initiatives focused on LGBT people and youth, increasing workplace protections for transgender people, ensuring that same-sex married partners are treated equally under Medicaid, initiating LGBT sensitivity training for all District government employees, and including gender-orientation curriculum in the sex-education programs of the D.C. public schools.

For these reasons, Jack Evans is the right choice for mayor.

Dennis Bass was deputy executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest from 1981 until he retired in 2012. He served on the Dupont Circle ANC from 1986 until 1995 and volunteered on every Jack Evans campaign since he first ran for Council in 1991.

11
Feb
2014

‘Promoter bill’ wrong approach with negative results

Jim Graham, promoter, gay news, Washington Blade

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

D.C. Council member Jim Graham introduced legislation last week to license, regulate and impose special requirements and restrictions on nightlife event promoters and promotion groups. His proposal would arbitrarily impose limits on common marketplace activity, inhibit community-centric gatherings and stifle cultural event innovation.

I should know – I was a nightlife special event producer and promoter for two decades.

Graham’s bill would institute mandatory licensing, permit fees, training classes, acquisition of a minimum $3 million in personal liability insurance and other requirements. Creation of a new licensing category will inevitably lead to additional protocols, restrictions and costs and result in bureaucratic expansion of hurdles and hoop jumping.

The world of event concept and promotional marketing would suddenly become complicated and less diversity in entertainment options would result. All without real benefit.

Graham indicated his proposal was in response to three incidents resulting in violence at or near local nightlife venues over a period of more than two years. Graham notes that these random occurrences were associated with promoter-organized events.

Given the longstanding and pervasive engagement of promotion groups representing both large “corporate” entities and small informal shared-interest collaborations at hundreds of venues throughout the city, this is tantamount to observing that a single plane crashed while all other flights safely landed. More violence occurs in or near Metrorail stations than nightlife venues.

Every night of the week, scores of independently marketed events occur without incident. Claiming that they are the exclusive or even preponderant source of problems is misleading.

Many establishments rely on promoters to host events and invite guests. Owners, operators and managers at many of the city’s largest and most prominent venues started in the business promoting events.

What is notably odd about establishing an implied shared responsibility for venue operational management is it is entirely counterintuitive. Current law is clear – venues are responsible for regulatory compliance and are liable for incidents. Simultaneously diluting venue responsibility while extending it to encompass event promoters is wholly inappropriate. Licensed businesses are, and should remain, legally liable for operational performance.

Some of the few instances of violence have occurred at venues with weak management or inadequate security who have mistakenly and illegally “handed over” at least partial venue control to non-employees. The solution is not diversion of responsibility, unrelated licensing requirements or paper shuffling. Regulatory administration should be focused on improving management training and providing technical assistance, in collaboration with industry groups, as is better provided in other jurisdictions.

Event marketers not employed on an in-house basis – which would exempt them from the law – should not be held legally liable for management responsibilities beyond their control.

Conversely, the law is easily circumvented by hiring of promoters as employees – as many already are – eliminating special requirements. Even a charitable component could waive them for independently promoted events under the loosely defined standards.

The most compelling argument against this proposal is one unconsidered. Many specialty events are organized and promoted by small informal groups of demographic, cultural or ethnic affinity, usually hosted at smaller bars and restaurants. Whether a gay retro-era dance party, a homeland-nostalgic international music event or similar gatherings promoted through social media networks and with a cover charge to finance DJs or talent or marketing expenses – host groups with the singular ability to promote these events would be subject to the proposed requirements.

This promotional model – including some of the most innovative and culturally contributing events – would no longer be functionally possible. The city would lose part of its soul and unique venues would lose needed revenue.

The simple fact is, inevitably and unfortunately and rarely, patrons will get out of hand and bad things will happen. This will occur at businesses not given due credit for responsible management and it will occur at less experienced locales. Bottom line, though, the issue is not how an event is promoted, but how the establishment is operated.

That is where the focus should be.

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

11
Mar
2014

Fixing D.C. elections to let independent voters play

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

D.C.’s dilemma might best be remedied by “non-partisan” elections. All candidates would compete in a single primary open to all voters, with the top two candidates proceeding to the general election.

In D.C., independent voters don’t really get to play the game come election time.

Not only that, the current system allows the dominant Democratic Party’s primary candidates to proceed to the general election winning only a plurality of votes. It will likely happen again on April 1 in the historically determinant Democratic primary for mayor.

These are separate problems. But there may be a single solution.

Due to overwhelming Democratic registration at nearly 75 percent, winners of local elections are decided in the dominant party’s primary election. The only exception is a requirement that two of four At-Large D.C. Council seats be held by a non-majority-party. This provision is intended to prevent absolute single-party control but is both easily and commonly overridden by Democrats changing affiliation to “independent” as if changing socks.

Despite being primary participation outcasts, slightly more than 17 percent of the District’s registered voters have selected “No Party” as their political affiliation. This reduces voting eligibility to general elections, being prohibited from any party’s “closed primary” election.

The percentage of independent registrations would undoubtedly skyrocket if D.C. election rules were revised to eliminate participation restrictions. Independent voters are a fast-growing phenomenon in places with broader participation rules. In addition, nearly half of Americans now self-identify as “independents” – even if mostly in attitude while retaining a party preference – an all-time high in 25 years of Gallup polling.

Of course, both local Democratic Party officials and incumbents are not eager for any change weakening the incentive to register with the party. Why would they? There is no upside to surrendering the power of a determinant process exclusively involving party registrants or offering other parties a potential path to victory.

It’s partly understandable, in reference to the “open primary” system used in Virginia and other states where voters are not required to register by party and independents may vote in any party primary. Even those registered with a political party may vote in another party’s primary upon making a declaration they intend to support that party in the general election. There is an argument for letting political parties restrict primary voting to the party-registered. This prevents the possibility a party would have to “associate” with a winning candidate that did not adhere to particular political positions.

The rules for voting in primary elections vary by state and there are differing systems in place. And, yes, various protocols lead to multiple types of strategic mischief. In a fully “open” primary, for example, competing party members switch over to vote for candidates perceived weaker as general election opponents, especially if their own party’s primary is already sewn-up by a strong or single candidate or popular incumbent.

Neither “open” nor “semi-closed” primary systems that allow only independents to choose a party primary are perfect alternatives. Another option, determining a winner by ranking preference in “automatic run-off” primaries is also subject to strategic “gaming” by voters and introduces an unduly complex “poker game” mentality into the process.

D.C.’s dilemma might best be remedied by “non-partisan” elections. All candidates would compete in a single primary open to all voters, with the top two candidates proceeding to the general election.

One or both of the top two candidates might still win only a plurality. All voters, however, would have the opportunity to choose among all candidates, with a final selection available to voters in the general election. After all, no system is perfect.

A non-partisan system would provide for the least political disruption in a city with single party dominance. It would yield freedom from needing to register with the dominant party to attain electoral equity while also requiring candidates to compete side-by-side, as we already do for special elections.

It may be time to allow D.C. residents to register and fully participate in election outcomes without forcing affiliation with a political party.

It could be the best possible first-step election reform most appropriate for D.C.

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

22
Jan
2014

J. Todd Miller dies at 68

J. Todd Miller, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade

J. Todd Miller (Photo courtesy of Parsell Funeral Homes)

J. Todd Miller died April 12 at his home in Lewes, Del. He was 68. His family, through contacts at Parsell Funeral Homes, declined to give the cause of death.

Miller was born Aug. 14, 1945 in Washington. He was preceded in death by his life partner, John Byron Kleminsky. He is survived by his son, Todd Adam and his wife Michele Frame-Miller; his grandson, Kevin Nolan Miller of Chicago; as well as his brother, Robert Miller.

Following graduation from the University of Maryland in 1968, he joined Aetna Life & Casualty and was appointed brokerage general agent of its Washington office in 1979. He founded J. Todd Miller, CLU & Associates, a general insurance firm, in 1982. Miller joined the firm in 1995 and it operates today as the Miller & Shook Companies of Washington, D.C.

As a result of his life-long fascination with the Eastern Shore and the Delaware beaches, Miller and Kleminsky built their first beach home in Lewes in 1980. In 1981, they founded beachaire, a small commuter airline offering flights between Washington’s National Airport and Rehoboth’s airport. The Air Traffic Controller’s strike in August 1981 forced the small new airline to cease operations.

In 1984, beachaire reorganized and became BeachAire Environments, a builder of custom homes and developer of Beachwoods and Beachwoods II at Lewes. Miller retired in 1997 and shared his time between homes in South Beach, Fla., Washington and his beloved Beachwoods. He traveled extensively, visiting about 30 countries, gardened and enjoyed every moment with his grandson and his golden retriever, Joshua.

A public viewing was scheduled for Thursday in Lewes, Del. Interment will be private. A memorial event is being planned.

Memorial contributions in Miller’s memory may be made to CAMP Rehoboth, 37 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 and/or Goldheart Golden Retriever Rescue Inc., P.O. Box 34, Phoenix, MD 21134.

A memorial website is at parsellfuneralhomes.com.

23
Apr
2014

Black voters on support for white mayoral hopefuls

Tommy Wells, Jack Evans, District of Columbia, white, gay news, Washington Blade

The city’s two white Democratic mayoral candidates, Tommy Wells and Jack Evans, are drawing diverse support. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

D.C. political races are often divided by race. Even when all of the viable candidates are African American, support for a particular candidate still is usually easily discernable by race and geography. This year, we will probably have the closest Democratic mayoral primary since home rule. It is also the first year that we have white mayoral candidates who have a reasonable chance to be elected mayor.

Based on history, conventional wisdom suggests that most African Americans will support one of the African-American candidates. However, there are some black District residents who are strongly supporting white mayoral candidates in the Democratic primary. It may surprise some folks that the African Americans who are unabashedly supporting Tommy Wells or Jack Evans, the two white Democratic candidates, are quite diverse in background. Once you start discussing Wells’ and Evans’ campaigns with their African-American supporters, you realize that they are a hard group to generalize.

Dominic Sanders, 23, is a senior social work major at Millersville University and he defies every stereotype of a Tommy Wells supporter. He is an African American, native Washingtonian from humble beginnings, who grew up in several Ward 6 neighborhoods in Southeast and Southwest Washington. This May, he will become the first person in his family to graduate from college.

Sanders met Wells through late D.C. activist Jan Eichhorn when he was six. He kept asking Eichhorn, who organized a local mentoring and tutoring program, for a mentor and eventually she introduced him to Wells and they have been friends ever since.

“Tommy exposed me to a lot,” Sanders said. “He took me on an airplane for the first time at 12. It was my first time out of D.C. He took me to a cabin in Minnesota with his family. He also sent me to basketball and baseball camps out of my community. He showed me that there is stuff bigger than where I live.”

While Sanders’ support of Wells has a lot to do with the bond they developed over the years while Wells mentored him, he clearly believes that Wells is the right choice politically. When discussing Wells’ politics, he mentioned Wells’ minimum wage challenge this past December, where Wells purchased groceries and traveled on a minimum wage salary of $8.25 per hour for one week to show how difficult it is to live in D.C. on minimum wage.

“I don’t think there’s another candidate who will go as far as him to prove his point,” Sanders said. “He’s always willing to push the envelope and do things the average person wouldn’t do. He’s the first white guy I saw who would come to pick me up in the hood, wait 20 or 30 minutes in a car, and not think about it.”

“I look at his whole track record. When I first met him he was an ANC commissioner, then he got on the school board, then the City Council, and now he’s running for mayor. That’s my motivation that you can always do more than what you do.  You watch the stuff he does for people. I know I’m not the only person he helped out and mentored. He took me to play basketball with the kids in the youth detention center in Northeast and there were no cameras around, we would just go. He’s that down to earth and that grounded.”

Jacques Point Du Jour, 27, is also an African-American native Washingtonian. He lives in Ward 6, works as an assistant at a legal consulting firm and supports Jack Evans for mayor. He was introduced to Evans by one of his friends and he believes that Evans’ “history has been nothing but amazing. He played a vital part in revitalizing 14th Street. I remember 14th Street 20 years ago and I see what it is now.”

Point Du Jour said he did not consider race when deciding to back Evans. “It’s 2014 and it shouldn’t be about race,” he said. “Race tends to get in the way of the greater role.”  He hasn’t experienced any backlash from his friends for supporting a white mayoral candidate. Many of his friends aren’t even paying attention to the election. “People in their mid or late 20s don’t think supporting a mayoral candidate is relevant,” he said, “but I think it’s extremely important.”

Point Du Jour, who described his political leanings as “Democratic toward the liberal end of the spectrum,” said Evans’ pro-business reputation does not bother him at all. “If you don’t have business connections, how would you create jobs and bring in more prosperity.”

He thinks that Evans can serve the entire city. “I heard him talk about meeting with communities in Ward 8 and how it’s important for them to take part in the prosperity.”

Maceo Thomas, 42, a property manager from Ward 7, is a Wells supporter. Thomas said he supports Wells because “there is a real issue around integrity in our government. It’s not confined to D.C., but we have a big problem in D.C. I watched Tommy from afar and watched him get punished in the Council for doing what’s right.”

“People are rushing to get into Ward 6, into the Capitol Hill area, because of the schools and the amenities,” Thomas said. “Tommy was in a leadership position to help the community get those things. Those are the same things we want in ward 7 and east of the river.”

When asked about any resistance that he has faced in supporting a white mayoral candidate, Thomas acknowledged that when he “went door knocking with Tommy near the Minnesota Avenue Metro, some folks responded that [Wells] is white.” However, Thomas said that after people started “talking to Tommy for a little bit, they were shaking their head and following along in the conversation.”

Thomas said he did not consider race when he decided to support Wells. “Black people are much smarter than people give us credit for,” he said. He added that people are wrong “if they think we wouldn’t vote for Tommy Wells because he’s white.” Thomas attributes Wells’ limited support outside of Ward 6 to there not being “a lot of media around Council members, so people don’t know who he is. As more people examine who he is, I think they will give him a chance.”

While I personally have limited my mayoral choices to three candidates — one of the candidates featured here, along with two of the leading African-American candidates — I would be disingenuous if I did not acknowledge that race, or more so the ability to appeal to all races, is at least part of my consideration. I would never vote for anyone who I don’t believe is qualified to run the city well, but it is also important to me that all Washingtonians feel that they are a valued part of the city. Candidates of any race can do that, but it is imperative for the next mayor to have that quality.

Lateefah Williams’ biweekly column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is a D.C.-based political and LGBT activist. Reach her at lateefah_williams@msn.com or follow her on Twitter @lateefahwms.

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

Pride Reveal

The Capital Pride Alliance held the 2014 Pride Reveal event at the P.O.V. Lounge of the W Hotel on Thursday evening to announce the theme for Pride 2014: “Build Our Bright Future.” (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) buyphoto 

24
Jan
2014