April 1, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Catania says LGBT voters face ‘a very tough call’

D.C. City Council member David Catania spoke with DC Agenda on Monday regarding the evolving mayor’s race. Following is an abbreviated transcript of the conversation.

DC Agenda: It now appears as if Council Chair Vincent Gray will enter the mayoral race this week. Many in the LGBT community will likely be faced with a tough choice, choosing between two candidates who have been supportive on LGBT issues. Where do you stand on this?

David Catania: That’s a predicament I’m facing as a person and as a voter myself because I happen to like both of them as individuals and as public officials. So it’s going to be a very tough call, I think, for members of the LGBT community. On what basis do they go with? Both have excellent scores as far as I’m concerned on LGBT issues. Both were very early and strong supporters of marriage equality. Both support me in the work we’re trying to do to overhaul the HIV/AIDS Administration. We have an excellent senior deputy [Shannon Hader of the Department of Health, who serves as director of the HIV/AIDS Administration] here. The mayor has done quite a lot to support her. It hasn’t always gotten the attention I think it might. Similarly, the chairman has been a great advocate for the Effy Barry Initiative [on AIDS] to strengthen the infrastructure of communities that are now affected and infected in greater numbers. So these are going to come down to issues of personality and of policy. So I look forward to a rigorous debate. This is what campaigns are for. Both candidates are going to come out with their agendas and how they intend to accomplish it and then people will make choices based on each of those agendas they agree with more.

DC Agenda: Some in the community are saying the mayor appears to be strong on LGBT issues from a policy standpoint but they are put off by his personality and even say he comes across as arrogant. How do you see him on the substantive issues you care about?

Catania: On marriage equality, I had an early discussion with the mayor last year. He was just absolutely — it wasn’t even something he needed to consider. There was no reflection or no need to waiver — absolutely supportive. So the mayor has, I think, injured himself in how he’s perceived. He’s picked some fights that people don’t understand and they’re hard to explain at times. I think that’s hurt him in the eyes of some voters, who want in a chief executive, who want in a mayor a different demeanor at times than what we’ve seen demonstrated by Adrian. On the other hand, I can tell you that these are very demanding jobs. At times, shortness of temper comes with the territory. It’s an illustration of his frustration in wanting to do things quicker, better and faster. On the substance, I have to tell you, I support the mayor in his efforts to overhaul the schools. This has not been something easy. It’s been very hard and long overdue. And he and the [D.C. public schools] Chancellor [Michelle Rhee] have very strong personalities that can rub people the wrong way. But there’s no debating his commitment to overhauling the system for the betterment of the children. He seems really committed to it. And so now we’re going to have a clash of ideas. Both men have very similar ideologies, so it’s about how do we get from here to there. And that’s what this campaign is going to be about. It’s going to be very tough for the LGBT community to pick between these two because both have considerable strengths and, similarly, both have weaknesses.

DC Agenda: Some are asking whether if two or more LGBT-supportive candidates run against each other, both in the mayor’s race and for Council chair, can they split the progressive vote — including the LGBT vote — and allow a homophobic candidate or a candidate far less supportive on LGBT issues to win?

Catania: I just don’t think there’s any stomach in this city for intolerance of that variety. You know, not widespread. You’re going to have — in any community you’re going to have a certain percentage of people who don’t like a particular community for whatever reason. But I don’t believe there’s anything approaching even a plurality in this city in support of bigotry, I just don’t. I’ve been really thrilled about how well received marriage equality has been around the city. … So as far as I’m concerned, if Vince runs, come November, either Adrian Fenty or Vince Gray will be elected mayor. It will be one or the other. And they’re going to have to sharpen their talking points and come up with concrete proposals on how to fulfill the agenda, which is a progressive agenda for both of them. So we’re in good shape. People are going to be looking at — I’m going to be looking at what plans they have to get us through these difficult times. How do we sustain the safety net we’ve constructed?

DC Agenda: What’s your thought on R. Donahue Peebles, who also may enter the mayor’s race? He has said he would have signed the same-sex marriage bill if he was mayor, but some say he also indicated he supports a voter initiative on the issue.

Catania: Well, I’ll tell you what he said to me. We didn’t talk about a referendum or initiative. That subject didn’t come up. But unprompted, he did tell me how delighted he was about marriage equality and how much he supported it, how he finds that all of our rights are interconnected. And he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to deny one group of rights because that same strategy was used against the community that he belongs to. I was very impressed by his reaction to the issue. So, again, as soon as we can get past these issues, we can always come together on how we’re going to construct the best city and who’s the best person to do that. And that’s going to require issues of judgment and temperament but also concrete evidence of what you have done.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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