June 15, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gray secures Stein Club endorsement

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club this week endorsed D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray in the mayor’s race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray won the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club mayor’s race endorsement Monday, exceeding a required vote threshold of 60 percent by just three votes.

Activists familiar with the club, the city’s largest gay political group, had expected Gray to win more votes than D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. But most thought club members were more evenly split between the two contenders and that neither candidate would reach the 60 percent requirement.

“You can count on me as mayor of the District of Columbia to work with you to continue to make progress so that we could be the best jurisdiction in America for the GLBT community,” Gray said minutes after winning the endorsement.

A total 76 votes were cast in the mayor’s endorsement decision. Gray took 48 votes, or 63 percent, while Fenty received 24 votes, or 32 percent. Four people, or 5 percent, voted for no endorsement.

The endorsement came after club members voted 87 percent to 8 percent to endorse D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton over challenger Douglas Sloan, a Ward 4 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. Norton is seeking re-election to an eleventh term in office.

Norton is considered to be among the most LGBT-supportive members of Congress and has a longstanding record of pushing pro-LGBT bills.

The club’s endorsement vote for Gray also came after Gray and Fenty challenged each other’s record on LGBT and non-LGBT issues during a part of the endorsement meeting designated as a candidates’ forum.

Stein Club member and radio talk show host Mark Levine, who served as moderator of the forum, said Fenty and Gray both have “very, very good records” in support of LGBT civil rights. He noted that both have been strong supporters of same-sex marriage, with Gray voting for the city’s marriage bill and Fenty signing it into law.

But written questions submitted by club members and read by Levine questioned Fenty’s record on LGBT issues during his time as mayor. One asked why his highly regarded AIDS office director, Dr. Shannon Hader, abruptly resigned two weeks ago. Another questioned why Fenty hasn’t issued a formal rescinding of a mayoral award to the anti-gay group PFOX, which Fenty has said was a mistake.

Others wanted to know why Fenty hasn’t attended the main Black Pride festival since becoming mayor and why he hasn’t used his “bully pulpit” as mayor to speak out against anti-LGBT hate crimes.

On the PFOX issue, Fenty gave his most detailed explanation to date as to why his office presented a ceremonial resolution to a group that says sexual orientation can be changed.

“The minute that this happened, when we found out that we had issued this ceremonial proclamation to PFOX, I personally said that my administration should not have done that, that it is my fault that it happened, and my apologies went out to each and every person in the city whom we had offended,” Fenty said.

“The fact of the matter is that when you have a lot of people working for you, sometimes mistakes happen,” he said. “The fact of the matter also is that as mayor of the District of Columbia, as a person who you elected, this should not have happened. I personally, professionally apologize to each and every person in this room, to each and every person in this city. … You have my assurance that I will work extremely hard to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”

Gray, who criticized Fenty over the PFOX matter when it first surfaced earlier this year, did not address it during the Stein Forum.

Instead, he criticized Fenty for what Gray called a “confrontational” leadership style that has negatively affected his ability to lead the city on a wide range of issues.

Gray pledged to adopt a leadership marked by “cordiality” and “collegiality” that he said would foster cooperation, even on issues that are contentious, such as the public schools reform programs started by Fenty and that Gray said he supports.

Fenty said his administration has been on the forefront in support of LGBT civil rights in a number of areas at the same time it has improved city services for all residents, including LGBT residents and people with HIV/AIDS.

He praised Hader, director of the city’s HIV/AIDS Administration, for turning around what had been a trouble-plagued agency into an agency recognized nationally for its effectiveness in helping a city with the nation’s highest rate of HIV infection. He did not say during the Stein Club forum why Hader resigned.

Last week, the mayor told the Blade he believed she left in a career move to take another important job with an international health organization. He told the forum that Hader’s interim replacement, Dr. Nnemdi Kamanu-Elias, has training as a public health expert and AIDS specialist equal to that of Hader.

On public safety matters, Fenty said D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has put together a “first-ever biased-crime report which hopefully will serve as a benchmark” to help police monitor and better fight hate crimes by encouraging more people to report hate crimes.

He cited Lanier’s decision to expand and decentralize the department’s Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit — which requires all officers to be trained in LGBT-related issues and assigns GLLU-affiliated officers to each of the department’s seven police districts — as other ways to address bias-related crime.

“We can’t just have one specialized unit focusing on GLBT affairs and hate crimes,” Fenty said. “We need the entire department to do that.”

Gray, however, appeared to side with a number of activists who expressed skepticism over Lanier’s changes to the GLLU. Some activists have said the decentralized operation has detracted from the unit’s successful track record of operating as a cohesive team of mostly LGBT officers who responded to calls for service and investigated crimes against LGBT people.

“I absolutely think we do need a special unit within the [police department],” Gray said. “I think we’ve seen the success of it. One of the things I would do as mayor is hire a sergeant to run that unit, someone we know has the sensitivity to the issues that are important to us so that we will concentrate our efforts on hate crimes and other heinous crimes that are perpetrated on the basis of discrimination.”

As he has in other candidates’ forums, Fenty cited his public school reform program and the work of his public schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, in accomplishing what he said are major improvements in student test scores. He criticized Gray for not disclosing whether he would retain or replace Rhee if elected mayor.

Following the forum, Levine asked the two candidates to step outside the hall at Town nightclub, where the event was held, to allow club members to discuss who they would support. Veteran gay activist and former Lambda Rising bookstore owner Deacon Maccubbin, former Stein Club officers Jeff Marootian and John Lazar spoke on Fenty’s behalf, saying he has been a highly effective mayor who deserves another term.

Former Whitman-Walker Clinic Deputy Director Pat Hawkins and gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson urged the club to endorse Gray, saying the Council chairman has a demonstrated record of strong support on LGBT issues.

Some Stein Club members, including Bob Summersgill, former president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance, who has not yet taken sides in the mayor’s race, said they were surprised that the Fenty campaign did not arrange for more supporters to join the club and vote for him.

“The Stein endorsement is largely an issue of campaign organizational strength,” Summersgill said. “I think that had the Fenty campaign wanted to win the endorsement, they had the means to get enough people to join and attend to swing the vote.

“It seemed like the Fenty campaign wasn’t really trying,” he said.

Other people noted that many of the same club members who voted Monday for a Gray endorsement voted four years ago to endorse then City Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp over Fenty in the mayor’s race. Fenty defeated Cropp by an overwhelming margin, and a Blade analysis of precincts with high concentrations of gay voters showed the gay vote going to Fenty by more than a three-to-one margin.

“So the question is does the Stein endorsement reflect the sentiment of the rank and file LGBT person in this city,” said Stein Vice President Sheila Alexander Reid, who supported Fenty in 2006.

Asked if she were supporting Fenty again this time, Reid said, “I want to wait until tomorrow to talk about this. I’m an officer and tonight the club made its endorsement.”

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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