Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series featuring exclusive interviews with the two leading Democratic candidates for mayor. Next week, an interview with City Council Chairman Vincent Gray.
D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said his administration has a strong record of support on a wide range of LGBT issues, including marriage equality, but acknowledged he has not done “as good a job as I should have” in speaking out in public forums on issues of concern to that community.
In an exclusive interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade, Fenty promised to be far more visible in his approach to the LGBT community as well as other constituency groups.
“I’ve got to do a much better job being more visible in my second term, and I will,” he said. “I’ve got to get out in people’s doorsteps, at community events. You name it. I did not do as good of a job as I should have in my first term as mayor in getting out to the community.”
But on the substance of his administration’s policies and actions on LGBT issues, Fenty cited his signing of an historic same-sex marriage equality law, policies supportive of LGBT businesses, the cabinet-level work of his Office of GLBT Affairs, and a commitment to LGBT youth by his public schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, as just some of his administration’s accomplishments.
“So it’s been a great four years and we’re really looking forward to the next four years in a second term after the Democratic primary,” he said.
When asked about complaints by some LGBT activists that Police Chief Cathy Lanier’s reorganization of the department’s Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit has made it less responsive to the community and that police were not investigating hate crimes as aggressively as they should, Fenty said he has full confidence in Lanier’s leadership and strategies.
Citing a sharp drop in overall crime in the city, including homicides, during his term, Fenty said crimes targeting LGBT people and others are “being taken more seriously, handled more professionally and we’re getting better results.”
Although he did not mention by name City Council Chairman Vincent Gray, his chief opponent in the Sept. 14 primary, the mayor said police officials such as Lanier rather than “politicians” should be setting strategies for fighting hate crimes. In campaign appearances, Gray has attacked Fenty for not taking a strong enough stand against hate crimes.
“You want law enforcement putting together strategy for keeping people safe,” Fenty said. “You don’t want civilians and you especially don’t want politicians to be the ones who are developing those strategies. And I believe Chief Lanier has done a great job doing that.”
Shortly after his interview with the Blade, Fenty joined New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a news conference in a downtown restaurant in which Bloomberg gave a ringing endorsement of Fenty’s re-election bid. Bloomberg cited the drop in D.C.’s crime rate as being among Fenty’s most significant accomplishments.
Bloomberg also defended Fenty’s decision to support and sign the city’s same-sex marriage law, saying government should not stand in the way of any citizen’s right to marry.
“They have a right to believe what they want to believe,” Bloomberg said of same-sex marriage opponents. “But just as with religious freedom, I do not believe it’s the government’s business to get involved in family lives, particularly when no one gets hurt. And I think you should have a right to marry anybody you want, love anybody you want. It seems to me it is just as basic a right as everybody else. Period. End of story.”
Following are excerpts of the Blade’s interview with Fenty. Visit washingtonblade.com for the full transcript and a video of the interview.
Washington Blade: What do you see as some of your main accomplishments in addressing issues of concern to the LGBT community?
Adrian Fenty: I think gay marriage and marriage equality is the biggest thing to happen over the past three-and-a-half years. When the bill was introduced, I think it meant a lot to the people who introduced it and to the community that I expressed my full support and that I said I would sign it as soon as it came to my desk. I think that left a lot of people feeling very certain that it would move fast through the local government, which I think helped prevent naysayers in the federal government and Congress from being opposed to it.
We’ve also been very supportive of GLBT businesses. We’ve been very supportive of equality in the workplace, in hiring. The chief [D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier] has done a fantastic job in really trying to address some of the hate crimes that are sometimes being committed against our GLBT neighbors. So it’s been a great four years and we’re really looking forward to the next four years in a second term after the Democratic primary.
Blade: Some of your critics in the LGBT community who are backing Vincent Gray say you have not been as visible as they would prefer in speaking out on a number LGBT-related issues, including hate crimes, and that you haven’t attended many LGBT events. Is that a fair criticism?
Fenty: Yes, it is a very fair criticism. It’s actually probably extremely fair. I’ve got to do a much better job being more visible in my second term, and I will.
Blade: Do you mean going to more events?
Fenty: Doing everything. I mean I have got to get out into the community. I’ve got to get out in people’s doorsteps, at community events. You name it; I did not do as good of a job as I should have in my first term as mayor in getting out to the community. And I should be held responsible for that, to do it better in the second term.
Blade: You’ve been praised for appointing Chris Dyer as head of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs.
Fenty: I like Chris. He’s great.
Blade: But some in the LGBT community have expressed concern that while Chris appears before and speaks at a lot of community meetings, he’s not allowed to speak to the press, including the LGBT press. Under the administration of your predecessor, Mayor [Anthony] Williams, the GLBT office director was allowed to speak to the media as a spokesperson for the administration on LGBT issues.
Fenty: Well, to the extent that any of our directors have not spoken directly to the media, it’s pretty much part and parcel of either our general communications strategy or it may just be a particular issue. It depends. But we don’t treat the director for GLBT any different than we treat any of our other cabinet directors. Most things go through communications. There are certain issues that become very high profile and we just allow the communications office to handle them out of the EOM [Executive Office of the Mayor]. And that’s true of Public Works, Motor Vehicles, and of anything.
Blade: In terms of LGBT-related crimes, you and Police Chief Cathy Lanier held a press conference last Saturday on Mozart Street, N.W., to announce arrests in two recent homicides. One of the victims was a gay man.
Fenty: We sure did. We sure did have a press conference. The police department did a fabulous job closing a crime on Mozart in less than 72 hours after it occurred. And this is part and parcel of the police department, which under our administration has raised the homicide closure rate to about 80 percent. There was a time in the District of Columbia government where our homicide closure rate was abysmally low, way below the national average. And now it sits very comfortably somewhere in between 15 and 25 percentage points above the national average. Our homicides are down to where they were in 1966, and that was last year. This year we’re actually 17 percentage points where we were last year in terms of our homicides. So we’re talking about Chief Lanier for crimes that are involving our GLBT community — or crimes that involve just about anybody in our city — that they’re being taken more seriously, handled more professionally and we’re getting better results.
One of the reasons why we’re excited about another four years is because people like Chief Lanier are going to have an opportunity to use everything they’ve learned and all their accomplishments in the first term to do an even better job in the second term.
Blade: Didn’t Chief Lanier bring up at the same news conference the arrest of someone linked to the homicide of a gay man?
Fenty: Yes she did.
Blade: That case followed a string of anti-gay assaults mostly in the Dupont Circle area. The local group Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence said that although there may be an overall drop in the crime rate, we may be facing an increase in crimes targeting LGBT people at this time. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Fenty: I thought the chief said at that press conference that she did not believe that one was a hate crime.
Blade: That’s correct. However, the police have said the man may have been targeted for a robbery in what they call a crime of opportunity. The other five were listed as hate crimes.
Fenty: Do you have a question?
Blade: The question, as some of the activists put it, is can your office and the police department more actively and aggressively fight hate crimes targeting the LGBT community?
Fenty: Well, you know, as I said at that press conference, I am not the policing expert. The chief and I have met with members of all different communities in Washington, D.C. We want to hear their issues and concerns. But it’s up to the chief of police to develop the proper policing strategies, not just for hate crimes involving the GLBT community but hate crimes in general and crime in general. You want law enforcement putting together a strategy for keeping people safe. You don’t want civilians and you especially don’t want politicians to be the ones who are developing those strategies. And I believe that Chief Lanier has done a great job doing that.
Blade: Concerning the city’s HIV/AIDS Administration, you and others have pointed out the reforms and improvements at that agency under the direction of Dr. Shannon Hader, who you appointed to head it. Have you had a chance to assess how the AIDS administration is doing since Dr. Hader resigned earlier this year to take another job?
Fenty: I think that most of the reforms that Hader has put in place continue, pretty seamlessly so far.
Blade: What’s the status of the search for a new permanent director of the AIDS administration? Has a decision been made on whether to retain the current interim director?
Fenty: There hasn’t been a decision yet. That will happen after the election.
Blade: Turning to the campaign, some of the more outspoken leaders of the LGBT community are supporting your main opponent, Vincent Gray. The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club endorsed him. What message do you have for the LGBT voters who may still be undecided?
Fenty: That the city is working fantastically and that my team should be re-elected so that we can continue the progress.
Blade: Going back to police issues, Chief Lanier’s changes to the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit have been controversial with some in the LGBT community. She decentralized the unit and arranged to have officers from all of the police districts become affiliates with the GLLU, but she downsized the GLLU’s central headquarters located in Dupont Circle. Do you have any problems with that? Do you think it’s working as well as it should?
Fenty: Well, I think the results speak for themselves. The chief has done a great job addressing crime. And again, civilians should have a role in communicating to the government what results they would like to see. But on matters of subject matter expertise as serious as public safety and law enforcement, you’ve got to trust and enable the police department under a great chief to be able to make the right decisions. I believe we have a great chief. I believe we have the greatest chief in the country. So if we have the greatest chief in the country, then let’s support her in her decision making. She obviously cares a tremendous amount. And I think she’s obviously, she’s gotten more results as police chief than anybody in a long time.
Blade: The city has some financial issues because of the economy. You’re faced with less revenue and you’re putting in place some budget cuts. Will you have enough resources to keep the budget at a level that’s needed for the HIV/AIDS Administration and the Office of Human Rights, among other offices, which the LGBT community relies on for the enforcement of non-discrimination laws?
Fenty: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Blade: You don’t see any budget cuts in those agencies?
Fenty: I don’t see any service reductions.
Blade: On the same-sex marriage issue, if the opponents succeed in court to force a voter initiative to decide whether the same-sex marriage law should be overturned, would you campaign against overturning the law? Members of the LGBT community are wondering whether the city’s leaders would stand up and take a stand on that.
Fenty: Yes. Yes I would.
Blade: Have you seen any significant opposition to you because you signed the same-sex marriage bill?
Fenty: I think most people in Washington, D.C. are extremely supportive of equality, not just in marriage but in all issues in D.C. There’s nothing that we do that’s unanimous. But from what I can tell, there’s great support for the legislation that was introduced by [City] Council member [David] Catania, passed by the Council and signed by me as mayor.
Blade: Do you have any sense of if it goes before the voters whether they would support it or overturn it?
Fenty: Well as I just said, I think that it enjoys broad support in the community, that the majority support it.
Blade: Can you explain in your own words what went wrong when the mayor’s office earlier this year issued the proclamation supporting PFOX, Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays [& Gays], which is an anti-gay group?
Fenty: Our office issued a proclamation without doing a thorough enough investigation of who we were issuing the proclamation to and for. And it was a mistake. And I should be blamed for the mistake because it is my office.
Blade: Have steps been taken to prevent that from happening again?
Fenty: Yes they have. We have taken steps to do everything humanly possible to prevent something like that from ever occurring again.
Blade: In the area of economic development and small business, there’s been an ongoing concern by some in the LGBT community about over regulation and restrictions on nightlife venues and entertainment venues. Some of that came to light when the new baseball stadium displaced five or six or more adult-oriented businesses, with some catering to the gay community, that have been unable to relocate due to zoning restrictions. Are the existing liquor board and zoning regulations tilted too much against small business ventures like these, whether they are gay or straight?
Fenty: I believe that the laws and regulations are within the range that is necessary to promote small businesses and to allow them to thrive and prosper. As in any other laws and regulations, one of the big X-factors is how they are enforced and how they are administered. I’m sure that my administration can do a better job in administering and enforcing the laws and we will look forward to doing that as we move forward in this term and in the next term. And of course, just like any other law and regulation, the whole purpose of having a City Council and experts in the executive branch is because, from time to time, if those laws need to be adjusted, tweaked or modified — if we find that needs to happen, we will absolutely work with the community to make the necessary changes.
Blade: Concerning the Office of GLBT Affairs, do you meet regularly with Chris Dyer of that office on matters dealing with the community?
Fenty: Yes. Yes I do. It is not on a regular interval but they are regular meetings.
Blade: Is that considered a cabinet level position?
Fenty: Yes. The director of the Office of GLBT Affairs is at every one of my cabinet meetings, which happens once a month. And I would say, to expand on the first question, the director of the Office of GLBT Affairs meets with us as much as any director for the most part in the government.
Blade: Is it safe to assume that you’re planning to keep that office as it is?
Fenty: It’s a fantastic office and we absolutely will keep it and find ways to strengthen it.
Blade: Looking to the public schools, you’ve pushed through policies and changes that are highly controversial. Would it be too controversial for you to go a step further to see that the schools address head-on LGBT sensitivity-related issues? Experts have said that some of the root causes of anti-LGBT hate crimes and prejudice are a lack of understanding and education in the schools about minorities and diversity.
Fenty: So you’re asking whether we’re going to do more?
Blade: That’s right. There’s some of this in the existing curricula on health-related issues, including HIV and AIDS. But would it be too controversial to include more on LGBT-related issues in the schools?
Fenty: I don’t think it would be too controversial at all. And I think the [schools] chancellor [Michelle Rhee] is just in concert with all of her other groundbreaking and nationwide leading reforms of education and her ability to tackle tough issues and be a real leader for urban school system improvement. I believe she will continue to make the types of adjustments that are needed to make sure that our school system is the most inclusive school system in the country. I was very glad that the chancellor accepted the invitation of the organizers of the Gay Pride parade to walk in the parade at the front with a sign that said “DCPS supports all of our kids.” And that obviously includes some of our young people who are GLBT.
Blade: On a personal level, do you know any LGBT people as friends or relatives that have had an impact on you in your public policy positions?
Fenty: Well, of course I do. But I believe that as mayor what’s important is to take from your personal experiences and to take from the experience of your constituents in developing great policy and being a really great administrator.
Blade: Is there any other message that you want to conclude with to the LGBT voters who will be deciding on who to support for mayor?
Fenty: Sure. We want to ask all of your readership and viewership to support us on Sept. 14. The city has moved forth fantastically. Crime is down. The schools are finally being improved. City services have never been greater. There’s tons of economic development — fantastic things. Services for the poor are improving. And all this is happening in the midst of [a] recession, which I think goes to show it’s not just our strong ability to get things done for the people of the city but also to do it with less revenue and with more bang for the buck.
Blade: Thank you.