A Washington Post poll showing that the largely unknown D.C. shadow senator, Michael D. Brown, is leading incumbent Council member Phil Mendelson by 17 points in the at-large City Council race has shocked the city’s political establishment and raised the question of whether LGBT voters could save Mendelson from defeat.
Virtually all political observers agree that Brown’s lead over Mendelson, by a margin of 38 to 21 percent among registered Democrats, is due to voter confusion over Brown’s name, which is the same as that of incumbent D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At-Large).
The Post poll found that 29 percent of respondents said they were undecided in the at-large Council race among candidates running in the Sept. 4 Democratic primary.
The better-known Michael A. Brown, who enjoys widespread support across the city, is not running for re-election this year and has endorsed Mendelson. At a news conference Tuesday, he accused Michael D. Brown of engaging in “political identity theft” to capitalize on the name confusion. Michael D. Brown is listed on the ballot only as “Michael Brown.”
Michael D. Brown did not immediately return a call seeking comment. At a candidates’ forum earlier this year, he expressed support for LGBT equality, including same-sex marriage. Brown, a Democratic Party activist and political consultant, isn’t actively campaigning and has raised only a token amount of funds for his candidacy.
The poll, released by the Post on Tuesday, shows that gay former city parks and recreation director Clark Ray, who is also running for the at-large seat, garnered only 7 percent support from voters eligible to cast their ballots in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.
With Council member Brown and mayoral candidate Vincent Gray, chairman of the City Council, endorsing Mendelson and participating in an aggressive campaign to overcome the name confusion, some political observers think Mendelson may have a shot at overtaking shadow senator Brown to win the race by a narrow margin.
That means LGBT voters as well as other voters supporting Ray could provide Mendelson with a razor-thin margin needed to win re-election if they switch sides in the race, according to LGBT activists following the contest.
“I think that would be the best situation,” said gay Democratic activist Phil Pannell, in urging Ray backers to vote for Mendelson. “I cannot see Clark picking up the votes needed to win. Phil Mendelson has been not just a friend and advocate for our community, he’s been a true champion,” said Pannell.
Many LGBT activists have said they would have backed Ray if he had run against someone other than Mendelson, who is widely recognized as a longtime supporter of LGBT rights and a lead supporter of the city’s same-sex marriage law.
The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, endorsed Mendelson over Ray. And the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, a non-partisan group, gave Mendelson a rating score on LGBT related issues of +10, the group’s highest score. Ray received a GLAA rating of +5.5.
Ray, meanwhile, said he will continue to campaign for votes and push for the LGBT and non-LGBT issues he’s been running on since he entered the race more than a year ago.
“I got into this with a clear conscience that it was going to be a tough race and I am certainly not going to step out of it with 14 to 15 days to go,” he told the Blade Tuesday.
Gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, one of Ray’s campaign advisers, said the name confusion over shadow senator Michael Brown also has hurt Ray. According to Rosenstein, many voters mistakenly supporting the “wrong Brown” would have voted for Ray and may still do so if the name confusion issue is resolved.
In what some political observers say is yet another ironic twist in the at-large Council race, a Mendelson defeat on Sept. 14 could make it more difficult for Ray to win another at-large seat on the Council in an expected special election in 2011.
Council member Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) is expected to win his race for the Council Chair seat being vacated by Vincent Gray, who is leading Mayor Adrian Fenty in the city’s mayoral contest. A win by Kwame Brown would create a vacancy in his at-large seat, which would be filled in a special election next year.
Many LGBT activists said they would strongly back Ray for that seat, and Ray has hinted that he would consider running for the seat if he lost his race against Mendelson. But if Mendelson loses to shadow Sen. Brown in the Sept. 14 primary, many political observers expect him to enter the race for Kwame Brown’s seat in the special election next year, making it far more difficult for Ray to win the seat.
Gay GOP candidates
dispute low GLAA ratings
Two gay Republicans who are running for D.C. City Council seats this year complained that the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance exhibited partisan bias against the two Republicans by assigning them rating scores lower than what they believe they deserve.
The local gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans and the gay chair of the D.C. Republican Party, Robert Kabel, backed up the two candidates’ allegation.
“It’s outrageous that GLAA thinks they can rate two gay men so low for ‘gay-supportiveness’ and get away with it without anyone asking questions,” said D.C. Log Cabin President Robert Turner in a press release.
Marc Morgan, who is running for the Ward 1 Council seat, received a GLAA rating of +3. Tim Day, who is running for Council in Ward 5, received a GLAA rating of +1.5.
The GLAA rating system includes scores ranging from -10 to +10 based on the group’s evaluation of candidates’ responses to a GLAA questionnaire and their record on LGBT and other issues the group deems important.
GLAA Vice President Rick Rosendall disputed complaints that Morgan and Day were singled out for partisan bias in a statement on the group’s online forum. He said their questionnaire responses did not show a full understanding of some of the complex issues raised in the questionnaire, even though the two expressed support for LGBT causes and concerns.
GLAA noted that Day lost points when he appeared to state on the questionnaire that he supports a proposal by D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander calling for adding a “conscience” clause to the city’s same-sex marriage law. The clause, which was defeated in committee, would have allowed businesses providing wedding-related services that are not linked to religious institutions to refuse on religious or moral grounds to provide those services for same-sex weddings.
Morgan told the Blade that GLAA apparently wasn’t aware of his longstanding record of support on LGBT issues in other states, such as Arizona, where he worked on efforts to oppose ballot measures seeking to ban same-sex marriage. Morgan said he and Day plan to submit a revised questionnaire to GLAA for the November general election, which he said would better elaborate on their positions and records.
GLAA allows candidates running in the general election to revise their questionnaires, and the group sometimes makes changes in its rating scores based on changed questionnaire responses.
Morgan and Day are running unopposed in the Sept. 14 Republican primary. Morgan would be up against gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in the November general election if Graham wins his primary race on Sept. 14. Graham received a +10 GLAA rating. Day would be the challenger to Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) if Thomas wins the Democratic nomination in the primary. Thomas received a GLAA rating of +6.