After months of sitting on the fence, many of the city’s most prominent LGBT activists have come out in support of City Council Chairman Vincent Gray (D-At-Large) over Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) in the city’s Tuesday Democratic primary.
Similar to reports about voter sentiment in many parts of the city, some LGBT activists say their enthusiasm for Fenty in the months following his landslide election in 2006 diminished over the past three years on both gay and non-gay issues.
Like their straight counterparts, a number of LGBT activists said Fenty seemed to show a lack of interest in speaking out on issues of importance to them, including hate crimes targeting the LGBT community.
“Adrian is very bright and energetic and he’s well meaning,” said gay and AIDS activist Michael Sainte-Andress. “But one of the things that Vince has that Adrian lacks is the maturity and the wisdom to understand that you have to be genuinely concerned about the people that you’re elected to represent.”
Gay Democratic activists Peter Rosenstein and Lane Hudson, who supported Fenty in the 2006 mayoral election, were among the early supporters this year of Gray’s candidacy for mayor. Citing their disappointment in Fenty’s handling of both gay and non-gay issues, the two agreed to add their names to a new Gray campaign website called FormerlyFenty.com, in which dozens of former Fenty supporters explain why they’re now backing Gray.
Rosenstein and Hudson have said that despite Fenty’s support for same-sex marriage, Gray has taken a greater interest in other issues of concern to the LGBT community, especially hate crimes.
Gay Fenty supporters, including Capitol Hill Realtor and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Neil Glick, dispute claims by Fenty critics that the mayor is uncaring, saying Fenty has improved city services that impact both gays and non-gays.
“For mayor, I don’t need Miss Congeniality,” said Glick. “And no one leader is 100 percent perfect. But we have to look at the bigger picture. We are light years ahead of where we were in the recent past.”
Gay ANC Commissioner Alex Padro, who represents the city’s Shaw neighborhood, echoed Glick’s sentiment.
“It’s not about personalities, it’s about performance,” Padro said. “Shaw has seen major improvements under Fenty. And I’m pleased to be able to say the vast majority of people in my neighborhood — both LGBT and straight — favor giving the mayor another term to complete his work.”
Veteran D.C. gay rights leader Frank Kameny, who said he has yet to decide whether to vote for Fenty or Gray, appeared to sum up the views of activists who consider both candidates friends of the community.
“I would be perfectly happy to have either one of them as my mayor for the next four years,” he said.
In other city races, gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) is the strong favorite to win his party’s nomination in the primary and win re-election to another term in November.
But Democratic at-large candidate Clark Ray, who some LGBT activists hoped would become the third out gay member of the City Council, is trailing badly in his race, with just 7 percent support, according to a recent Washington Post poll.
While the same Washington Post poll shows Gray leading Fenty by a margin of 49 to 36 percent among city-wide Democratic voters, some Fenty supporters predict the LGBT vote, although appearing to be divided, could still tilt toward Fenty before the polls close on election day.
Some Gray backers, including Rosenstein, predict the LGBT vote will go to Gray by a margin of about 60 percent to 40 percent for Fenty.
Gray and Fenty each have longstanding records of support on LGBT issues, with Gray voting for and Fenty signing the city’s historic same-sex marriage law last December.
The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, has endorsed Gray.
The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, a non-partisan group, gave Gray a rating score on LGBT and some-non-LGBT issues of +8.5 on a rating scale of -10 to +10. The group gave Fenty a score of +4, saying the mayor disagreed with its position on some issues, including a gay adoption bill that LGBT activists backed but Fenty initially opposed at the advice of his attorney general, Peter Nickles, on grounds that it would violate federal adoption related rules.
Gay rights attorney Nancy Polikoff, who is considered an expert on family law issues, disputed Nickles’ assessment of the federal rules. D.C. Council eventually passed the bill and Fenty signed it.
In a statement accompanying its ratings, GLAA says that in addition to his initial opposition to the gay adoption bill, Fenty lost points in his rating score for breaking a 2006 campaign promise to consult with the LGBT community on his selection of a police chief and director of the Office of Human Rights. The group noted that the mayor made the appointments without consulting the community.
The Post poll did not identify LGBT voters. The Blade conducted an unscientific straw poll during the city’s June 13 Capital Pride festival, which showed Fenty leading Gray among LGBT festival goers participating in the poll by a margin of 41 percent to 34 percent.
Meanwhile, Democratic mayoral candidate Leo Alexander, who has joined same-sex marriage opponents in calling for allowing voters to decide whether to overturn the marriage law through a ballot initiative, received just 1 percent support from participants in the Post poll. GLAA gave Alexander a -3 rating.
Fenty and Gray have expressed opposition to holding a voter initiative on the marriage law and have backed a ruling by the city’s election board that rejected such a ballot measure on grounds that, if approved, it would violate the city’s human rights law. The human rights law, among other things, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Two other Democratic mayoral candidates – Sulaimon Brown and Ernest Johnson – received a “0” rating from GLAA for not returning the GLAA candidates questionnaire and not having a known record on LGBT issues. The Post poll showed Brown receiving just 1 percent support and Johnson receiving less than 1 percent among participants in the citywide poll.
Perennial mayoral candidate Faith, who has entered the city’s mayoral race nearly every four years since the 1980s, also received a “0” GLAA rating for failing to return the group’s questionnaire. Faith, who is running this year in the Statehood Green Party primary, received less than 1 percent support in the Post poll.
Ward 5 City Council candidate Delano Hunter, who is challenging incumbent Council member Harry Thomas Jr. in the Democratic primary, has also expressed support for a ballot initiative to decide whether to overturn the marriage law. Most political observers believe he is trailing far behind Thomas, who supports same-sex marriage equality and opposes holding a ballot measure on the issue.
At the time Council approved the same-sex marriage law last December, at least one opponent of the bill, Rev. Anthony Evans, predicted voters would rise up to defeat each of the 11 Council members who voted for it. Evans and Rev. Harry Jackson, one of the leaders of a campaign to defeat the marriage bill, vowed to recruit candidates to oppose the Council members backing the bill.
At-Large Council race
GLAA Vice President Rick Rosendall said the fact that candidates emerged to oppose Council members supporting the marriage bill in just three races and have little or no chance of winning confirms the city’s longstanding reputation as a progressive, LGBT-supportive jurisdiction.
“Oddly enough, the only Council member supportive of the marriage bill that’s in serious danger of being knocked off is Phil Mendelson, but not by an opponent of marriage equality,” said Rosendall.
He was referring to Mendelson in his role as an LGBT-supportive at-large Council member who is running 17 points behind challenger Michael D. Brown, the largely unknown D.C. shadow senator, in a Washington Post poll that stunned the city’s political establishment.
Political observers agree that Brown’s lead over Mendelson 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).
Council member Brown, who is not running for re-election this year, has endorsed Mendelson and has joined Vincent Gray in an aggressive public awareness campaign to clear up the confusion over the two Browns. Gray has also endorsed Mendelson.
Based on Mendelson’s lead role in pushing through the same-sex marriage bill as well as other actions in support of LGBT legislation, GLAA gave Mendelson a perfect rating of +10.
Mendelson also received the Stein Club’s endorsement over shadow senator Brown and his second primary opponent, gay former city parks and recreation department director Clark Ray. Ray is shown to have just 7 percent support among Democratic voters participating in the Post poll.
GLAA gave Ray a +5.5 rating. The group said Ray is supportive on all LGBT-related issues but lost points by not elaborating on how he would advance those issues. GLAA said it also docked points from Ray for his decision to seek and accept an endorsement by Rev. Willie Wilson, a local minister who has denounced gays in church sermons in past years. Ray said he has persuaded Wilson, an influential Ward 8 leader, to back down from delivering such sermons and to back LGBT rights.
GLAA gave shadow senator Brown a rating of 0, in part because he failed to return a questionnaire that GLAA uses, along with candidates’ past records, to assess their position on LGBT issues. Brown told the Stein Club that he supports same-sex marriage and opposes a ballot measure on the issue.
Gay Statehood-Green Party candidate Darryl Moch, an assistant pastor with D.C.’s gay oriented Inner Light Ministers and executive director of a local non-profit foundation, is running against Howard University environmental science professor David Schwartzman for the at-large seat in the Statehood-Green Party primary. GLAA gave Moch a +5 rating, saying he provided “strong” responses to the GLAA questionnaire but has no LGBT-related record that the group is aware of.
GLAA gave Schwartzman a +6 rating, calling him “a thoughtful candidate who agrees with GLAA on every issue.” The group says Schwartzman has a “record of activism on the medical marijuana initiative and or human rights issues.”
Council Chairman’s race
In the race for the D.C. Council Chair seat, which is being vacated by Gray, Council member Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) and opponent Vincent Orange, a former Ward 5 Council member, are competing for the LGBT vote. Brown voted for the same-sex marriage bill and has been supportive on other LGBT issues. Orange drew strong opposition from LGBT activists four years ago when he ran for mayor on a platform opposing same-sex marriage. At the time, he called Fenty and other candidates backing same-sex marriage “morally unfit” to serve in public office.
Orange has since changed his mind on the issue, saying he supports the city’s same-sex marriage law and opposes a ballot measure calling for its repeal. He expressed strong support on a wide range of other LGBT issues in his responses to the GLAA questionnaire.
The Stein Club endorsed Kwame Brown over Orange, and GLAA gave Brown a rating of +5.5 compared to a +4.5 rating for Orange. A third candidate running in the Democratic primary for Council chair, Dorothy Douglas, received a GLAA rating of +2. Statehood-Green Party candidate Ann Wilcox, who is running unopposed in her party’s primary, received a 0 GLAA rating for not returning the group’s questionnaire.
Gay Council incumbent Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), whom activists consider a champion of LGBT causes, received a +10 rating by GLAA and the Stein Club endorsement. A poll commissioned by the Graham campaign and conducted by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, shows Graham far ahead of his two Democratic opponents, Bryan Weaver, who received a +5.5 GLAA rating, and Jeff Smith, who received a “0” GLAA rating.
Gay Republican candidate Marc Morgan, who is running unopposed in the GOP primary, would be Graham’s main challenger in the November general election if Graham wins the Democratic primary on Sept. 14. GLAA gave Morgan a +3 rating.
Incumbent Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) is running unopposed in the Democratic primary. A strong supporter of LGBT rights who voted for the same-sex marriage bill, Cheh received a +7.5 rating from GLAA and the Stein Club’s endorsement. She will face off against Republican candidate Dave Hedgepeth in the November election. Hedgepeth is also running unopposed in the primary. He received a “0” GLAA rating for not returning the questionnaire and not having a known record on LGBT issues.
In the Ward 5 race, Democratic incumbent Thomas faces two other Democratic rivals in addition to Delano Hunter, the candidate favoring a ballot measure seeking to overturn the same-sex marriage law. Tracy Turner received a +2 GLAA rating and Kenyan McDuffie received a “0” GLAA rating.
Gay Republican Timothy Day, who is running unopposed in the GOP primary, received a +1.5 GLAA rating.
The local gay group Log Cabin Republicans and the gay chair of the D.C. Republican Party, Robert Kabel, criticized GLAA for giving the two gay GOP candidates a rating they said was far lower than the two deserve. GLAA officials said Morgan and Day didn’t provide sufficient details on their position on LGBT issues or their records of support on those issues in their questionnaire responses. GLAA said it would be willing to revise its ratings for the two candidates if they submit new questionnaire responses in time for the November election.
Incumbent Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), a longtime supporter of LGBT issues who voted for the same-sex marriage law, received the Stein Club endorsement and a GLAA rating of +8.5. Wells’ Democratic challenger, Kelvin Robinson, who opposed the same-sex marriage law when it came before the Council, says he now supports it and “will not do anything to restrict or repeal it.”
GLAA gave Robinson a -1 rating for his initial opposition to the marriage bill and his failure to return the GLAA questionnaire. Robinson’s campaign press spokesperson, Ian Goldstein, said GLAA and some media reports have incorrectly stated that Robinson supports a ballot measure on the marriage law and that he received campaign contributions from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. Goldstein noted that NOM endorsed Robinson when Robinson initially entered the race for an at-large Council seat. He said Robinson never sought the NOM endorsement and never accepted any campaign contributions from the group.
He also said Robinson never received the GLAA questionnaire, which GLAA says it sent by certified mail to the campaign post office box address listed by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics as the Robinson campaign’s official address. According to Goldstein, certified mail requires someone to sign and could not be delivered to a post office box. But a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service told the Blade that a notice of a certified letter would have been left in the P.O. Box, informing the holder of the box to pick up a letter or package at the same post office where the box is located. Goldstein said GLAA should have tried to reach Robinson or the campaign by phone.
GLAA spokesperson Rick Rosendall said GLAA followed up the mailing with an e-mail to the campaign reminding the campaign about the questionnaire. Rosendall said neither Robinson nor the campaign responded.
Republican Jim DeMartino, who’s running unopposed in the GOP primary for Ward 6, received a “0” GLAA rating. DeMartino did not return the GLAA questionnaire. Wells is considered the strong favorite to win the primary and the general election in November.
Delegate to U.S. House
Longtime incumbent Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is considered a champion for LGBT issues and causes and is expected to easily win election to an 11th two-year term as the city’s non-voting delegate to the House. She received the Stein Club’s endorsement; GLAA does not issue ratings for the delegate race, but GLAA officials have long praised Norton as a strong ally of the LGBT community.
She is being challenged by Douglass Sloan in the Democratic primary. Republican Missy Reilly Smith is running unopposed in the GOP primary and Statehood-Green Party candidates Natale Nocola Stracuzzi and Rick Tingling-Clemmons are competing in their party’s primary.
U.S. Representative (Shadow House seat)
Incumbent shadow representative Mike Panetta, who supports LGBT rights, is being challenged by Nate Bennett-Fleming in the Democratic primary. Panetta received the Stein Club’s endorsement two years ago, when he first won election to the seat. But this year, the Stein Club endorsed Bennett-Fleming, a political newcomer who has aggressively sought the support of LGBT activists and organizations. Both candidates support same-sex marriage equality and a wide range of other LGBT issues. Fleming, a native Washingtonian from Ward 8, has pledged to include the LGBT community in his efforts to secure full voting rights for D.C. in Congress as a stepping stone to D.C. statehood.
The shadow House and Senate seats, which were created as advocacy positions for D.C. statehood, have no official congressional powers and come with no salary.