September 9, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Down to the wire for Fenty, Gray

Council Chair Vince Gray and Mayor Adrian Fenty. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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.

Ward 1

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.

Ward 3

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.

Ward 5

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.

Ward 6

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.

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

15 Comments
  • Kelvin Robinson supports the marriage bill that was passed by the council. He has no intention of changing it or calling for any kind of vote. He initially expressed his preference that the should have been more like the San Francisco marriage bill, but now it is the law of the land and he has no problem with it. Kelvin robinson has never been an enemy to gay people. He has not sought any endorsements and has not accepted money from or had any conversations with any marriage opponent groups. He would have gladly filled out a GLAA questionnaire, but he did not recieve one. He found out only recently that GLAA sent it certified mail to his PO Bx, where there was nobody to sign for it. There were no other attempts made by GLAA to contact Kelvin or his campaign. Please correct the statement about his supposed support for a referendum, it is simply not the case. All too often during this campaign, folks have attributed opinions to Kelvin without asking him.

  • Since you mention my name in here, I feel compelled to write that I am supporting Adrian Fenty for mayor. It is true that the DC Attorney General’s office made the passage of our parentage statute more difficult than it needed to be. It is also true that Phil Mendelson, whom I strongly support and for whom I have helped raise campaign funds, endorses Vincent Gray. But I believe Fenty deserves credit for many improvements in the city during his term, and I believe in Michele Rhee’s vision for the schools. Gray should be held accountable for his failures at DHS. Yes there was an entrenched bureaucracy that stymied him, but no more so than what Rhee has faced in the schools, and she knows how to make transformative change. I want her for four more years (which she has committed to) and so I am voting for Fenty. Fenty supports gay rights. Any missteps on gay issues have not been bad enough to abandon him and his vision for a better city for all.

  • “keith” writes of Robinson, “He initially expressed his preference that the should have been more like the San Francisco marriage bill…” Note that San Francisco has never had a marriage bill. Marriage is a state issue, not a city issue. Keith may be thinking of the SF Catholic Charities decision to provide health benefits to all employees and their +1, and not to spouses specifically. Georgetown University does something similar. DC’s Catholic Charities refused to consider that option, which is still open to them, and ended healthcare benefits for the spouses of any future employees, and consequently gave up their contract with the District for adoption and foster family screening to a Baptist group that embraces non-discrimination. It is likely that keith and Robinson simply don’t understand the law.

    Robison’s refusal to accept the certified, return receipt mail from GLAA is entirely his own fault. GLAA’s subsequent emails further leave the fault with Robinson. GLAA welcomes late questionnaires and will be happy to re-rate any candidate that chooses to provide a new or replacement questionnaire or to provide information about their record. Robinson is more interested in whining about it.

    • Mr. Summersgill, why in the world would you say, “It is likely Robinson doesn’t understand the law”? Given his background and current support for the law, I suspect he is better informed and more well-versed on this topic than you are.

      As you well know, Robinson has been very clear and easy to understand in expressing his position. As Vice Chair of Catholic Charities, he urged the organization to follow the lead of SF Catholic Charities and insure both the employee and one more adult in the household. The organization, to its discredit, failed to follow his recommendation.

      Then he went to DC City Council and sought to incorporate language that would insure Catholic Charities would continue to do what it has done in Washington, D.C. for over 80 years, providing help to the poorest and hope to those whose circumstances put them almost beyond hope.

      (His opponent, Tommy Wells, kicked the executive staff of a homeless organization out of the building it has been renting for 18 years, in order to give the building and property worth millions of dollars for free to an organization that accepted this ridiculously generous gift of public property (plus $8 million in Federal and DC taxpayer funds! on top of the land and building give-away!), to a developer who refused to accept the gift unless the staff of professionals who run the organization, a homeless organization, are first themselves kicked to the curb.

      Robinson cares about providing services to those most in need of help. Wells has been 100% on LGBT issues, but kicked the homeless organization out of its offices because some new organization refused to share the grounds with an organization that helps the homeless.

      Some people have one litmus test. I have a different one. Has Wells really earned the support of everyone in Ward 6, or just the developers?

  • I was going to post a response to Keith, but Bob Summersgill has beaten me to it. I second Bob’s comments. On another note, I am sorry to see that my friend Nancy Polikoff disagrees with me on the mayor’s race. As to GLAA’s complaints about Mayor Fenty, they are discussed in various sections of our policy brief, “Agenda: 2010,” online at http://www.tinyurl.com/glaa2010

    In short, part of a mayor’s job, like it or not, is to work with the legislature and consult the citizenry. Adrian Fenty has done a miserable job of both. Sustaining Rhee’s reforms long-term will require that collaboration and consulting, which Fenty (and, for that matter, Rhee herself) has shown a disinclination to do. Gray is much more collaborative, and has also shown a toughness, both as Council Chair and in the current campaign, that bode well for his leadership as mayor. I think he deserves a shot.

  • I am voting Fenty because I am satisfied with his performance regarding LGBT issues. The factor that has most significantly influenced my decision is that Michelle Rhee has my full support. She is a fierce advocate for GLBT young people and their families in DC. I have seen her speak on matters of bullying, inclusion, and diversity and I have heard her describe examples of training and intervention. She does not see a place for homophobic, intolerant, students, teachers and staff in our schools. Our LGBT youth and their allies, and their teachers and parents, need Michelle Rhee to make sure that queer youth and their friends have a safe environment in which to learn in DC and that GLBT teachers and staff in the school system have a safe environment to work in DC.

  • What Rick said!

  • With patholigical personalities like Peter Nickles and Michelle Rhee on board, there is no way I can support Fenty. His entire team is politically tone deaf, arrogant, childish, corrupt and mean spirited. They have no place in city government. Also, not everyone lives in Northwest and does not view dog parks and bike lanes as important government priorities when budgets are being slashed and thousands of people are getting laid off and people with AIDS can’t get the medicines they need. Gray has a background in helping the disadvantaged (he ran an organization for the mentally retarded). I think he will be more sensitive to the rest of DC that doesn’t live in Whole Foods and writes blogs for a living.

  • Gray is a retread from the failed administration of Sharon Pratt Kelly. Electing him will be a giant step backward for the city, as it will be a return of the old guard from Wards 7 and 8. Fenty has a vision for transforming Washington into a world-class city. He is supportive of LGBT issues. He deserves four more years.

  • I see you censored my comment. I win! You lose. What’s with the false charges against Kelvin Robinson–lies you tell that are so easily refuted by video tapes of the Ward 6 Councilmember forums? Why are you afraid to let LGBTQ readers see the refutation and decide for themselves.

    Weak, very weak.

  • I’ve already voted for Vincent Gray. Our current Mayor has demonstrated a commitment to a certain segment of DC. Yes me and my wife are educated, happy, prospering, and home owner residents of the District. But I’d like to see a demonstrated commitment to all persons in the District including the disadvantaged and unemployed residents of our city. There are disadvantaged and unemployed lgbt people in our city too, under our current mayor how might they have new and improved opportunities for a change in life circumstance? Yes we can get married now, but what of other human rights such as eating and sleeping in a warm place at night? Where are the vocational school opportunities for youth who are not college bound? How will elder lgbt persons fair in our city in the current programs for the aged? Over all while Fenty has improved infrastructure for getting to city services, (ie 311 call center) in my opinion he has gutted resources for essential services in the case of abused and neglected children & youth in our city, and the for the homeless. While personality is not the only factor here, it would help if we had a Mayor that had a skill set that included listening and demonstrating care and compassion for the people he was elected to serve. I don’t care about old guards and new guards. I care about having someone who can move our city toward a civil dialogue about solutions that include persons who care about dog parks and the environment like me, and persons who also care about poverty and educational opportunities for the disadvantaged like me. May we survive the outcome on Tuesday as one city, with truth and justice for all.

  • I’d ask that people consider me when the vote for “Shadow” U.S. Representative. I’ve been actually working instead of talking. I was on the Hill countering the efforts of Bob King when he was trying to get Congress to interfere and overturn our locally-enacted same sex marriage bill. I was quoted as saying at the time in DCist:

    ”Commissioner King’s lobbying of Congress to stop the same-sex marriage bill from becoming law seriously undermines the District’s efforts for greater autonomy and expanded home rule. By taking this fight to Congress not only is he re-enforcing our ‘second-class citizen’ status, he is actively embracing it. His efforts will only embolden members of Congress to expand their meddling in our municipal affairs. Frankly, I expected better from an elected District official.”

    As for the Stein Club endorsement, let’s just say I didn’t buy it, unlike some other people :)

    Thanks,
    Mike Panetta

  • Also, slight correction above – I got the Stein Club endorsement in 2006, and 2008. I was first elected in 2006.

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