The large contingent of LGBT activists that backed City Council Chair Vincent Gray’s candidacy for mayor called his victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary a highly positive development and predicted Gray would emerge as one the city’s most gay-supportive mayors.
But early election returns showed that Mayor Adrian Fenty won in most of the voter precincts with a high concentration of LGBT residents.
Final-but-unofficial returns released early today by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics showed Gray defeating Fenty by a margin of 54 to 45 percent.
Lesser known Democratic mayoral candidate Leo Alexander, who made his support for a ballot measure to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage law an important part of his campaign, received less than 1 percent of the vote. Democratic mayoral contenders Sulaimon Brown and Ernest Johnson, who received a 0 rating from the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance on LGBT issues, also received less than 1 percent of the vote.
Jeffrey Richardson, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group that endorsed Gray, said many activists favored Gray because he demonstrated a stronger commitment to work with and listen to the problems and concerns of the LGBT community.
“What I believe happened is Vince Gray resonated with and connected with the idea that we not only need a mayor who is going to bring us results but who has a heart for the community and has shown that heart and is willing to be connected to the community and to hear from the citizenry,” Richardson said.
Both Gray and Fenty have strong records of support on LGBT issues. Gray voted for and Fenty signed the city’s historic same-sex marriage law.
Gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein was among a number of LGBT advocates who backed Fenty in his landslide victory in the 2006 election and switched their allegiance to Gray this year.
Rosenstein said he believes the gay vote split between Fenty and Gray, with a “large majority” of black gays joining the black community as a whole in voting for Gray. Stein Club Vice President Tim Mahoney is among a number of activists who believe most gay voters based their decision on who to back in the mayor’s race on non-LGBT issues.
In other city races, gay former parks and recreation director Clark Ray was trounced in his uphill challenge to LGBT supportive at-large Council member Phil Mendelson. Mendelson won his bid for the Democratic nomination with 63 percent of the vote, with D.C. shadow senator Michael D. Brown coming in second, with 27 percent and Ray finishing third with just under 9 percent of the vote.
The Stein Club endorsed Mendelson over Ray, calling Mendelson a “champion” on LGBT issues and noting that he led the City Council’s effort to pass the same-sex marriage law in his role as chair of the committee with jurisdiction over the measure.
Election returns also show that Mendelson, who won in all eight wards, beat Ray and Brown with overwhelming margins in the gay identified precincts, including those in Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, the Southwest Waterfront, and Anacostia.
Gay City Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) won his primary race with 57 percent of the vote. Democratic challengers Jeff Smith and Bryan Weaver each received 21 percent of the vote, according to the latest Board of Elections returns.
LGBT-supportive Council member Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) won the Democratic nomination to replace Gray as City Council chair with 55 percent of the vote. Challenger Vincent Orange, a former Ward 5 Council member who opposed same-sex marriage four years ago before coming out in support of the marriage equality bill this year, received 39 percent of the vote.
Many of the city’s LGBT leaders were especially pleased with Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas Jr.’s primary victory Tuesday. Same-sex marriage opponents, including the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, targeted Thomas for defeat in his conservative ward. Many political observers said Thomas’s decision to vote for the same-sex marriage law put his re-election bid in jeopardy due to strong opposition to the law among many of his constituents.
Thomas won the primary with 62 percent of the vote. His lead opponent, Delano Hunter, who spoke out against the marriage equality law and backed a voter initiative to overturn it, received 19 percent of the vote.
The LGBT-supportive group People for the American Way, which keeps track of anti-LGBT groups, pointed to city election finance records showing that the group spent well over $100,000 to support Hunter in Ward 5 and general efforts to oppose Council candidate supportive of same-sex marriage.
“They spent a lot of money and completely failed,” said gay activist Bob Summersgill. “I think NOM has completely misunderstood the attitudes and feelings of the voters in D.C. This is not a place where people are anxious to take away others’ rights.”
LGBT supportive Council members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) easily won re-nomination for their respective seats. Cheh ran unopposed and Wells captured 75 percent of the vote against challenger Kelvin Robinson, who said he would have voted against the same-sex marriage law “as written.” He said he now supports the measure as the “law of the land.”
D.C. congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) also won by a lopsided margin. Norton is considered one of the most LGBT-supportive members of Congress.
The only Stein Club-endorsed candidate who lost in Tuesday’s primary was Nate Bennett-Fleming, a 26-year-old law school student and Ward 8 community activist who challenged incumbent D.C. shadow representative Mike Panetta. Bennett-Fleming campaigned aggressively for LGBT support, expressing strong support on virtually all LGBT related issues.
Panetta, who also supports LGBT equality, including same-sex marriage, won the race by a margin of 57 to 41 percent.
In the primary for the city’s tiny Statehood-Green Party, gay minister Darryl Moch lost his bid for the nomination for the at-large Council seat currently held by Mendelson. Statehood-Green Party activist David Schwartzman, a strong supporter of LGBT rights, beat Moch by a margin of 63 percent to 27 percent.
Two gay Republican Party candidates won nomination to City Council seats in unopposed races. Marc Morgan will challenge Graham for the Ward 1 Council seat in the November general election. Gay GOP candidate Tim Day will challenge Thomas for the Ward 5 Council seat in November.
Richardson and other LGBT activists who supported Gray said that similar to their straight counterparts, they believe Fenty — while supportive on LGBT issues — appeared to ignore the concerns they expressed over a number a newly developing issues, including the growing number of anti-LGBT hate crimes.
The local group Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence joined other groups, including the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance and the D.C. Trans Coalition, in criticizing Fenty for refusing to meet with them or attend LGBT events to discuss pressing issues.
Transgender activists also expressed concern that Fenty was not taking their issues seriously, especially when the mayor’s office startled LGBT activists by proposing to exclude transgender inmates in the city’s correctional system from the D.C. Human Rights Act. Corrections department officials said the exclusion was needed for security reasons and was related to whether trans inmates should be allowed to dress in accordance with their biological gender or the gender to which they were transitioning.
The mayor’s office dropped that proposal following a groundswell of opposition.
Sources familiar with the demographics of the so-called “gay” precincts said they have large numbers of non-gay residents and it is impossible to determine what portion of the gay vote went to Fenty or Gray. The gay-identified precincts are also located in the predominately white sections of the city in Wards 1, 2 and 6, which Fenty won.
Nearly all LGBT activists familiar with voter demographics agreed that black LGBT residents, who are dispersed throughout the city and not concentrated in individual precincts, voted overwhelmingly for Gray.
“Anecdotally, I can’t name five black gays who voted for Fenty,” said gay Democratic activist Phil Pannell, who is active in the city’s predominantly black Ward 8.
Pannell said that the gay vote — like the citywide vote as a whole — appears to have divided along racial lines, with most white voters going for Fenty and most blacks voting for Gray.
“I definitely think Vince Gray is going to bring us all together,” Pannell said. “But it’s still sad to see we are racially divided at the ballot box.”
A number of political observers have said Clark Ray’s loss to Mendelson in Tuesday primary may not be the end of his quest to be the Council’s third out gay member. With Kwame Brown winning the Democratic nomination for the Council chairman’s seat, Brown’s at-large seat is expected to become vacant in January if he wins in the November general election, as expected.
The Board of Elections is expected to call a special election to fill the vacant seat early next year, and Ray has said he would consider running for the vacant seat if he lost to Mendelson. A number of LGBT activists who backed Mendelson have said they would look favorably toward a Ray candidacy for the vacant seat.