January 7, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
New D.C. Council member backs same-sex marriage

Ward 4 school board member Sekou Biddle, who won an interim appointment to the D.C. City Council Thursday night, says he’s a strong supporter of LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage.

Biddle, 39, beat former City Council member Vincent Orange (D-Ward 5) and four other Democratic candidates who competed for the interim appointment before the 80-member D.C. Democratic State Committee, which makes interim Counsel appointments.

“I support same-sex marriage,” Biddle told the Blade after the vote. “I think it’s an indication of the kind of city that we have. It’s what makes us, in my opinion, a top-flight, world-class city that we have that level of respect for human and civil rights.”

Biddle will face off against Orange and other candidates expected to enter the race from all political parties in a special city-wide election scheduled for April 26.

He was expected to take office immediately in his temporary Council appointment for a seat made vacant after Council member Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) won election as City Council Chairman.

Before getting elected to the school board, Biddle began his career as a classroom teacher for eight years. He later served in leadership positions in education advoacy organizations, including his current post as executive director of the group Jumpstart.

Thursday night’s vote by the State Committee came after each of the candidates spoke before the committee and an overflowing crowd that gathered in a meeting room at the Democratic National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill.

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, endorsed Biddle in his race for the school board, where he has served since 2007.

Three Stein Club members who also are members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee endorsed and campaigned for Biddle in his quest for the committee’s appointment. The three are Jeffrey Richardson, the Stein Club president; Lateefah Williams, the club’s vice president for legislation and political affairs; and Alexandra Beninda, the club treasurer.

He also received the endorsement of Brown, who beat Orange in the hotly contested race in November for the Council chair race. At least three other Council members – Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5), and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) also endorsed Biddle.

Mayor Vincent Gray remained neutral in the contest but some of his top political operatives backed Biddle. This prompted many political observers to conclude that the city’s political establishment had shifted its support from Orange – who was considered the frontrunner just two weeks ago – to Biddle.

Orange came out strongly against same-sex marriage during his unsuccessful race for mayor in 2006. When he ran against Brown for the Council chair seat last year he announced he had changed his position to support the city’s same-sex marriage law. But he was less clear about whether he would support or oppose holding a voter initiative seeking to overturn the marriage equality law, which took effect last March.

It took three rounds of voting for Biddle to nail down his victory over Orange Thursday night. With 74 of the 80 State Committee members present to vote, Biddle won on the third round by a vote of 40 to 31. Three ballots cast by committee members were disqualified because they voted for one of the other candidates that were eliminated after the first round of voting.

Only Biddle, Orange and candidate Stanley Mayes, a Ward 1 political activist, received any votes in the six-candidate race.

Many of the observers at the State Committee meeting were looking toward gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) as a possible predictor of what might happen in the April special election.

Catania stunned the city’s political establishment in 1997 when, running as a Republican, he defeated Democratic frontrunner Arrington Dixon in a special election to win his at-large Council seat.

Just 7 percent of the city’s registered voters turned out for the special election. But gays and Republican voters turned out in force, giving Catania his margin of victory over Dixon, a former City Council chairman who some observers said was overly complacent in his campaign.

Catania won re-election to a full term the following year and has retained his seat since that time. He withdrew from the Republican Party in 2004 to become an independent after the GOP and President George W. Bush embraced a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Some local political pundits say pro-gay Republican Patrick Mara, who won election in November to the school board from Ward 1, could be the next “Catania” in the April special election.  With a low voter turnout and support from Republicans and gays, among other groups, Mara supporters say he has a shot at winning. He has yet to announce whether he plans to run, although insiders believe he will enter the race.

Catania unofficially backed Mara when Mara ran against and defeated former Republican Council member Carol Schwartz two years ago in the Republican primary. Mara lost the general election to Democrat turned independent Michael Brown in the general election. As a friend of Mara’s, some observers are wondering if Catania will throw his support and political organization behind Mara, with the possibility of Mara coming out ahead if Biddle and Orange split the Democratic vote.

Some gays, including David Mariner, executive director of the D.C. LGBT community center, backed Orange in last year’s council chair race, saying Orange has come around to support LGBT issues and was more qualified as an attorney and accountant to address the city’s budget and economic development issues. Mariner said he has yet to decide whom to support in the April special election.

Ben Young, a spokesperson for Catania, said Catania has no comment at the present time on the upcoming Council special election and the potential candidates that might run in the race.

Richardson of the Stein Club said the comparison between Catania and Mara would not likely apply in this year’s special election because Biddle is expected to run a vigorous campaign and line up support from large numbers of gay voters.

Like Biddle, Mara supports same-sex marriage and has expressed strong support for all other LGBT-related issues.

Biddle told the Blade Thursday night that his political ties to the LGBT community are strong.

“In terms of politics and endorsements, I got my start in the LGBT community,” he said. “When I ran in 2007 for the Board of Education, the Stein Club was the first one to endorse me, and that gave my candidacy a lot of momentum and visibility. I’ve built a solid relationship since I’ve been in office and I think a level of trust.”

He said he considers himself a “progressive” on a wide range of city issues and hopes to draw support from all sections of the city.

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

1 Comment
  • Government free marriage is the only way to fix this issue. Time to change the argument. Why are we asking the government to control our lives? Why do we want the government to recognize anything? For or against should not be the argument, government free marriage NOW!

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