A standing-room-only crowd attended the “Conversation with the Mayor” hosted by the Mayor’s Office for GLBT Affairs and the Washington Blade last week. During the first 40 minutes, questions were put to the mayor by Blade editor Kevin Naff, some of which were submitted by Blade readers. Then the mayor answered questions from the audience. I know the mayor saw this as a way to share with the community the accomplishments of his administration and his vision for the future. Topics included the HIV/AIDS epidemic, maintaining marriage equality in the District, issues facing transgender people, homelessness, the GLLU, hate crimes, appropriate health education in the schools and other youth issues and the lack of a permanent home for the DC Center. The mayor gave honest answers and readily admitted if there was something he needed to follow up on before he was ready to speak out.
One issue he said he would follow up on was the recent announcement by the Metropolitan Police Department that all the special liaison units would now report to a civilian. The mayor said he wasn’t aware that this decision had been made and that he would speak with Chief Cathy Lanier about it. From the perspective of some activists in the room, this decision was a continued display of Chief Lanier’s arrogance when making changes that impact communities without any community input. The mayor reiterated his commitment to involve the community when such decisions are made. Interestingly at the reception I met Enrique Rivera, who is the civilian in the MPD to which all liaison units will now report. I introduced him to Steve Glaude who is the director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs who hadn’t met him before. That indicates a real lack of communication on the part of Chief Lanier.
The mayor spoke about his new AIDS Commission and in his response to a question from the audience said he will make sure that the voices of youth are heard by the commission. He spoke about the 2012 International AIDS conference that will be held in the District and his understanding of how the conference will bring a renewed focus on AIDS in the District. He is committed to doing more to combat this epidemic and care for those who are HIV or have full-blown AIDS through a new “care on demand” program, one of the first in the nation.
Naff asked the mayor if his various problems — including the still unresolved issues surrounding the hiring of Sulaimon Brown, the hiring of the children of good friends and staffers, now all off the payroll, and other missteps — impacted his relationship with Congress. The mayor responded that he believed that these hadn’t had any impact and that was demonstrated by the reception he received at the first budget hearing on the Hill when, for the first time, the chairs of the District subcommittee and full committee both said that they would look at finding some way for the District to have more autonomy over its budget. He also told of the chair of the District Committee coming to the Wilson Building to talk and said that their staffs are continuing to hold a productive dialogue.
The mayor reiterated how proud he was to have worked for and then to vote for marriage equality in the District and his continued commitment to doing everything he can to make sure that it is protected from any incursion by Congress.
The mayor introduced Ron Collins, director of the Office of Boards and Commissions, and Jeff Richardson, his director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, who got a round of applause, indicating the affection the community has for both of them. That same respect and affection comes from the mayor, who, in response to a question from Naff, said that Richardson has regular access to him. He was asked how he sees Jeff’s role and what it would take for Jeff to hit a “homerun” in his eyes. The mayor, who is a baseball player, laughed and said Jeff would need a Louisville slugger bat for that, but then went on to say he sees Jeff’s role as the link between him and the community and trusts that Jeff will keep him informed of the community’s needs and continue to give him sound advice. He did add, however, that he always retains the right to make the final decisions.
I think our community can feel comfortable that the innate decency and openness of this mayor will make those decisions ones we can support.