January 11, 2012 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. Council candidate no longer opposes gay marriage law

An outspoken advocate for placing D.C.’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum in 2010 says he no longer holds that view and will express “respect” for the law as a candidate for the City Council in a special election this spring.

Civic activist Delano Hunter has announced plans to run for the Ward 5 Council seat that became vacant last week when incumbent Harry Thomas, a Democrat, resigned after pleading guilty to federal theft and tax evasion charges.

“I do not seek to overturn the Marriage Equality Act when elected,” Hunter told the Blade in a statement released on Tuesday.

“I will, however, continue to establish working relationships within the LGBT community to focus on issues that affect the quality of life for all residents of the District of Columbia,” he said.

Hunter unsuccessfully challenged Thomas in the September 2010 Democratic primary. He received the backing of anti-gay groups that opposed the same-sex marriage law. The D.C. Council approved the law in December 2009.

At the time, Hunter joined gay marriage opponents in calling for a voter referendum to overturn the law. The city’s election board ruled that the law could not be subjected to a referendum, saying doing so would violate the city’s Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The D.C. Superior Court, the D.C. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the election board’s ruling following a series of appeals by gay marriage opponents who challenged the election board’s decision.

In an exclusive Jan. 10 interview with the Blade, Hunter said that while groups opposed to same-sex marriage endorsed his candidacy in the 2010 Democratic primary, he focused his campaign on other issues, such as unemployment, crime and the high rate of HIV infection among residents of his ward.

Thomas, who supported the marriage law and opposed subjecting it to a referendum, defeated Hunter by a margin of 61 percent to 19 percent in the September 2010 primary.

Hunter said he now considers the marriage law a “settled issue” and has no intention of raising it as an issue in a special election to fill Thomas’s seat that is expected to take place in May.

“My stance is that I respect the Marriage Equality Act,” he told the Blade. “It gives individuals the right to marry whom they chose. But also it gives our religious institutions the right to ordain marriage according to their beliefs. So that is something that I’m in agreement with. It is settled. It is a moot point.”

Hunter said he did not take a position in 2010 and has no position now on whether the D.C. Council should or should not have passed the same-sex marriage law.

“My position was that residents should have the right to vote on this issue,” he said. “That was something that was approved by residents of our ward within a [Washington Post] straw poll…So for me, I said, OK, if folks want the right to discuss this through this method, we should do so.”

Hunter added, “Obviously, it was approved by the Council and the courts said it was not something that can be voted upon. And those are our elected representatives. They passed the law. It’s done.”

Thomas announced his resignation less than a day after federal authorities charged him with felony theft for allegedly embezzling more than $350,000 in government funds and filing false income tax returns with the IRS.

He pleaded guilty on Jan. 6 to one count of theft concerning city programs receiving federal funds and one count of filing a false tax return.

“I am resigning my position as a member of the Council effective immediately,” Thomas said in a statement released Jan. 5. “I made some very serious mistakes and exhibited inadequate and flawed judgment. I take full responsibility for my actions. I am truly sorry.”

Among those calling for Thomas’s resignation last fall, when news surfaced that he was about to be charged with an embezzlement related offense, were Robert Turner, president of the D.C. Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group; and Robert Kabel, the gay chair of the D.C. Republican Party.

Most gay Democratic activists who supported Thomas before news surfaced about his legal problems, including the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, did not join others in calling for his resignation.

Thomas drew praise from LGBT activists in 2009 when he voted for the city’s same-sex marriage law over strong objections from many of his Ward 5 constituents, who oppose same-sex marriage.

A large number of the ward’s residents are conservative African Americans who support civil rights related legislation but oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds. Clergy from black churches in the ward testified against the marriage bill during a contentious City Council hearing prior to the Council’s vote to approve the bill in December 2009.

The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage and other national groups opposed to same-sex marriage contributed tens of thousands of dollars for direct mail, robocalls, and racially divisive fliers attacking Thomas during his re-election campaign in 2010, according to Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, an LGBT-supportive organization.

Right Wing Watch said some of the same anti-gay groups supported Delano Hunter’s race against Thomas but didn’t contribute large amounts of money directly to his campaign. NOM sent a mailer supportive of Hunter to residents of Ward 5 in 2010.

LGBT activists were quick to point out that the attack campaign against Thomas had little effect since he won re-election by a large margin.

Gay Republican Tim Day, a member of Log Cabin Republicans, ran against Thomas in the general election in November 2010 but lost by a lopsided margin in a ward that is overwhelmingly Democratic. Day hasn’t said whether he will run for the seat in the special election this year.

Other Democrats are expected to run in the special election for Thomas’s seat. LGBT advocates and gay residents of the ward will likely appeal to Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), who formerly held the Ward 5 seat, to back a candidate supportive of LGBT equality and same-sex marriage. Orange remains a popular figure in the Ward.

He opposed same-sex marriage at the time he held his Ward 5 seat and when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2006. But Orange changed his position shortly before he ran for the at-large Council seat in a special election, saying he now strongly supports civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

The Stein Club, which plans to endorse a Democratic candidate in the special election, issued a statement last week saying its members’ thoughts were with Thomas’s family and the residents of Ward 5.

“While we are saddened that someone who many in our community supported and had high hopes for fell short of our collective ethical expectations for public officials, our primary concern is with the residents and youth of Ward 5,” the Stein Club statement says. “We plan to stay engaged in the process to ensure that the next Ward 5 councilmember is both a strong supporter of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights and a person who holds himself or herself up to the highest ethical standards.”

 

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

11 Comments
  • I would like him to not only say he won’t overturn it but to say he supports it – and pledge to not work to have the Catholic Church or other entities try to get around it in any way. He should also state that he will not seek or take support from homophobic groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) if we are truly to believe this conversion in his beliefs. This is a matter that is too important to so many people in the District of Columbia for him to not be specific on this issue of basic civil and human rights.

  • I’m glad that Mr. Hunter recognizes that our marriage equality law is settled; but as Peter Rosenstein notes, that leaves a number of questions unanswered. Years ago, another local homophobe, Rev. Anthony Evans, told me, “I don’t think you should be killed.” I appreciated the sentiment as far as it went, but I’m happy to say that the bar is set a bit higher here.

  • Peter Rosenstein makes excellent points. We deserve better than this from a DC Council candidate. Mr. Hunter does not say he respects the right of same-sex couples to marry, rather he says he respects the law. He does not suggest that his previous position was incorrect or that there is any problem with voting on peoples’ rights. There is no apology or atonement. He merely acknoledges that a law he does like passed, and he’s not going to oppose it.

  • LGBT residents’ response in Ward 5 (per the BrooklandGLBT listserv and Ward5 listserv) to Lou’s story about Delano Hunter’s election-season “conversion” is nearly in unanimous agreement with Peter’s, Rick’s and Bob’s comments.

    But as you might imagine, Ward 5 LGBT residents’ opinions are a good bit stronger. Delano Hunter is just flatly unbelievable.

    Lou reported, “Hunter said he did not take a position in 2010 and has no position now on whether the D.C. Council should or should not have passed the same-sex marriage law.”

    Hunter’s assertion is just not true, and Ward 5 voters, LGBT and straight, know it. It’s only been 15 months. Who does Hunter and his backers think they’re kidding?

    Delano Hunter caught on video in 2010 (@ about the 42 second marker)…
    http://thekojonnamdishow.org/shows/2010-09-10/politics-hour
    –or–
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq72sutJw24&feature=email

    “I believe in traditional marriage, point blank. That’s not something I’m going to waffle on.”
    –Delano Hunter
    “The Politics Hour” w/ Kojo Nnamdi, September 10, 2010

    In addition, Lou noted NOM’s reported campaign efforts on Delano Hunter’s behalf.

    See NOM’s outrageous direct mail to Ward 5 residents on behalf of Delano Hunter in 2010 here…
    http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/nom-desperate-dc

  • What Mr. hunter needs to do is support gay rights going forward and to suggest things that he will do to strengthen the laws and support for the community. Taking a new position at the 11th hr into order to appeal to a wider base of Ward 5 will do nothing for his campaign. In order to garner support in the upcoming election he would have to have some accomplishments towards advancing the LGBT agenda which he has nothing to show for the past 15 months. Mr. Hunter cannot count on support from Ward 5. We need concrete accomplishments and plans prior to giving support to a so called “reformed anti-gay” candidate. I will not be voting for Mr. Hunter and I would encourage my fellow Ward 5 residents to follow the lead of the various members of the LGBT caucus.

  • The only reason Delano is changing course on this issue is because this election will likely see dismal turnout and most of those who will vote are politically and socially astute and a good portion of those astute voters are members of the LGBT community. If you alienate them now you simply never win this election. This has nothing to do with what he believes. It has everything to do with him saying what he thinks people want to hear. This is far to typical and smacks of the rhetoric and lies spewed by the Thomas camp throughout his corrupt administration in Ward 5. I hope the residents in Ward 5 can see through all this to the heart of the issues and pick a candidate that will cast aside the dishonest and unethical business as usual in Ward 5 politics and really focus on make the Ward a better place to live, work and visit.

  • Let me be even more blunt than Rosenstein, Rosendall, and Summersgill: Nice try, bigot.

    Endorse marriage equality AND apologize for the disgusting NOM mailer.

  • I smell a strong odor of BS

  • Some Ward 5 news…

    Since Lou’s story, there’s been lot of buzz in the ward. Former Council candidate, and highly vocal Marriage Equality opponent, Kathryn Pearson-West (aka, ‘KPW’) has quoted Lou’s story in full on the Ward5 Yahoo! listserv as a good reason to now support Delano Hunter. Pearson-West is now the autocratic moderator of the Ward5 listserv. To my knowledge, she has never renounced her anti-Marriage Equality position in 2009 and 2010. Last week she very deliberately announced– on the listserv that she moderates– that Delano Hunter was one of her favorite candidates to replace Thomas.

    Now, apparently, Pearson-West does not like the firestorm of disbelief and listserv criticism that has replied to her and responded to Lou’s story. This evening Pearson-West has threatened to “block” Ward5 listserv members who continue to criticize Delano Hunter’s candidacy– many of who are openly LGBT listserv members. She may do it, too, as Pearson-West quietly (and without any prior notice me), blocked my commentary on that listserv last week.

    Perhaps Kathryn Pearson-West thinks there are too many LGBT and their straight neighbor sympathizers voicing their opinions on the Ward5 listserv.

    As background … a lot of Ward 5′s LGBTs are taking another, more favorable look at Kenyan McDuffie. McDuffie ran for the Ward 5 seatMcDuffie is a former USDOJ civil rights attorney and experience working in Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office. McDuffie is, and has been a strong supporter of Marriage Equality in 2010.

    Here’s a copy and paste of Kathryn Pearson-West’s threatening response to ANC Commissioner Timothy Clark’s appeal for more fair listserv moderation, earlier this evening…

    =====
    — In ward5@yahoogroups.com, WKPW3@… wrote:

    Re: [ward5] Kenyan McDuffie’s Bio & Resume

    As the moderator, I let this free for all go on and Hunter took the abuse. You opened the door. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I asked that people not attack potential candidates yet until people declared. No one wanted to listen or follow through. Moderation to be implemented so some will be blocked soon. Apparently Mr. McDuffie has a lot of supporters particularly on one issue and other candidates supporters are not as passionate with their attack mode.

    The moderator will moderate. I work alone and set the tone. Enjoy your evening.

    KPW


    —–Original Message—–
    From: timclarkdc
    To: ward5
    Sent: Thu, Jan 12, 2012 6:25 pm
    Subject: Re: [ward5] Kenyan McDuffie’s Bio & Resume

    I would expect you as the moderator to take a more balanced approach to this. Mr. Hunter is catching heat because of his actions last campaign season and his press release to the blade. This is something he brought on himself.

    It’s perfectly fine if you’ve chosen to support him, but calling on other candidates to be “molested” is a bit much.

    I think these exchanges show that such antics aren’t appreciated and won’t be tolerated in the ward. As Jamie said, not one of the people who’ve expressed anger and dislike for Mr. Hunter even mentioned Kenyan…

  • Of course it is a lie for Delano Hunter to deny having taken a position on whether the Council should pass a marriage equality law. It is a by-now-familiar ploy to claim that he was interested only in “letting the people vote.” First, his publicly expressed animus (and the proof) has already been noted. Second, the people have voted–they’re called elections. Article 4, Section 4 of the Constitution guarantees a republican form of government; there is nothing about a right to hold plebiscites. Additionally, putting people’s rights up for a popular vote is expressly forbidden by the D.C. Human Rights Act. In any case, marriage equality has popular support in the city and every candidate who has opposed it has been roundly defeated. Some of our opponents have asked, “If you are so confident that you would win a ballot measure, why not let the people vote?” The answer is that holding such a vote is not appropriate.

    The position that Mr. Hunter has staked out is too cute by half. If he is serious about changing his mind, let him come clean, admit to having been wrong, and go on record as supporting marriage equality and opposing the conducting of any plebiscite in which people’s rights are put to a popular vote. We have only thirteen seats in our city’s legislature. We cannot afford to fill one of them with someone who seeks to advance himself by collaborating with bigots from outside our city who seek to divide us. We need our elected officials to work to bring us together to address our shared challenges and make this a better city for all.

  • *If [Delano Hunter] is serious about changing his mind, let him come clean, admit to having been wrong, and go on record as supporting marriage equality and opposing the conducting of any plebiscite in which people’s rights are put to a popular vote. We have only thirteen seats in our city’s legislature. We cannot afford to fill one of them with someone who seeks to advance himself by collaborating with bigots from outside our city who seek to divide us.* – Rick Rosendall, GLAA

    “The stuff in the media and blogs was not an accurate portrayal…I have been screaming this as loud as I can, ‘hey my position has not been fairly represented’,” Hunter said. “I went to the Blade because I wanted to speak to the LGBT community.” – Tim Craig, WaPo (1/13/12)

    Exactly right, Rick. The homophobic mailers by NOM mailed throughout the ward puts Hunter in an entirely different category than Vincent Orange’s comment and position in the waning days of the mayoral primary in 2006.

    Incredibly, Hunter is still denying his anti-gay marriage position and the NOM-sponsored bigoted mailers on his behalf — just 15 months ago.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Hunter to take Rick’s advice. I doubt any LGBT activists in Ward 5 or elsewhere have heard a kind word or any LGBT-issues concern at all from Delano Hunter in the past 15 months. Hunter is not trying to convince Ward 5′s LGBT voters, as he knows we know the truth.

    The reason one of Hunter’s promoters, die-hard Marriage Equality opponent, Kathryn Pearson-West, is suddenly cutting off LGBT members and debate re. Hunter on the Ward5 listserv is because of the firestorm of disbelief expressed there — by straight LGBT sympathizers, as well. This is really just a quick PR effort on Delano Hunter’s part to convince concerned straight Ward 5 voters that he’s “OK with the gays.”

    This Ward 5 special election to replace Thomas is one for LGBTs throughout the city to watch. I hope GLAA will survey all the declared candidates in Ward 5, too.

    A number of us are already leaning to McDuffie. McDuffie’s heartfelt, early support for Marriage Equality, his experience in Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office, plus as a civil rights prosecutor in the Justice Department all give him important assets in a ward that is yearning for ethical integrity.

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