Gay activists in Ward 5 have expressed skepticism over a candidate for the ward’s Council seat who says he no longer opposes the city’s same-sex marriage law.
Council candidate Delano Hunter, a Democrat, told the Blade last week that he no longer believes the marriage equality law should be subjected to a voter referendum, reversing his position from 2010 when he unsuccessfully ran for the Ward 5 seat against incumbent Harry Thomas (D).
The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics officially declared the Ward 5 seat vacant on Tuesday, nearly two weeks after Thomas resigned shortly before pleading guilty to embezzling more than $300,000 in city funds. The board scheduled a special election on May 15 to fill the seat.
Meanwhile, since Hunter told the Blade he’s changed his position on the marriage bill, rival Ward 5 candidate Kenyan McDuffie, also a Democrat, joined gay activists in the ward to question Hunter’s sincerity, noting that Hunter stressed strong support for “traditional marriage” during his campaign for the Council seat in 2010.
McDuffie sent a statement to the Blade pointing out that he declared his full support for same-sex marriage when he, too, ran for the Ward 5 Council seat against Hunter and Thomas in the September 2010 Democratic primary.
“Undeniably, Mr. Hunter’s position on gay marriage today runs counter to the views he espoused on the campaign trail merely 15 months ago,” McDuffie said in his statement. “This is a classic case of a candidate analyzing voter returns and making a calculated decision to appeal to a constituency that he previously had written off.”
McDuffie added, “On the other hand, my record demonstrates my unwavering support for the LGBT community as well as my firm belief that tolerance and open-mindedness must pervade even where differing opinions collide.”
Political observers say both candidates have impressive credentials that could make them attractive to Ward 5 voters. Hunter, a native D.C. resident, worked as a company diversity specialist with the Nike Corporation in Oregon before returning to D.C. to become a Ward 5 community organizer. McDuffie, an attorney, worked in the Justice Department’s civil rights division as a trial lawyer.
In its candidate ratings for the 2010 Democratic primary, the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance gave Hunter a score of -2 on a scale of +10 to -10. GLAA gave McDuffie a score of “0.” The group said the two were given low ratings because neither of them returned a GLAA questionnaire that asks candidates about their positions on a wide range of LGBT-related issues.
Failure to return the questionnaire results in an automatic “0” rating unless the group has information about a candidate’s record on LGBT issues, GLAA officials have said. In this case, the group only knew of Hunter’s call for a referendum to overturn the marriage bill and of support he received from anti-gay groups, information considered hostile to LGBT rights.
Hunter told the Blade his campaign’s failure to return the GLAA questionnaire was an “oversight.” A McDuffie campaign spokesperson noted that McDuffie returned a questionnaire to the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, and expressed strong support for LGBT rights in his answers. He sent a copy of his answers to the Blade.
In an interview with the Blade last week, Hunter disputed claims by critics that his call for a referendum on the gay marriage bill was the focus of his 2010 campaign. He acknowledged that anti-gay groups opposed to the marriage equality bill endorsed him and spent large sums of money attacking incumbent Thomas, who voted for the same-sex marriage bill.
But Hunter noted that the anti-gay groups released ads attacking Thomas through an independent expenditure campaign over which he had no control.
He declined to say whether he would have voted for or against the marriage equality bill if he had been on the Council in 2009 when the Council approved the measure.
“I would like him to not only say he won’t overturn it but to say he supports it,” said gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein. “He should also state that he will not seek or take support from homophobic groups like the National Organization for Marriage if we are truly to believe this conversion in his beliefs.”
Ward 5 gay Democratic activist Barrie Daneker said Hunter would have to put forward specific proposals for supporting and advancing LGBT rights in the city before he can count on support from the LGBT community.
“Taking a new position at the 11th hour in order to appeal to a wider base of Ward 5 voters will do nothing for his campaign,” Daneker said. “We need concrete accomplishments and plans prior to giving support to a so-called ‘reformed anti-gay’ candidate,” he said.
Ward 5 political observers have said as many as seven or eight other candidates were considering entering the Ward 5 special election contest. Among them are Anita Bonds, the LGBT supportive chair of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, and Tim Day, the gay Republican who ran and lost against Thomas in the November 2010 general election.
According to Washington Post political analyst Mike DeBonis, Day made a comment likely to startle the city’s gay Republican leaders when responding to DeBonis’s question of whether he planned to run for the Ward 5 seat as a Republican in the May special election. “That’s an interesting question,” DeBonis quoted him as saying.
Many political observers have praised Day, an accountant, as a highly qualified candidate who would have little or no chance of winning election as a Republican in a Ward with an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters. Day lost to Thomas by a lopsided margin in 2010. But should Day change party affiliation to become a Democrat or an independent, his chances of becoming the Council’s third out gay member would increase in the eyes of some political observers.