July 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
LGBT leaders still backing Gray amid scandal
Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

Pannell says support from ‘rank and file’ gays wavers. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Most of the city’s leading LGBT activists say they oppose calls for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to resign following revelations two weeks ago that the mayor’s 2010 election campaign received an illegal contribution of more than $650,000 from a controversial businessman.

“I feel his support in the LGBT community is where it was before this happened,” said gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, who backed Gray in the 2010 election.

“Those who supported him in the election still do for the most part,” said Hudson. “Those who didn’t support him are likely not supporting him now.”

Gray has declined to comment on a federal investigation into his campaign activities other than to deny any wrongdoing. He has not been charged or implicated in any illegal activity, although three campaign operatives have pleaded guilty to campaign violations.

Hudson and other LGBT advocates supportive of Gray say he has fulfilled his campaign support on a wide range of LGBT issues, including issues deemed important to the transgender community.

But some gay activists, including Ward 8 community leader Phil Pannell, say they believe support for Gray among ‘rank and file’ gays is wavering, just as it is among all city residents.

Pannell and Ward 8 gay activist Brad Lewis, a former president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, point to a Washington Post poll released July 18 showing that 54 percent of city residents participating in the poll say Gray should resign compared to 37 percent who say he should not. Nine percent had no opinion on the issue.

“Most people I speak with in Ward 8, both gay and straight, feel he should resign,” said Pannell, who supported Gray in the 2010 election.

Lewis is among only a few LGBT leaders reached by the Blade this week who are calling on Gray to resign.

“I find it simply unbelievable that he didn’t know about this,” said Lewis.

Lewis was referring to a July 10 disclosure by the U.S. Attorney’s office that a Gray campaign operative allegedly helped to illegally disburse and conceal $653,800 in campaign funds secretly given by businessman Jeffrey Thompson. Thompson owns a company that has a $322 million a year contract to administer the city’s Medicaid program.

The campaign operative, Jean Clarke Harris, pleaded guilty on July 10 in U.S. District Court to obstruction of justice and conspiring to break federal and local campaign finance laws. She faces a possible sentence of 30 to 37 months in jail.

Gay activist Rick Rosendall, who serves as vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said in a July 17 column in the Huffington Post that he counts himself among the large number of LGBT people who remain loyal to Gray based on Gray’s long record of support for LGBT rights both as mayor and as chair of the D.C. City Council.

“Beyond loyalty, I take pause from the behavior of U.S. Attorney Ron Machen’s office, whose slow dribbling out of information has set off a media feeding frenzy and a rush to judgment that serve neither justice nor the city’s interests,” Rosendall wrote.

Rosendall and other activists backing Gray note that unlike every other state and large city, where the lead prosecutor is elected by the people, D.C.’s prosecutorial office is headed by a federally appointed United States Attorney who doesn’t answer to the D.C. electorate.

“The prosecutorial targeting of Gray and other top D.C. officials also picks at the scab of colonialism which has long characterized the federal government’s treatment of the nation’s capital and its residents,” Rosendall said in his column.

“If the man committed a crime, let them go after him,” said transgender activist Jeri Hughes. “I don’t think he did. I feel he has too much integrity. All this talk of his resignation is premature.”

Lateefah Williams, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, said the club has not taken an official position on the unfolding federal investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign.

The Stein Club endorsed Gray over incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty in the 2010 election.

“I am personally trying to reserve judgment and let the investigation take its course,” Williams, an attorney, told the Blade. “I want to wait for the U.S. Attorney to lay everything out concerning the mayor.

Asked about the three campaign officials who have pleaded guilty to felony campaign law violations, Williams said, “It’s truly troubling. He has done good things as mayor. It would be troubling if the investigation implicates the mayor.”

Gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Mike Silverstein of Dupont Circle and Alex Padro of the city’s Shaw neighborhood, both of whom backed Fenty over Gray in the 2010 election, said they too oppose calls for Gray’s resignation at this time.

“The most important thing for me is whether the city is continuing to function,” said Silverstein. “It is. The budget is balanced. The agencies are running and the bills are being paid,” he said. “I will withhold judgment on what the mayor knew and when he knew it until the investigation is complete.”

Padro echoed that sentiment.

“I haven’t encountered anyone in the neighborhood or in the community who feels the mayor should resign based on what we know now,” he said. “If it could be shown that he knew illegal activity was going on and he was complicit then he needs to resign. It’s all about what he knew and when he knew it,” said Padro.

Log Cabin Republicans of Washington, D.C., an LGBT political group, released a statement earlier this year calling for Gray to resign.

Gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) joined two of his colleagues – Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) in also calling for Gray’s resignation.

“The legitimacy of the election has been called into question,” Catania said in a statement. “Whether the mayor knew of the shadow campaign or not does not matter. He should not be the beneficiary of that illegality.”

Gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) issued his own statement on July 16 saying he does not believe Gray should resign without further revelations linking him to illegal activity.

“In my opinion, these difficult times require patience and forbearance,” Graham said. “I have confidence in the U.S. Attorney to ferret out the truth in this matter. I want to wait for further developments before taking any other action.”

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

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