Nearly all candidates supportive on LGBT issues are expected to win their races in the Nov. 6 election for seven seats on the D.C. City Council, the city’s non-voting seat in Congress and five seats on the D.C. school board.
But LGBT activists say they are joining fellow citizens across the city in watching with concern the unfolding campaign investigation and past driving infractions surrounding D.C. Council member Michael Brown (I-At-Large), a long-time friend and supporter of the LGBT community.
Revelations this month that more than $113,000 have gone missing from Brown’s 2012 campaign coffers and a Washington Post report that Brown had his driver’s license suspended five times over the past eight years due to traffic violations have fueled speculation that Brown’s re-election bid could be in jeopardy
Brown said his former campaign treasurer, who he fired in late June, stole the campaign funds and the U.S. Attorney’s office is investigating the reported theft. Through his attorney, the former treasurer has denied he stole the money. Brown, meanwhile, has declined to comment on the driving infractions, which the Post obtained through public records.
“I have no legal and ethical issues at all,” he told the Blade.”I’m the victim of a crime and the other stuff is personal.”
The fact that his main opponent, David Grosso, is also supportive on LGBT issues prompted Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance Vice President Rick Rosendall to note that D.C.’s LGBT community has been blessed with highly supportive political candidates and elected officials for the past 20 years or longer.
“It’s a luxury to be choosing between LGBT-friendly candidates,” he said. “It’s a luxury to have to choose among friends. Here in D.C., most candidates are gay friendly. We should remember how lucky we are.”
Two openly gay candidates are running for seats this year on the D.C. State Board of Education. One of them, Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jack Jacobson, is running unopposed for the Ward 2 Board of Education seat.
Longtime Ward 8 gay rights and community activist Phil Pannell is making a second try at capturing the Ward 8 school board seat. Pannell ran and lost his bid for the seat last year in a special election after the incumbent died. Pannell is running against his former opponent and now incumbent Trayon “Tray” White, who has received the backing of Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry (D).
A third openly gay candidate, D.C. libertarian activist and Realtor Bruce Majors, is running as a Libertarian candidate against incumbent D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.). Norton, who is running for her twelfth term, is considered among the most LGBT supportive members of Congress and is highly popular in the LGBT community.
She is considered the strong favorite to win re-election. Majors has acknowledged that his chances of defeating Norton are slim. He said his main objective is to promote the Libertarian Party cause and to capture at least 7,500 votes, which would give the Libertarian Party an automatic place on the ballot in future D.C. elections.
Leaders of the city’s three main LGBT political organizations – GLAA, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, and D.C. Log Cabin Republicans – said this week they would not be taking an official position on an investigation into the Brown campaign’s missing funds.
Stein Club President Lateefah Williams, D.C. Log Cabin President Robert Turner, and GLAA Vice President Rick Rosendall said their respective groups also would not be taking an official position on three proposed D.C. City Charter amendments that will be on the ballot in the November election. The amendments were placed on the ballot as part of a sweeping city ethics reform bill approved by the Council last December.
The Charter amendments, if approved by the voters and later cleared by Congress, will give the D.C. Council authority to vote by a 5/6 majority to remove from office a fellow Council member or a sitting mayor if the mayor or Council member is convicted of or pleads guilty to a felony charge. One of the amendments would also give the Council authority to remove from office a Council member that demonstrates a “gross failure to meet the highest standards of conduct” expected of an elected official.
“This is something we will leave to our individual members to decide,” said Williams, who added that the club might consider taking a position on the charter amendments if members raise the issue at upcoming club meetings.
Of the seven incumbent Council members on the ballot in November, political observers say Brown could become the only one in jeopardy of losing his seat, although most political insiders say they expect him to win unless more damaging revelations surface.
Brown is running in a contest in which two at-large Council seats are at play, with one of them earmarked only for a non-majority party candidate. With Democrats being the majority party in the city, the seat Brown holds and is seeking to retake must go to a non-Democrat.
Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), the incumbent in the so-called “Democratic” seat, is considered the favorite to win re-election in November. Orange, a former Ward 5 Council member, came out against same-sex marriage in past years but has since said he changed his mind and fully supports the city’s same-sex marriage law.
Grosso worked on the staff of pro-LGBT former Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) and is a former staffer to Norton. He has expressed support for LGBT issues during his campaign for Council this year.
Others running for one of the two at-large seats are Republican Mary Brooks Beatty, who has been endorsed by D.C. Log Cabin Republicans; and Statehood Green Party candidate Ann Wilcox, an attorney who has represented gay activist and former Army Lt. Dan Choi after Choi was arrested in one of his White House protests against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Independent candidates A.J. Cooper and Leon Swain Jr. are also running for the at-large seat. Under the city’s election law all seven candidates compete on the same ballot and the highest two vote getters will be declared the winner.
Transgender activist Jeri Hughes appeared to reflect the views of many in the LGBT community in expressing her support for Brown on grounds that his commitment to equal rights for LGBT people and his “good work on the Council” far outweigh any of the media reports about his campaign problem or driving record.
“I’m going to support the people who support us,” Hughes said. “Michael Brown supports us. I have no problem with him.”
In other Council races, acting Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) is considered the strong favorite to win election as permanent Council chair in a Nov. 6 special election to fill the unexpired term of Council Chair Kwame Brown (D-At-Large), who resigned earlier this year after being indicted on corruption related charges.
Mendelson is being challenged by Democrat Calvin Gurley, who expressed mixed views on LGBT issues during a bid for a Council seat two years ago.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), another longtime supporter of LGBT rights, is running unopposed as is Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), another strong supporter of LGBT equality.
Former D.C. Mayor and Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) – both considered strong supporters of the LGBT community in past years – lost support from many of their LGBT allies in 2009 when the two voted against the same-sex marriage law.
The law passed by a vote of 11 to 2, with Barry and Alexander emerging as the only ones to vote no. Both said their constituents were strongly opposed to same-sex marriage. Both also told LGBT activists they remain strong supporters of LGBT equality on nearly all other issues. At an endorsement meeting for the Stein Club earlier this year, Barry pointed out that he was among the nation’s strongest politicians backing gay rights during his years as D.C. mayor in the 1980s and 1990s.
Although the Stein Club had endorsed Barry and Alexander four years ago, Stein members chose not to endorse the two Council members this year. Most political observers, however, consider Barry and Alexander the odds on favorites to win re-election.
The two are being challenged by the two co-founders of Peaceoholics, a city anti-gang youth organization that has received millions of dollars in city funding. Co-founder Ron Moten is running as a Republican against Alexander. The other co-founder, Jauhar Abraham, is running as an independent against Barry. Mouten has pointed out that Peaceoholics has provided support services to LGBT youths affiliated with Checkit, a group with mostly gay and transgender members.
In the race for the city’s so-called “shadow”seat for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Stein Club has endorsed Democrat Nate Bennett-Fleming, who has expressed strong support for LGBT issues. He is being challenged by Statehood Green Party candidate G. Lee Aikin.
In the contest for the shadow U.S. Senate seat, D.C. Log Cabin-endorsed Nelson Rimensnyder is running as a Republican against Democratic incumbent Michael D. Brown, who is unrelated to Council member Michael A. Brown. Statehood Green Party candidate David Schwartzman is also competing for the seat. The city created the shadow congressional seats as unpaid advocacy positions to push for D.C. statehood and D.C. congressional voting rights. The positions have no voting rights or other privileges in Congress.
At least 20 out gays, and possibly far more, are running for seats to the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, which were created as citizen advisory bodies to assist D.C. agencies on neighborhood issues such as trash collection, crime, and liquor licenses for bars and restaurants. There are 296 total seats.
The Washington Blade will provide a full report of the LGBT ANC candidates as they become fully identified in the next few weeks.