The officers of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club announced on Wednesday that the club will hold a special membership meeting on Dec. 19 to consider invalidating its Dec. 3 election in which three new members won three of the club’s five officer positions.
In a development that stunned many of the club’s longtime members, at least 46 mostly young LGBT activists who joined the club less than a week prior to the election appeared to have lined up enough votes to defeat Stein President Lateefah Williams and her two vice presidential running mates, seemingly gaining control of the club.
But this week, several unidentified club members came forward to challenge the election of the three new officers on grounds that the home address for 11 of the new members who voted in the election couldn’t be confirmed, according to a memorandum prepared by an attorney advising the club on the challenges.
The memorandum by Donald R. Dinan, general counsel to the D.C. Democratic State Committee, says the club also could not verify whether another six of the new members qualified for a special membership category under which they joined at a discounted membership fee of $15. The regular membership fee is $35.
Under the club’s bylaws, the special membership is restricted to “senior citizens, students and limited income” members.
“Providing an incorrect or false address would be grounds for disqualifying a voter,” Dinan states in his memo. “Likewise, if one were to misrepresent their status in order to qualify for Special Membership and pay the lower dues, that representation could likewise disqualify the voter.”
Dinan added, “In this case, the number of questionable votes is greater than the margin of victory in each of the three races.”
The challenge to the election comes after a number of longtime Stein Club members expressed outrage that a group of newcomers, most of whom had never attended a club meeting, managed to wrest control of the club from its established officers and members.
Supporters of the new crop of members point out that the club’s rules and bylaws do not prevent people from joining the club immediately prior to an election of officers.
The new members were led by gay political consultant Martin Garcia, 27, who defeated Williams for the club’s presidency by a vote of 47 to 45. Garcia is an account manager for the D.C. based political consulting firm The Campaign Workshop. He worked for three years on election campaigns for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund prior to starting his current job in January.
Angela Peoples, 26, a policy analyst for the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, beat club backed candidate Jon Mandel, a staff assistant to D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), by a vote of 47 to 44. The two competed for the post of vice president for legislative and political affairs.
Vincent Villano, 26, communications director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, defeated club backed candidate Hassan Naveed, a public relations firm staffer and vice chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, by a vote of 48 to 41. If he withstands the election challenge, Villano would become the club’s vice president for administration.
“We are disappointed that the Stein leadership intends to challenge new members who want to contribute to Stein’s growth,” Garcia said in a statement released Wednesday night.
“Stein’s membership rolls nearly doubled because of our recruitment efforts, and that’s a good thing,” he said.
“These new members are young people, people of color, and people from low-income backgrounds who were otherwise not engaged in Stein’s activities…We should be having a special meeting celebrating these new members, and finding ways to engage them.”
Villano said the Stein Club officers who called the special meeting with just a week’s notice appear to have violated the club’s bylaws, which require a two-week advance notice of a special meeting.
In a press release issued Wednesday, the club said its officers voted to call the special meeting to address the challenges to the election “brought by Stein Club members,” whom the release did not identify. The release said any officer whose election may be impacted by the special meeting did not vote on the question of whether the special meeting should be called. Williams, the club’s current president, is the only officer that could be affected by the special meeting.
The club’s current two vice presidents, Julius Agers and Jerome Hunt, did not run for re-election. The club’s treasurer, Barrie Daneker, and secretary, Jimmie Luthuli, were not challenged by the new members and won re-election unopposed.
Dinan said that because the club election was held by secret ballot there is no way of knowing how each member voted.
“Therefore, the number of voters whose addresses and/or Special membership status cannot be confirmed substantially affected the outcome of the election and would be grounds for invalidating the election,” Dinan states in his memo.
Dinan told the Blade in a telephone interview Wednesday night that his memo is not a fact-finding document and that it is the responsibility of the club and its members to determine whether the membership status and addresses of the new members in question are valid.
He said it is also up to the club to decide whether membership category and residential address issues are sufficient grounds for invalidating the election.
The club’s bylaws do not have a residency requirement, and supporters of the new officers say it should not matter whether the new members submitted their correct address on the membership application form.
Kurt Vorndran, a former Stein Club president, said he supports the decision by the officers to call the special meeting. But he said members participating in the meeting should be cautious about what action they take.
“Many club members are unhappy about the way the slate won the election,” he said. “But the question before the special meeting will be if any rules of the club were broken, not about what we think of the election tactics of one side.”
The special meeting is scheduled to take place Wednesday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. in Room 120 of the John A. Wilson Building at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Ward 8 gay Democratic activist and longtime Stein Club member Phil Pannell, who supported Garcia’s bid for the club presidency, said the club’s bylaws and rules don’t define or provide a process for determining whether a member qualifies for a low-income membership.
“Never in the history of the club has a member’s claim to be low income been questioned,” Pannell said. “If this isn’t handled right it could lead to the destruction of the club.”