More than 70 members of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club voted by an overwhelming margin Wednesday night to uphold the election two weeks ago of three new officers who gained control of the club in an upset victory.
The vote came in a special meeting called one week earlier by the club’s current officers to consider whether to invalidate the Dec. 3 club election of Martin Garcia, 27, as president; Angela Peoples, 26, as vice president for legislative and political affairs; and Vincent Villano, 26, as vice president for administration.
“We were all very excited to reaffirm the election of Marin Garcia and his slate,” said outgoing Stein Club President Lateefah Williams, who lost to Garcia by a vote of 47 to 45.
“And I’m very happy that we’re going to be moving forward as a united Stein Club,” Williams told the Blade after the meeting. Williams later said she misspoke and that she meant to say, “As a whole, we overwhelmingly reaffirmed the election of Martin Garcia and his slate.”
In a gesture aimed at avoiding a rift between the club’s old and new members, Williams withdrew from contention for the club presidency in the event that the special meeting voted to invalidate the election of the new officers and called for a new election.
“The new members have a hill to climb here with the old members,” said Stein Club treasurer Barrie Daneker, who won re-election unopposed after Garcia and his supporters chose not to run candidates for the treasurer and secretary’s position.
“But I’m confident that once they see their leadership and if they produce, then Gertrude Stein will be stronger than we’ve ever been in our 37 years of existence,” Daneker told the Blade.
Some feared that a bitter argument would erupt at the special meeting over a proposed challenge to the validity of 17 of the 46 new members who joined the club less than a week before the election.
The new members, who Garcia and his supporters recruited, are believed to have given Garcia, Peoples, and Villano their razor-thin margin of victory over Williams and her slate of candidates seeking the two vice president positions.
But during nearly two hours of discussion, no one moved to take action against the 17 new members, who came under question during the past week when the home addresses for 11 of them couldn’t be verified. Others questioned the qualification of six of the 17 new members who joined under a special membership category with a reduced fee of $15 restricted to students, senior citizens, and limited income people. The club’s regular membership costs $35.
Although many expected the special meeting to divide along the lines of the longtime club members and the new insurgent members who gained control of the club, those speaking in support of upholding the election and withdrawing the challenge came mostly from the ranks of the old members.
Gay Democratic activist and longtime Stein Club member Bob Summersgill said no one presented any evidence or valid rationale for disqualifying any of the new members.
“There is nothing in the bylaws that says anything about where you have to live,” he said. “There is nothing in the bylaws to define low income.”
Gay activists Lane Hudson and Steve Gorman, who are also club members of longstanding, said they were impressed with Garcia and his supporters’ political organizing skills that enabled them to bring in close to 50 new members.
Garcia told the meeting that he and the new members that supported him have been involved in local and national politics and Democratic Party activities. He said his objective is to strengthen the Stein Club by bringing in more members with diverse backgrounds so it can do more in its longstanding role as the city’s largest LGBT political organization.
Transgender activist and longtime Stein Club member Jeri Hughes, who was one of the members who challenged the club election, surprised some at the special meeting when she said the meeting should not vote on the question of invalidating the election or challenging memberships.
Instead, Hughes proposed bringing up the invalidation question at the club’s next regular meeting in January.
As she has in Facebook postings and in a Blade commentary, Hughes called the election a “farce,” saying the winning side “stacked” the election meeting with people who were “strangers” to the club.
While the new members acted within the club’s rules and bylaws, “that doesn’t make what they did right,” she said.
However, when fellow club member Ed Craft told her later that he planned to withdraw from the club because of his objection to the new officers’ takeover, Hughes urged him not to do so.
“I don’t think these are bad people,” she told Craft in a Facebook message Wednesday night. “I think they did something wrong…and foolish, but the club does good work and has done good work. We can still do good work. Leaving serves no purpose.”
Former club president Kurt Vorndran, who was among the longtime members who called for letting the election of the new officer’s stand, introduced a resolution calling for changing the club’s bylaws to restrict the ability to vote in the election of club officers to people who have been members for at least 30 calendar days.
The club voted to table Vorndran’s motion, with the intent to bring it up at the next regular meeting in January.
Craft told the Blade he believes many of the old members will withdraw from active participation in the club due to the flap over the election and for what he said was the failure of the special meeting to enable longtime members to raise concerns and ask questions.
“I feel the meeting tonight was a complete farce,” he said. “I feel it was staged, that Lane Hudson through his motions made it impossible for the meaningful exchange of information that was the purpose of this meeting to take place.”
Craft was referring to a set of rules governing the meeting that Williams and the existing Stein Club officers proposed at the beginning of the meeting but that were changed by motions introduced by Hudson and other members supportive of Garcia’s slate.
The changes, among other things, reduced the length of time for people to speak from three minutes proposed by Williams and the club’s board, to two minutes. Toward the end of the meeting, when a question and answer period called for by the rules proposed by Williams and approved by the meeting participants began, Hudson introduced a motion to end it after just two questions were raised and answered. The meeting attendees — the majority of whom were new members supportive of Garcia’s slate of officers — quickly voted to approve Hudson’s motion.
Craft said the abrupt termination of the question and answer period upset him and other longtime club members who wanted to ask more questions of Garcia and the other newly elected officers.
While Craft spoke to the Blade immediately after the meeting adjourned, club member Robert Brannum shouted to the members collecting their belongings and leaving the meeting room that he was outraged he wasn’t allowed to speak during the closing session of the meeting. When Brannum, who spoke earlier in the meeting, requested to speak at the closing session, Hudson and other members objected, saying the rules adopted at the start of the meeting prevented him from doing so.
“The whole purpose of having an orderly meeting is to achieve the objectives of the meeting, and that’s what we did,” Hudson told the Blade. “People had their say, they came together and we’re in a much better place than when the meeting began.”
In a statement she sent to the Blade Thursday morning, Williams said more effort will be needed to heal the rift between all of the old and new members.
“I think the meeting was successful as an initial first step at dialogue between long term and new members and bringing both groups together,” she said. “Unfortunately, due to some motions that ended the dialogue early, some members still feel that they did not have an opportunity to have their questions addressed.”
Williams added, “I think the key is to look at this meeting as the beginning of the process of healing and not the culmination of it. I hope that all members continue to engage one another to work through any concerns that may still exist. I wish the new board well and I hope that they continue efforts to help bridge the gap between long term and new members.”