The LGBT community appeared to be dividing its support between what pundits say are the top three contenders in the city’s April 23 special election in which six candidates are competing for an at-large seat on the D.C. City Council.
With all of the candidates expressing support for LGBT equality, including support for the city’s same-sex marriage law, LGBT voters appear to be assessing the candidates on non-LGBT issues, according to activists following the campaign.
“As has been the case for a long time in our city, we are blessed to be in a position of choosing among friends,” Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said earlier this year.
A large number of LGBT activists have come out in support of Democrats Anita Bonds and Elissa Silverman as well as Republican Patrick Mara. Each has held several LGBT “meet and greet” events, with some of them held in gay bars. A smaller number of activists have expressed their support for Democrat Matthew Frumin.
The only publicly released poll so far, conducted by the Public Policy Polling Company, showed Bonds in the lead among likely voters, with 19 percent, followed by Mara and Silverman, who each had 13 percent. Frumin had 8 percent, with Democrat Paul Zukerberg and Statehood-Green Party candidate Perry Redd each with 2 percent.
But political observers were quick to point out that the most significant finding of the poll was that a whopping 43 percent of those polled said they were undecided less than two weeks before the election. The large number of undecided voters makes it difficult to predict a winner, political observers have said.
One of the first signs that LGBT voters were divided over the field of candidates came in March, when the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political organization, was unable to make an endorsement because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote among club members.
However, Silverman received 55 percent of the Stein members’ vote, with Bonds coming in second with 37 percent.
Mara received the endorsement of the D.C. Long Cabin Republicans. His supporters point out that a number of prominent LGBT Democrats are backing Mara, who also won the endorsement of the Washington Post, and that Mara won in city precincts with large numbers of LGBT residents in two previous elections in which he ran for a Council seat.
Frumin, meanwhile, received the highest rating from the non-partisan Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance — a +7 on a rating scale of -10 to +10. Bonds came in second with a GLAA rating of +6.5. Silverman and Redd each received a +5.5 rating, with Mara receiving a +5 and Zuckerberg receiving a +2.
The candidates’ answers to separate GLAA and Stein Club questionnaires show that each of them indicated overall strong support on LGBT issues, with some losing points for not providing what GLAA says were detailed enough responses to the questions. Others lost points for disagreeing with GLAA on some issues.
Bonds, a longtime Democratic Party leader who has worked in the city government in the past, was appointed to the Council seat on an interim basis earlier this year by the D.C. Democratic State Committee, which she chairs. The appointment lasts until the time of the special election. Bonds is being backed, among others, by former Stein Club presidents Kurt Vorndran and Lafeefah Williams and current Stein Club treasurer Barry Daneker.
Silverman, a former journalist with the Washington City Paper and Washington Post, has worked as a budget analyst in recent years for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, which advocates for reforms in the city’s tax code. She is being backed by a number of LGBT activists, including many of the Stein Club members who voted for her in the club’s endorsement meeting in which no endorsement was made.
Mara, an elected member of the D.C. school board from Ward 1, has been a longtime supporter of LGBT rights and boasts of being the only candidate in the at-large Council race who testified in favor of the city’s same-sex marriage law when it came before the D.C. Council in 2009. Gay Democratic activists Joel Lawson and John Klenert are among the LGBT activists supporting him.
In a sometimes heated debate among LGBT activists, some, including gay Democratic activist and commentator Peter Rosenstein, argue that LGBT people should not vote for Mara because he was a GOP convention delegate and supporter of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who opposes nearly all LGBT rights initiatives, including gay marriage. Mara’s gay backers say Mara is the only “true” reform candidate who promises to fight corruption and cronyism in city government.
Frumin is an attorney in private practice and a Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.
The remaining two candidates, Democrat Paul Zuckerberg, an attorney and longtime advocate for decriminalizing marijuana; and Perry Redd, a Statehood-Green Party candidate and community activist, have received less traction among LGBT activists. The two have raised far less money for their campaigns than the other four candidates.
Mara, Silverman and Frumin have each portrayed themselves as reform candidates and have pointed to city corruption related investigations that led to the arrest and indictment of two D.C. Council members during the past two years.
Although Bonds strongly disputes critics’ claims she is part of the entrenched political establishment, impartial observers say she has a good shot at winning because Mara, Silverman and Frumin are likely to split the so-called “reform” vote.
Observers also believe Bonds benefited from a decision earlier this month by former D.C. Council member and Democratic contender Michael Brown to drop out of the race. Brown would have been in direct competition with Bonds for voters in Wards 5, 7, and 8, according to political observers.