A Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner who was paid by an anti-gay group in 2010 to work on the unsuccessful effort to overturn D.C.’s same-sex marriage law in a voter referendum is working for Mayor Vincent Gray’s re-election campaign as a get-out-the-vote consultant aimed at senior citizens.
Chuck Thies, Gray’s campaign manager, said he hired Robert “Bob” King to assist with the effort to transport senior citizens to the polls on the day of the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.
“Bob is not a political adviser to this campaign,” Thies told the Blade. “He has no influence whatsoever on public policy, internal policy, or strategy — nothing — zero,” said Thies.
Instead, King, who has had ties to the city’s senior citizen community for more than 30 years, will organize logistics to transport mostly low-income seniors to the polls by bus on Election Day, Thies said.
King’s role as a paid consultant in 2010 for the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, surfaced last April when he emerged as an early supporter of the mayoral campaign of D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4). The Bowser campaign at the time listed King as a member of the host committee for the campaign’s kick-off celebration and fundraiser.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, King said he’s been a longtime friend of the Bowser family and decided to support Bowser for mayor before Gray announced he was running for a second term, believing Bowser was the best candidate at that time.
However, he said the Bowser campaign never responded to a proposal he submitted last spring to do get-out-the vote work targeting senior citizens for her campaign. So after Gray announced his candidacy in December and Gray supporters approached him to organize Gray’s senior citizen outreach effort he decided to join the Gray campaign, King said.
“I looked around and I said the lowering crime rate, the improvement in the schools, the bond ratings – and I thought he had done a great job in advancing Mayor Williams and Mayor Fenty’s blueprint” for the city were factors that prompted him to switch his support to Gray, King said.
The Gray campaign’s Jan. 31 report filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance shows that the campaign paid King $2,500 on Jan. 8 for his services during the campaign’s first reporting period.
King told the Blade last April, at the time he was supporting Bowser, that he has never taken a public position for or against the city’s same-sex marriage law. He said he was retained as a consultant by the National Organization for Marriage to coordinate a campaign to place the marriage law on the ballot in a referendum.
“My position was to give the people the right to vote on the issue,” he said. “My personal view is not the issue. The issue was democracy and whether the people should be given the right to vote.”
Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said at the time that King and others who clearly opposed marriage equality for same-sex couples have sought to “hide behind the ‘let the people vote mantra’ in their efforts to kill same-sex marriage laws in D.C. and elsewhere.
“The fact is that no other people’s rights are put to a plebiscite,” Rosendall said.
Thies noted that Gray is a strong supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights and has taken heat from clergy members and many residents – including black senior citizens – for his outspoken advocacy for gay marriage.
“And so when it comes to Mayor Gray’s position on same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues, I don’t think anyone can question his commitment and his dedication to equal rights,” Thies said.
According to Thies, King told him he now accepts the city’s marriage equality law as the “law of the land.”
“I talked to him before I hired him,” said Thies. “I said Bob, I have a problem with this and you need to address this. And he said that’s the past. I accept the law and that is the status quo now.”
King reiterated that on Tuesday, saying he’s interested in meeting with representatives of the LGBT community to open the door to working together on future projects. He said he’s also doing senior citizen outreach on behalf of the re-election campaigns of D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5).
“They are marriage equality supporters and I am working with them,” he said.
Thies said King’s efforts to arrange transportation for senior citizens to the polls will be open to everyone regardless of who they are supporting for mayor.
“We will hire buses and bring them to the senior centers and anyone can board them, including someone wearing a sticker that belongs to one of our opponents,” he said.