Two potential political developments in the current D.C. election cycle could result in both local gay elected officials not retaining their positions. If that occurs, it would be the first time in 17 years without a gay politician holding major elected office in the District.
Would it matter?
When David Catania became D.C.’s first gay elected official in 1997 it was a significant development that startled political observers. Catania, then a Republican, won a citywide D.C. Council At-Large seat in a special election to fill a vacancy on the 13-member legislature. He defeated a high-profile Democratic prior officeholder who had been selected by the party to fill the vacant seat as interim incumbent. Catania was re-elected in 1998 and 2002 as a Republican, and won in 2006 and 2010 as an Independent after changing his registration.
Catania, whose current four-year term is expiring, has formed a mayoral campaign exploratory committee and has indicated he is almost certain to run in the general election. Campaigning for mayor would preclude Catania from seeking re-election to his Council seat. While polling competitively against likely Democratic primary winner Mayor Vincent Gray in a recent Washington Post survey, odds are long that he could win.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham, a gay Democrat and former director of then-named Whitman-Walker Clinic, was elected to represent one of eight Council districts in 1998. Graham won the determinative party primary in Ward 1 with a plurality, defeating the incumbent in a five-person race that included another gay candidate. Now seeking a fifth term, he previously won re-election in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
Graham, 68, had delayed until December a decision on whether to seek re-election. His last primary race was his most competitive, winning 57 percent with two candidates splitting the opposition vote. Graham’s challenge in this year’s primary is facing only one opponent while tarnished by multiple instances of alleged questionable ethical behavior, resulting in censure by his Council colleagues and loss of alcohol-licensing oversight. Should Graham survive the primary, he will face a well-known Democrat running as an Independent in the general election. Many political observers consider Graham’s decision to seek re-election as the fight of his political life.
If Graham loses either the primary or general election and Catania surrenders his seat to run unsuccessfully for mayor, it is almost certain that D.C. will not have any openly gay politicians serving in cardinal positions. Two announced gay candidacies, Council At-Large Republican candidate Marc Morgan and Libertarian mayoral candidate Bruce Majors, are unlikely to be competitive.
When Catania first won election, he enthused at his victory celebration that “I think we’ve made two important milestones. One is the first time a Republican has beaten a Democrat in a head-on race in the city. And as the first openly gay member of the [Council], that is a breakthrough, and it shows how marvelous … open-minded, accepting and truly magnificent the people of this city are.”
Catania’s characterization of the local electorate is truer today than then.
In a city distinguished by its community consensus and public policies providing comprehensive LGBT civil equality, legal protections and administrative equity, the sexual orientation of elected officials is inconsequential. No anti-gay politician is a credible candidate for public office anywhere in the city, and it has been that way for a long time.
Likewise, public acceptance and political accommodation are neither generated nor guaranteed by gay politicians. The non-controversial adoption of Council legislation or city rulemaking related to LGBT-specific concerns is more a matter of delegated domain than cause championing.
LGBT residents are fully integrated into the fabric of local life. Most of us vote for or against candidates, including gay ones, based on a multiplicity of considerations. Similar to those everyone else examines.
Other than mere symbolism, it doesn’t matter whether any or all of the city’s elected officials are gay or not.
This is what equality looks like.