The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political organization, was unable to make an endorsement in three of the five City Council races it considered Wednesday night when no candidate in three of the contests was able to capture a required 60 percent of the vote from more than 140 members in attendance.
D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), a longtime supporter of the LGBT community, easily won the club’s endorsement in his re-election bid after beating Democratic challenger Calvin Gurley by a vote of 120 to 13.
“I’m pleased and honored,” Mendelson told the Blade after the vote. “I’m very proud of my record on LGBT issues, not the least of which is marriage equality,” he said. “I’ve tried to be very supportive and I appreciate the support in return.”
Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) also won the club’s endorsement by beating Democratic challenger Kathy Henderson by a vote of 124 to 13. A third candidate running in the April 1 Democratic primary for the Ward 5 Council seat, Carolyn Steptoe, didn’t attend the forum.
In a development that surprised some club members, challenger Brianne Nadeau finished ahead of gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), a four-term incumbent, by a vote of 70 to 64, with one person voting for no endorsement. Although Nadeau’s supporters called the outcome a victory for her, the vote total came nowhere near the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement.
Graham’s supporters, including former Stein Club President Kurt Vorndran, said the close vote between Nadeau and Graham didn’t reflect the true sentiment of LGBT voters, whom they said would vote overwhelmingly for Graham in the April 1 primary.
Nadeau supporters dispute that assessment, saying the Ward 1 civic activist and former Advisory Neighborhood Commission member has emerged as Graham’s strongest challenger in years.
The voting took place after incumbents and challengers running for Council seats in Wards 1, 5 and 6; an at-large seat; and the position of Council Chair gave opening remarks and answered questions from the audience.
Many of the questions were about non-LGBT issues, highlighting what some Stein Club members said was the perception that LGBT issues may no longer be a key factor because nearly all candidates running for public office in D.C. support LGBT equality.
Close to 200 people attended what the Stein Club called a combined endorsement meeting and candidate forum, which was held at Unity of Washington Church at 1225 R St., N.W.
In yet another surprise to some of the attendees, challenger Nate Bennett-Fleming, who holds the position of shadow U.S. Representative, finished ahead of incumbent Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) by a vote of 68 to 51 in a run-off ballot.
In the first ballot vote, Bennett-Fleming beat Bonds by a vote of 60 to 53. Challengers John Settles and Pedro Rubio came in third and fourth with 14 votes and 12 votes respectively.
In the Ward 6 race, Democratic activist Charles Allen, former chief of staff for Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), finished ahead of Darrel Thompson, a former chief of staff for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), by a vote of 68 to 65. Both have expressed strong support for LGBT rights and have worked on LGBT issues in their previous jobs.
Similar to the Ward 1 and At-Large races, the vote spread between Allen and Thompson was too close to give Allen the 60 percent margin he needed for an endorsement.
“When you have these endorsement processes it’s about who can bring their people out and who can electrify their constituency – and I think everyone did that,” said Earl Fowlkes, a member of the Democratic National Committee from D.C. and Stein Club member who served as moderator at the forum.
“That’s why there were these close races,” he said. “The people that are involved believe their candidate is better and they came out on a cold winter night and stayed for two ballots.”
Fowlkes said the club shouldn’t be disappointed in the lack of endorsements in the three Council races because the division in the vote reflects the sentiment of the club’s members.
All of the candidates speaking at the forum except Gurley, Mendelson’s challenger, expressed strong support for LGBT rights and promised, if elected, to be an advocate for the LGBT community.
Gurley, who received a “0” rating from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, spoke mostly about non-LGBT issues, saying he is committed to cleaning up corruption and waste in the city, which he said would benefit all residents, including LGBT people.
GLAA said it gave Gurley a 0 rating because he didn’t return the group’s questionnaire and it had no knowledge of his view on LGBT issues. At the forum, Gurley said he never received the questionnaire. GLAA President Rick Rosendall has said the group is meticulous in making sure that questionnaires are mailed or emailed to the addresses the candidates submit to the Board of Elections when they file papers to run.
During a period of discussion among club members following the forum, speakers appeared to be equally divided in their support between Graham and Nadeau.
Lesbian activist Barbara Helmick, a longtime Ward 1 resident, praised Graham for his long record of support on LGBT issues but said it was time for “new blood” on the Council.
“Let’s give the new gal a chance,” she said, in urging fellow club members to vote for Nadeau.
Patricia Hawkins, former deputy director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, told of her work with Graham during the years he served as director of Whitman-Walker at the height of the AIDS epidemic and prior to his election on to the Council.
“He’s an important asset to our community and every community,” she said.
The Stein Club is scheduled to hold a similar endorsement meeting and candidate forum on March 6 for the eight Democratic candidates running for mayor, including Mayor Gray. The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, 474 Ridge St., N.W.