D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray finished far ahead of four of his rivals at the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s mayoral candidates forum Thursday night but fell four votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed to win the club’s endorsement.
Gray beat D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), his closest rival, by a margin of 58 percent (112 votes) to 38 percent (74 votes) in a runoff ballot, with 4 percent voting for no endorsement.
“I am so happy about the number of people that came out and supported us tonight,” Gray said after the vote. “It really is an affirmation of our record and we’ll continue to do the things that got us here tonight.”
In a first ballot vote, Gray came in first with 115 votes, ahead of Evans, who received 56 votes. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) came in third with 28 votes, just ahead of Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who captured 26 votes. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) finished fifth with 8 votes. One person voted for no endorsement.
Under club rules, members have the option of holding a run-off vote between the top two vote getters in the first vote if no one obtains the 60 percent margin needed for an endorsement.
In a separate endorsement vote on the contest for the city’s shadow U.S. Senate seat, challenger Pete Ross beat incumbent Paul Strauss by a vote of 93 to 85, with 33 people voting for no endorsement. Similar to the mayoral race, Ross failed to win the endorsement by falling 33 votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement.
Meanwhile, in a development that surprised some Stein Club members, mayoral contenders Andy Shallal and Carlos Allen were disqualified from participating in the forum because they didn’t return a candidate questionnaire that the club requires as a condition for being eligible for an endorsement. The two didn’t attend the event.
Democratic mayoral contender Reta Lewis returned the questionnaire but no one placed her name in nomination at Thursday night’s forum as part of another requirement for endorsement eligibility, according to Martin Garcia, the club’s vice president for political and governmental affairs. Garcia said Lewis also didn’t attend the event.
About 300 people, including D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), turned out to watch the forum, which was held at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington at 474 Ridge St., N.W.
Mendelson and Bonds are running for re-election. Last week the Stein Club endorsed Mendelson but didn’t endorse in the at-large race in which Bonds and three other candidates are running in the April 1 Democratic primary because no one received the required 60 percent of the vote from the club’s membership.
Voting at Thursday’s endorsement forum took place after the participating candidates gave opening remarks and answered questions from the audience, which were submitted on index cards and read by Stein Club member Earl Fowlkes, who served as moderator.
Each expressed strong support for LGBT rights and each has a record of support for LGBT-related issues since the time they won election to the Council, with some, including Gray, pointing to their support for LGBT equality in previous jobs in government or in the private sector.
Evans, who has been on the Council for 23 years, brought with him a stack of 32 LGBT-related bills he said he introduced and helped pass during his tenure on the Council.
“I was the first elected official to support marriage equality at a time when no one was there,” he said.
Gray cited the LGBT-related initiatives he has put into effect since becoming mayor, including a first-of-its-kind transgender job training program. His LGBT supporters, who turned out in large numbers at the forum, have called him the nation’s strongest LGBT-supportive mayor.
“I’m proud to have stood up for what is right in the District of Columbia on behalf of the people who are LGBTQ in the District of Columbia,” he said. “I am proud to have led the fight on the Council of the District of Columbia to be able to approve marriage equality,” he said, referring to his role as chair of the Council in 2009 when the marriage bill came up.
Wells acknowledged that Evans, in his long tenure on the Council, and Gray, in his many LGBT-related initiatives as mayor, have done a lot for the LGBT community. Noting that his record and commitment to LGBT issues is also strong, he suggested that LGBT voters should consider turning their attention to issues such as ethics in government, that impact everyone.
“I am so proud of what we’ve done together to make this a fairer, just city for everyone,” Wells said. “Let me say that everyone on the dais has been part of that,” he said. “Your fight is my fight.”
Bowser said she is proud to have won the club’s endorsement in the past when running for her Ward 4 Council seat.
“I think Tommy is right,” she said. “There have been a lot of people who have worked long and hard so that all the institutions of the District of Columbia are equal. Because of their hard work we’re talking about marriage equality tonight.”
Bowser, among other things, cited her role as co-introducer of a bill approved by the Council earlier this year calling for services for LGBT homeless youth.
Orange pointed to his role as a committee chair to help push through a bill introduced by gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham to add protections for transgender people in the city’s Human Rights Act.
In keeping with the club’s longstanding format for endorsement forums, the candidates were asked to leave the main hall where the event took place at the conclusion of the forum to give club members a chance to speak among themselves on who they support for the endorsement.
Among those speaking on behalf of Bowser was her gay brother, Marvin Bowser.
“Muriel has been up front in support of all of the LGBTQ issues in her campaign, including marriage equality, the anti-bullying law, and the homeless youth bill,” he said. “She’s about supporting the diversity and the vitality of the city,” he said. “She’s fully engaged in all the issues important to that.”
Stein Club President Angela Peoples said that while she’s disappointed that the club was unable to make an endorsement in the mayor’s race, along with the shadow Senate seat and several Council races, the endorsement forum has been beneficial to LGBT voters.
“I’m really proud and humbled and excited to see so much energy from the entire LGBT community,” she said. “The turnout at this event really shows that our LGBT community is diverse. We have straight allies. We have transgender leadership in our organization. We have people who have been here for a long time and also people who are new and excited.”
Peoples said the strong support that all of the candidates have expressed for LGBT equality was a testament to the strength of the LGBT community.