As a lifelong Democrat, I was interested to read Lateefah Williams’ March 12 piece in which she argues that LGBT voters should look no further than the political party of a candidate when choosing our next mayor. First, I know Williams and find her to be a passionate advocate for the causes close to her heart. However, the notion that we should blindly fall in line and support the candidate with a “D” at their end of their name does a disservice to our community and is not in the best interest of our city.
Williams would have us look only at a label rather than the quality of a candidate’s character and record. David Catania has fought for the LGBT community and stood up for “Democratic values” more than any other elected official in the District. His efforts to improve public schools, expand healthcare coverage to all District residents regardless of their immigration status, create a medical marijuana program and foster economic opportunity for the entire city speak for themselves and clearly reflect our shared values.
There is no other candidate in the race who can hold a candle to David Catania when it comes to issues affecting both the future of our city generally and our community specifically. David not only authored the bill that brought the District marriage equality, but he was the chief executive of the tireless and relentless campaign to guide it to passage. It was David who brought the various voices of our community together behind an effective and unified strategy and it was David who fought against and stared down the prospect of a ballot initiative that could have been its undoing.
Because of David’s leadership as chair of the Council’s Committee on Health, the District increased the number of publicly funded HIV tests from 8,320 in 2005 to nearly 138,000 in 2012, the final year of his tenure as chair. Further, he was instrumental in taking the District from a place of ignorance about its epidemic to being a national leader in effectively tracking and understanding the spread of the disease. The District’s annual HIV/AIDS epidemiology report that David funded and championed is now a model for jurisdictions across the country. As a result of this work, the number of newly diagnosed cases fell from 700 in 2008 to 363 in 2012 and the number of HIV-related deaths went from 238 in 2008 to 69 in 2012. What’s more, because of his efforts to uncover and address the mismanagement of the city’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program, the number of District residents receiving life-saving medication for free has tripled since 2008 and there is no waiting list.
When the only acute care hospital east of the Anacostia River faced imminent collapse, David took action. He held hearings, rooted out the problems, championed the cause of saving the hospital, and led the effort to secure grants and loans to ensure the hospital’s survival. What was once a facility at risk of being unable to ensure basic patient safety was reborn as “United Medical Center” with new equipment, facilities and patient services. The hospital has seen patient volumes increase and its bottom line drastically improve. If not for David’s intervention, this critical component of the District’s healthcare infrastructure and social safety net would have been lost forever.
In 2013, David introduced legislation to undo the District’s prohibition on surrogacy agreements. Under District law, couples and single people wanting to have children face a fine of up to $10,000 or a year in jail if they enter into a surrogacy agreement. The District is the only jurisdiction in the country with such a prohibition. The legislation authored by David permits surrogacy agreements and establishes a legal framework to protect those agreements.
David authored and guided to passage legislation to undo laws that burdened our transgender brothers and sisters. Until last year, the District required expensive medical procedures before individuals could obtain a birth certificate that reflects their true gender identity. Seeing these laws as outdated and discriminatory, David did something about it. He introduced the “JaParker Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013,” which aligned the District’s requirements with modern medical standards and implemented privacy protections for those seeking a new birth certificate.
Yes, there was a time when David Catania was a Republican. But our community stands for being true to ourselves, true to our beliefs and true to the values of acceptance and fairness. David Catania’s decision to leave the Republican Party more than a decade ago when it was clear that it did not align with his core values and go on to serve as an independent member of the Council is the logical extension of that same ethic.
David Catania may not have a “D” after his name, but I would put his record up against anyone who does. While some have spent their time worrying about labels, David Catania has been busy putting the District of Columbia first.
John Klenert has been a D.C. resident since the Lyndon Johnson administration. He is a longtime member of the Stein Club and serves on the Victory Fund Campaign Board.