Supporters of Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and his main rival, City Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), were making a final appeal to LGBT voters for support this week just days before the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.
Two polls released on Tuesday and a separate poll released one week earlier each show Gray and Bowser in a statistical tie and far ahead of the other six mayoral candidates.
Bowser’s dramatic rise in the polls over the past month has prompted her campaign to step up its effort to urge supporters of the other candidates — especially Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) — to switch their backing to Bowser.
Although most observers believe the LGBT vote will be divided among several candidates, some activists say LGBT voters could be a deciding factor in the race if they coalesce behind either Gray or Bowser.
One of the polls released this week by the Washington Post shows Bowser with 30 percent support from a sample of likely voters, with Gray receiving 27 percent. An NBC4/Marist poll also released on Tuesday shows Bowser with 28 percent and Gray with 26 percent.
The poll released one week earlier and commissioned by WAMU Radio and the Washington City Paper showed Gray and Bowser each receiving 27 percent. All three polls show that Gray’s support has largely remained at the same level it was more than two months ago while Bowser’s support has risen by more than 10 points.
According to the NBC4/Marist poll released on Tuesday, among likely Democratic voters, Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) was in third place with 11 percent; Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) was in fourth place with 9 percent; and Busboys and Poets Restaurant owner and progressive activist Andy Shallal and Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) each had 4 percent.
Attorney and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis had 2 percent and businessman Carlos Allen had less than 1 percent. Fifteen percent of the respondents were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent.
“The latest polls are showing what we knew all along — that this is a two-candidate race,” said gay activist and businessman Everett Hamilton, who’s supporting Bowser. “All the candidates are great on our issues and we are really fortunate to have an embarrassment of riches among the candidates,” he said.
“So this election is really not about whether someone will be good on LGBT issues,” Hamilton said. “It’s about things that need to be better in this city.”
Transgender activist Jeri Hughes, who supports Gray, said she was troubled that some opponents of Gray are arguing that people shouldn’t vote for him because of the pending criminal investigation into an illegal shadow campaign on the mayor’s behalf in 2010.
At least four people associated with Gray’s 2010 election campaign, including businessman Jeffrey Thompson, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the raising of more than $660,000 in illegal campaign funds. But despite statements by U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen that more is to come in his ongoing investigation, which began four years ago, no charges have been filed against Gray, who strongly denies any involvement in illegal campaign activities.
“I don’t think the people moving toward Bowser are LGBT people for the most part,” Hughes said. “This is due to allegations against the mayor. Nothing has been proven. I’m very disappointed that so many people are buying into innuendo,” she said.
“I can’t turn away my support because of innuendo,” said Hughes. “I believe the mayor is of the utmost integrity and most people I know in the LGBT community share this view.”
Hughes and Lane Hudson, a local gay Democratic activist who founded an independent LGBT group supporting Gray called Gray Pride, are among a number of activists who consider Gray’s record on LGBT issues to be the strongest in the nation for a big city mayor.
Transgender activists have described as groundbreaking a first-of-its-kind city job training program initiated by Gray aimed at low-income transgender residents, who often face prejudice and discrimination when seeking employment. Also considered groundbreaking by activists was the mayor’s recent directive requiring health insurance companies doing business in the city to cover gender reassignment surgery and other procedures deemed medically necessary for transgender people in the process of transitioning.
“It will be a close race,” Hudson said. “The turnout will be crucial. The more activist types are favoring Gray,” he said. “I feel he is getting around half to a majority of LGBT votes.”
Hudson said he doesn’t think a significant number of LGBT voters have dropped their support for Gray over the 2010 campaign finance allegations. He said that since the start of the campaign late last year he expected the LGBT vote to split along the lines it did in 2010 when LGBT people divided their vote between Gray and then Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Evans and Wells supporters, meanwhile, questioned whether the latest polls accurately reflect the view of the people who will actually turn out to vote. They urged supporters to remain loyal to their respective candidate in a hotly contested election with an outcome that seasoned political observers, including LGBT advocates, said was unpredictable, in part, because the voter turnout is expected to be at an all-time low.
A low turnout is expected, according to political observers, because voters are unaccustomed to having a primary – or any city election – in April. In a controversial action, the D.C. Council voted last year to move the primary from September to April 1.
In addition to Democratic candidates, gay Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors is running unopposed in his party’s mayoral primary on April 1, ensuring that he will be on the ballot in the November general election.
Also running unopposed in the April 1 primary is Statehood-Green Party candidate Faith, a former Broadway musician who has run for public office several times in the past.
At a campaign rally Monday night at the D.C. gay bar Number 9, Evans reminded the mostly gay crowd that he has been on the front lines in support of LGBT rights since he began his tenure on the Council in 1991 when he led the effort to repeal the city’s sodomy law. In his GLAA questionnaire response, Evans lists nearly two-dozen LGBT-related bills he has introduced, co-sponsored or supported that have passed since he became a Council member.
Evans said he’s telling anyone who will listen – including LGBT voters – that he has a shot at winning if everyone familiar with his long record of accomplishment on a wide range of issues votes for him.
“What I’m saying to people is I’m the alternative that you need,” Evans said. “And I can win if you vote for me.”
All of the candidates except Allen have expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality. Although Allen has expressed general support on LGBT issues during candidate forums, he received a “0” rating from the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance for failing to return a questionnaire asking about specific issues. The non-partisan GLAA rates on a scale of -10 to +10.
Gray received a +10, the highest possible rating from GLAA. He received 58 percent of the vote in the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s mayoral endorsement forum, falling four votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement under the club’s rules. With support from Stein Club members divided among the candidates, the club did not endorse anyone for mayor.
Wells received a +9.5 GLAA rating; Evans received a +9, Shallal received a +6, Bowser received a +5.5, Lewis received a +4.5, and Orange received a +3.
The mayoral candidates responding to the GLAA questionnaire each expressed support for a wide range of LGBT issues and initiatives proposed by the non-partisan GLAA. GLAA President Rick Rosendall noted that none of the mayoral candidates were designated as hostile or in opposition to a significant LGBT issue.
Wells supporters point to his role as chair of the Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, where he has pushed through a number of important LGBT-related bills, including a measure easing the ability of transgender people to obtain a new birth certificate to reflect their new gender. Wells has also monitored police handing of anti-LGBT hate crimes in a series of oversight hearings on the subject.
Orange supporters, including LGBT backers from his home base in Ward 5, note that, among other things, he helped push through legislation to create the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs and worked with gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in securing Council passage of an amendment that added transgender people to the D.C. Human Rights Act’s prohibitions against discrimination.
In addition to being a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, Shallal said he regularly arranges for his Busboys and Poets restaurants to host and sponsor LGBT-related events, including “a monthly queer open series that encourages self-expression for the LGBT community.”
Lewis said that as a senior State Department official in the Obama administration, she backed then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s implementation of domestic partnership benefits and spousal privileges to same-sex partners of U.S. Foreign Service employees. “I was proud to have been a part of the administration that made it possible for landmark legislation like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to become law,” she said on her GLAA questionnaire response.
A breakdown of the GLAA rating scores for each of the candidates and their questionnaire responses can be accessed at glaa.org.