April 10, 2014 at 7:00 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Bowser or Catania?
David Catania, Muriel Bowser, mayor, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

The race between David Catania and Muriel Bowser for mayor is dividing the LGBT community. (Washington Blade photo of Catania by Michael Key; Blade photo of Bowser by Damien Salas)

D.C.’s overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning LGBT community will likely be navigating unchartered waters this summer and fall as an LGBT-supportive Democrat, Council member Muriel Bowser, runs against a prominent openly gay Council colleague, independent David Catania, in a hotly contested race for mayor.

“I have no idea how it will come out,” said Rick Rosendall, president of the non-partisan Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.

“Many people are talking about supporting Catania,” Rosendall said. “At the same time, some people are circling the wagons as Democrats.”

Rosendall is among many activists who see a potential dilemma for LGBT voters in a city in which virtually all elected officials and nearly all credible candidates for public office are supportive on LGBT rights. Many have longstanding records of support on issues that were once considered highly controversial, such as the city’s same-sex marriage law.

Bowser’s decisive victory over D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary appears to have come with the support of large numbers of LGBT voters, even though the city’s most prominent LGBT leaders backed Gray.

A Washington Blade analysis of 18 voter precincts believed to have large concentrations of LGBT residents shows that Bowser won 14 of them, with Gray and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells, a Council member from Ward 6, each winning two of the “LGBT” precincts.

Several of the precincts won by Bowser are located in areas long known as “gay” neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Adams Morgan and Shaw. Other precincts she won are in areas considered up and coming neighborhoods into which many LGBT people are moving, such as the 14th and U Street, N.W. corridor, Bloomingdale, and Ledroit Park.

Everett Hamilton, owner of a local public relations firm and longtime gay Democratic activist, is serving as a volunteer communications strategist for the Bowser campaign. He said he believes Bowser captured the majority of LGBT votes for the same reason that she won the overall citywide vote.

“At the end of the day, LGBT people, like all city residents, are going to vote for the person who can best run the city and who they believe is best for the city,” he said.

With a gay brother and a gay campaign manager, Hamilton said no one can dispute the fact that Bowser and her campaign have strong ties to the LGBT community, Hamilton said.

Other political observers, however, point out that Gray was ahead of Bowser and the other mayoral candidates until U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen took the extraordinary step of implicating Gray in an illegal scheme to raise more than $600,000 for Gray’s 2010 mayoral election campaign less than a month before the primary.

Gray has long denied having any knowledge in the scheme that led to the indictment of businessman Jeffrey Thompson, who pleaded guilty to orchestrating the scheme in exchange for being promised a more lenient jail sentence. It was Thompson who has told prosecutors Gray knew about the illegal activity and approved it.

The revelations by Machen resulted in an immediate rise in support for Bowser that many observers believe led to her victory at the polls.

Catania’s LGBT supporters, meanwhile, have said that Catania’s reputation as a reform politician with a strong legislative record on issues such as healthcare, education, and LGBT rights will have none of the negative baggage that Gray had as the general election campaign for mayor moves forward.

Longtime gay Democratic activist Paul Kuntzler, one of the founders of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, surprised many in the LGBT community last week when he announced his support for Catania over Bowser. Ben Young, Catania’s campaign manager, said “many more” prominent LGBT Democrats would soon announce their support for Catania.

Veteran gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, a Blade columnist, has emerged as one of Catania’s leading critics, saying Catania’s status as a former Republican whose philosophy isn’t as progressive as people think will work against Catania in a city with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.

Angela Peoples, president of the Stein Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, said the club’s bylaws prevent it from endorsing a non-Democratic candidate when a Democrat is running in a particular race.

Even if the club could endorse a non-Democrat, Peoples said she expects the club to back Bowser, although its members have yet to set a date to vote on an endorsement.

“As always, I will certainly yield to the will of the membership,” she said. “This election poses an interesting situation for many folks and for LGBT folks in the District as there is an LGBT candidate on the ballot,” Peoples said.

“However, I think what I’ve seen thus far coming out of the primary is Democrats are uniting around Councilwoman Bowser. And I think that’s great to see,” she told the Blade.

Peoples said the club would likely adopt a plan for an endorsement vote at its April meeting scheduled for next Monday night.

The city’s most prominent transgender activists, who were solidly behind Gray in the primary, also have yet to say whether they will back Bowser now that she defeated a mayor that many in the trans community considered a champion for their rights.

Although Bowser has voted for all transgender equality measures that have come before the Council, Catania has been the author of several of those measures, including a landmark bill removing longstanding obstacles to the ability of trans people to obtain a new birth certificate to reflect their transition to a new gender.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • brian

    “With a gay brother and a gay campaign manager, Hamilton said no one can dispute the fact that Bowser and her campaign have strong ties to the LGBT community, Hamilton said. ”
    =====================================================================

    Oh, puh-leeze! Does the Bowser campaign really think they can hoodwink us with implied “we support you” and “close tie” lines out of the last century?

    The Beatles’ manager was gay. Did that make the Beatles the most gay-supportive rock band in history? I don’t think so. And how many LGBTs know close relatives who really aren’t/ weren’t all that LGBT supportive?

    That kind of patronizing thinking is exactly what most LGBT Democrats fear Bowser’s approach to LGBT civil rights and LGBT public safety would actually be. Bowser’s mentor/ sponsor, Adrian Fenty, did not bother to consult with his own Director of OGLBT Affairs. Not even once in four years.

    So far, Bowser’s is a STEALTH CAMPAIGN for LGBT voters– offering little or nothing of substance. Why should LGBT Democrats fall for that again?

  • http://www.davidcatania.com Ben Young

    There’s a big difference between being supportive of LGBT issues and actually doing something about them. That’s the difference between Councilmembers Muriel Bowser and David Catania.

    Since he was first elected, David has taken on some of the toughest issues facing the city and our LGBT community in particular.

    He authored and championed the city’s successful Marriage Equality law in 2009.

    David expanded publicly supported healthcare programs leading to a 50% reduction in the number of uninsured city residents, many of them part of our LGBT community.

    When David became Chairman of the Council’s Health Committee, the city’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic was broken on every level. Through his commitment of resources and aggressive oversight, he oversaw a dramatic transformation, including:

    1. Cutting the number of AIDS-related deaths by 72% from 238 to 66;
    2. Cutting the number of new AIDS cases by a third;
    3. Increasing the number of publicly funding HIV/AIDS tests from 8,300 per year to 122,000 per year;
    4. Tripling the number of individuals participating the city’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program (known as “ADAP”), amounting to 46,000 prescriptions each year;
    5. Establishing an AIDS surveillance and epidemiological data program that is the envy of the nation and the bedrock of our HIV prevention efforts;
    6. Authoring the East of the River HIV/AIDS initiative (later renamed the “Effi Slaughter Barry HIV/AIDS Initiative”) that infused resources in the neighborhoods where the disease was spreading the fastest but where prevention and treatment options were scarce; and
    7. Authoring the law to implement the city’s 1998 initiative to legalize medical marijuana.

    Recently David authored the city’s new law that removes obstacles faced by transgender individuals seeking new birth certificates. In addition, he authored legislation currently pending before the Council that will provide new options for LGBT and other couples to begin families by removing the city’s existing prohibition on surrogacy parenting agreements.

    Currently, David is one of only two D.C. Councilmembers to employ a transgender person through Project Empowerment.

    I have no doubt that Councilmember Muriel Bowser supports all of these issues, but she is responsible for none of them. The difference between the two candidates in this election is that one candidate – David Catania – has a record of results.

    Ben Young
    Catania for Mayor

  • DC Native

    LOL……I see nothing on that list about affordable housing obviously Catania supports major Gentrification and not affordable housing STRIKE 1. Okay look come Nov we’ll all find out who is THE MAJORITY of residents. Supporting causes to cut HIV is wonderful and all. But that isn’t all African Americans are in The District! Besides HIV help he ignores the folks as y’all call us EAST of The River. We are in every ward in DC. But good luck!

    Oh also remember Davis said if Evans, or Wells win (Caucasian) He wouldn’t run. But if Bowser, or Gray (African American) wins he’s running? Just think how that sounds to African American working class and ‘under served’ voters…….LOL!

  • Peter Rosenstein

    I am happy to give David Catania credit for being a successful member of the Council. And I have both supported and contributed to his campaigns in the past. But David in a recent speech to the Victory Fund highlighted one of the reasons I won’t support him for Mayor. One would think listening to him he did all the things he claims credit for by himself. He didn’t . He had a host of progressive democrats that enabled these things to happen. David has often introduced legislation to grab a headline and the final legislation looked very different from what he suggested. The legislation on surrogacy is an example. He introduced it to a headline and then hasn’t done anything to move it forward and when it does move forward prompted by other members of the council it will look nothing like what he introduced. David is much too much of a one man band to make a good Mayor. Watching him deal with those who don’t agree with him can actually be embarrassing.

    The job of mayor is very different from the job of a council member. In that role David has worked for law firms and others and been paid handsomely often for his influence I would assume. We need a mayor who will work collaboratively and understand how to do that with people who have different points of view and come from a different perspective. David isn’t that person.

  • Deacon Maccubbin

    Those who think Muriel Bowser will be a friend to the LGBT community have very little to wrap their optimism in. Yes, she’s voted correctly on several issues of importance to us, and I am grateful for that, but where are the issues on which she’s led? David Catania, on the other hand, has been in the forefront of a great many legislative battle on our behalf.

    You can tell something about a politician by the company they keep. Muriel Bowser invited Robert “Bob” King, a Ward 5 ANC Commissioner, to serve on her host committee during her campaign. Mr. King, you may recall, was a top lieutenant in Bishop Harry Jackson’s assault on marriage equality. Mr. King led the effort to repeal marriage equality by putting it on a referendum ballot. Mr. King was a paid consultant for the notoriously anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and spoke against gay marriage at a NOM rally on the grounds of the Capitol.

    But when I and others questioned the propriety of inviting an anti-gay activist like Mr. King into the inner circle of her mayoral campaign, Councilmember Bowser’s response was to defend Mr. King as “a fixture in this community.” She refused to remove him from her campaign. As Rick Rosendall said at the time, “for a candidate to welcome the support of a documented organizer for bigotry, and even to welcome such a person on their host committee, is at the very least a significant act of disrespect for the LGBT community.”

    We’ve already had one mayor (heck, we’ve had several of them!) who surrounded themselves with questionable characters and people of questionable ethics. We don’t need another.

    David Catania has proven himself to be a man of good character, of exceptional intellect, of unwavering dedication to all the people of the District. He has earned my vote and my support.

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