April 16, 2014 at 6:00 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Taking sides in ‘painful’ mayoral race
Hillary Rosen, mayoral race, gay news, Washington Blade

Hilary Rosen, a longtime LGBT advocate and CNN commentator, endorsed David Catania for mayor. A Blade survey of prominent D.C. activists reveals a split in support for Catania and rival Muriel Bowser. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

An informal survey of 37 prominent LGBT advocates in D.C. found that 13 of them would vote for Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) for mayor if the election were held this week, 12 would vote for Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), and 12 were undecided.

All but five of the activists identified themselves in the survey conducted by the Washington Blade as registered Democrats This development suggests a significant number of LGBT Democrats who are normally loyal to their party in D.C. elections are considering voting for Catania, the openly gay independent and former Republican.

Veteran transgender activist Jeri Hughes, who was among those saying she’s undecided in the mayoral race, appeared to reflect the views of many in the LGBT community in weighing their choice between Catania and Bowser.

“Party lines become blurred when the independent candidate represents the Democratic Party line supporting the needy and social welfare to a greater extent and better than most Democrats,” said Hughes.

“I am inclined to vote along my party line, Democrat, but I need to know more about Council member Bowser’s vision for the District,” she said.

Hughes was also among about 30 mostly Democratic LGBT activists that met privately with Catania on Monday at Catania’s campaign headquarters on Connecticut Avenue, N.W., to engage in a “frank” discussion on a wide range of issues, including non-LGBT issues, according to those familiar with the meeting.

Others attending the meeting were transgender activists Earline Budd, Ruby Corado, and Alexandra Beninda and gay Latino activist Jose Gutierrez.

Gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, who organized the meeting, said most of the attendees, including him, supported Mayor Vincent Gray in the April 1 Democratic primary and are now either undecided or are leaning toward Catania in the November general election.

Bowser beat Gray in the primary by a margin of 43 percent to 33 percent according to final returns released by the Board of Elections. Six other candidates, including another three members of the City Council, finished far behind Bowser and Gray.

Hudson said he now supports Catania. Although he said Catania’s record on LGBT rights is far more extensive than Bowser’s, his decision to back Catania is based on his belief that Catania is better qualified to lead the city.

David Catania, Muriel Bowser, mayor, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT advocates in D.C. are divided between David Catania and Muriel Bowser in the race for mayor. (Washington Blade photo of Catania by Michael Key; Blade photo of Bowser by Damien Salas)

Among the LGBT advocates supporting Bowser are Bil Browning, founder of the LGBT news blog Bilerico Project, and his partner, Jerame Davis, former executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats.

Other Bowser supporters, as identified in the Blade survey, include Kurt Vorndran and Lateefah Williams, both former presidents of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club; Courtney Snowden, public relations executive and former Human Rights Campaign official; A. Billy S. Jones, veteran gay rights activist; and Riley Temple, an attorney and gay rights advocate.

Gay Democratic activist and businessman Everett Hamilton, who serves as a communications consultant to Bowser’s campaign, said other Bowser supporters include Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign; Jeff Marootian, former LGBT outreach director for the Democratic National Committee; and veteran lesbian activist Sheila Alexander-Reid, a radio talk show producer and founder of the lesbians of color advocacy organization Women In the Life Association.

Also among Bowser’s LGBT supporters is Christopher Dyer, the gay activist who served as director of the City’s Office of GLBT Affairs under former Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Hamilton pointed to a statement released by Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz congratulating Bowser on the day following her primary victory. He said Wasserman Schultz’s strong backing of Bowser would prompt D.C. Democrats, including LGBT Democrats, to remain loyal to their party’s nominee.

“Muriel’s vision to move D.C. in a positive direction resonates with the District’s working and middle class families,” Wasserman Schultz said in her statement. “Her plans to invest in the city’s schools, infrastructure, and economic development embody the Democratic Party’s priorities to increase opportunity for all.”

Although Wasserman Schultz said she believes D.C. Democrats are committed to uniting behind Bowser following the April 1 primary, at least two nationally recognized lesbian and gay Democrats have come out in support of Catania.

Hilary Rosen, a communications firm executive, Democratic Party advocate and commentator on CNN, announced on her Facebook page last month that she’s backing Catania because, among other things, he’s a “candidate who can bring people together.”

Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff to former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and current principal in the Democratic leaning lobbying and public affairs firm Elmendorf-Ryan Communications, raised eyebrows in Democratic Party circles when he, too, announced his endorsement of Catania.

Among other things, Elmendorf serves as chairman of the board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which also has endorsed Catania. The group raises money for openly LGBT candidates for public office across the country.

“I think David is a candidate who can bring people together and most importantly has shown himself to be willing to do the work,” Rosen said in her Facebook statement. “For example, when he chaired the [D.C. Council] Health Committee he created accessible health clinics for residents all over D.C. but most importantly east of the River.”

Others who identified themselves as Catania supporters in the Blade survey include Deacon Maccubbin, former Lambda Rising bookstore owner; Joel Lawson, Dupont Circle civic activist; Roger Moffatt, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in the Southwest Waterfront area; Alexandra Beninda, transgender activist and member of the D.C. Human Rights Commission; and William Waybourn, former publisher of the Washington Blade. Each of them said they are Democrats.

Also identifying themselves as Catania supporters in the survey are Marvin Carter, CEO of the local LGBT charitable group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters; Charles Francis, public relations executive and founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged for the preservation of the papers of the late gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny; and Berin Szoka, a Libertarian Party activist and 2012 supporter of presidential candidate Ron Paul. Carter and Francis said they are registered as independent voters. Szoka said he’s a registered Republican.

Among the 12 Blade survey participants who identified themselves as being undecided in the mayoral race, gay activist Bob Dardano, transgender activist Toni Collins, and gay ANC commissioner and Georgetown University student Craig Cassey said they are “leaning” toward backing Catania. Each said they are registered Democrats.

Gay rights advocate and journalist Isaiah Poole and gay Asian and Pacific Islander association director Gregory Cendana said they are undecided but are leaning toward Bowser. The two said they are also registered Democrats.

Others identifying themselves as undecided are A. Cornelius Baker, former executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic; Bob Summersgill, a Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance; lesbian activist Barbara Helmick, a Ward 1 civic activist; attorney, tax preparer and Ward 1 civic activist Wallace Dickson; and attorney and Dupont Circle civic activist Edward Grandis. All five said they’re Democrats.

Another survey participant saying he was undecided was Robert Turner, the gay executive director of the D.C. Republican Party. Turner, a registered Republican, said the local GOP has the legal authority to nominate its own mayoral candidate and may do so in time for the June filing deadline for the November general election.

In addition to Bowser and Catania, gay Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors and Statehood-Green Party candidate Faith, a former Broadway musician and perennial D.C. mayoral candidate, will also appear on the November ballot for mayor.

Majors and Faith ran unopposed in their respective party primaries on April 1. However, Board of Elections returns show that Faith received 191 votes, 19 fewer than the 210 write-in votes cast for several people not yet identified by the Board.

A Board of Elections spokesperson said Faith was expected to be certified as the winner because she received more votes than any of the individual write-in candidates.

The returns showed that Majors received a total of 30 votes in the primary by Libertarian Party members. Three write-in votes were cast by members of his party.

The Blade’s survey included Majors’ and Faith’s names as mayoral candidates in the November election, but none of the LGBT advocates participating in the survey expressed support for them.

Majors, a D.C. real estate agent and longtime supporter of LGBT rights, has said he plans to wage an aggressive campaign espousing Libertarian Party principles and how they would benefit the city.

The Stein Club, the city’s largest LGBT political organization, did not endorse a candidate for mayor in the Democratic primary because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote of the club’s membership. Gray received the most votes but fell just short of the 60 percent threshold.

In a development that surprised some longtime Stein Club members, the club didn’t take immediate steps to endorse Bowser as the Democratic nominee at its regularly scheduled meeting on April 14.

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said the club’s officers would soon discuss plans for when to hold an endorsement meeting. She noted that the club’s bylaws prevent the club from endorsing a non-Democrat in races where a Democratic candidate is running.

Former Stein President Vorndran, who didn’t attend Monday’s meeting, said the club’s longstanding tradition since its founding in the 1970s has been to endorse Democratic primary winners at the club’s first meeting following the primary if the club had not already endorsed those candidates.

As a Democratic Party organization, endorsing primary winners almost never involved controversy assuming they were supportive on LGBT issues, Vorndran said.

“It was as routine as approving the minutes,” he said.

But he said the club’s apparent hesitation to endorse Bowser at its meeting this week suggests the club’s officers are uncertain that Bowser would garner the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement at this time.

With a number of club members supporting Catania, a sizable number of members would be expected to vote for the option of “no endorsement,” at least two club members told the Blade.

Peoples said the club and its officers are following an endorsement process adopted last year in which a club endorsement-political committee was formed to determine procedures for making endorsements.

“Our goal is to involve members in the process as much as possible,” she told the Blade. “At Monday’s meeting I said that we would take the feedback to the political committee and give them a chance to determine what the best next step is for the process,” she said.

“The only thing that can be inferred from that is that the Stein Executive Committee remains committed to an open and transparent endorsement process,” she said.

The possible complication in the Stein Club’s endorsement process is yet another example of how divisions within the LGBT community over the Bowser-Catania race may create tension between fellow Democratic activists.

“This race has been painful because I have been forced to make choices which adversely affect individuals whom I respect and admire,” said transgender activist Hughes.

“David Catania has been an LGBT champion, an exemplary and effective Councilman, and personally I love him,” Hughes said. “Muriel Bowser has supported LGBT rights and many in our community love her.”

Added Hughes, “It would be a relief to abdicate choice and rely solely on party line, but this choice will have a real impact on how the District will fare and prosper in the next four years.”

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

  • DC Native

    I’m sorry there is NOTHING PAINFUL about anything with me, But I understand this The Blade and it’s conceern is the LGBTQ Community a certain part anyways. However the people that you’re mentioning decisons sway who??? NO ONE.

    Trying to make Bowser look questionable for Republican Catania. Isn’t a GOOD LOOK. And this community is a fragment of the voting block NOT THE MAJORITY! And we’re all waiting for Machem’s indictment of currently Mayor Gray. And for Catania’s sake they better do so because if they don’t. All that grandstanding in front of cameras telling Gray to resign makes me think he will REGRET that whole act!

  • brian

    The hard truth is that DC’s Democratic Party has been shattered from within by a culture of cronyism and corruption perpetrated by the very leaders we Democratic voters put into office over the past 8 years.
    Rank and file Democrats– both LGBT and straight have been BETRAYED– from crooked and dishonest ward ANCs, to crooked and dishonest council members, and to the cronyism and process corruption of TWO DC MAYORS in a row now.
    As was proven when many thousands of Dem voters stayed home on April 1st, rank and file Democrats — straight and LGBT, and of all skin colors — are disgusted and discouraged by that betrayal too.
    It’s not about anyone’s so-called “vision.” That’s just more empty rhetoric and PR. Who seriously believes Adrian Fenty’s legacy of cronyism and empty promises will be changed by his hand-picked crony successor, Muriel Bowser?
    It matters not what ANY public officials have done on behalf of LGBT civil rights. LGBT Democrats owe no allegiance whatsoever to Dem party bosses and Dem leaders who have been tacitly complicit in the perpetuation of DC Dems’ culture of cronyism and corrupt practices.
    Nor do LGBTs activists owe personal or political loyalty to liars, crooks or corruptors of the public’s trust. Such misplaced party loyalty stains all of us and the cause of LGBT civil rights itself.
    DC’s government is at an historic turning point. So is DC’s Democratic Party. It will take a long time and perhaps several elections to return our government and our party to an ethical norm.
    Will our government and our once great local Democratic Party be returned to the hands of the people, or remain largely in the sullied or corrupt hands of the few? Vote by vote, the answer to that question is in the hands of each of us now.

  • brian

    (Are his ‘prominent LGBT friends’ scared yet?)
    “I am SHOCKED that some of my prominent LGBT friends would consider abandoning our party’s fantastic nominee MURIEL BOWSER… I do hope that they will refrain from negative campaigning because that will be quite damaging for future collaboration…” — Jeffrey
    Oh, my! Yep. That looks very much like an implied threat against “future collaboration” with LGBTs.
    I’m guessing this party-bossy warning against “negative campaigning” is defined in this instance as any discussion or commentary critical of MURIEL BOWSER.
    Ain’t it just like a patronizing Bowser party boss to threaten “prominent LGBT friends” with lack of ‘future collaboration…’

  • LeoMarius

    There is no room for partisan labels on a municipal level. Exactly what national issues are relevant to DC’s municipal duties?

    Take away the party labels, which Catania has done as an independent. On the one hand, you have one candidate who was an ANC chair 7 years ago and who is described by her own council colleagues (all within her own party) as a policy lightweight who lacks depth of knowledge and an understanding of the needs of the city. On the other hand, you have a veteran who is respected by his fellow council members for his experience and expertise.

    If it were not for Adrien Fenty’s patronage, no one would have ever heard of Muriel Bowser. She has been unremarkable on the Council and shows no promise as Mayor. It will be a sad day if DC again elects a political featherweight to follow up a corrupt mayor as it did 20 years ago with Sharon Pratt Kelly. It took DC a decade to recover from the Kelly-Barry era all because DC residents voted on party line for what should be a non-partisan office.

    • DC Native

      Roght Leo,

      In laymen’s term DON’T ELECT NO MORE BLACK PEOPLE TO LEAD DC. We want them out of DC. And David being a conservative masqueraded as a indepEndent will get that job done!!!

      HA HA Keep insulting Muriel and watch the TIDE RISE against THOSE THAT TRY IT!!!

  • I’m Just Sayin’

    Let’s turn the tables and ask this question: Had Jack Evans won the primary and Murial Bowser jumped ship and ran against him as an independent, do you really think that DC’s overwhelmingly democratic cadre of black voters would chose party over “one of their own?” The facts are that Bowser doesn’t need LGBT support to win. Catania does. That in itself should inform any LGBT voters choice, should they actually want to be represented in this city. It’s true that Bowser has never been an impediment to advancing gay rights, but it’s equally true that she has never been out front as an advocate. Election rhetoric from even gay-friendly Democrats is not a good predictor of future action when it comes to LGBT support (where’s ENDA?) Given the chance to elect a non-partisan capable gay man, with a strong legislative track record, respected by his city council colleagues, as Mayor of a major US city with worldwide exposure and not taking it is indefensible. The fact that people like Elizabeth Birch don’t get the importance of a Mayor Catania, explains why her tenure as HRC leader was short.

    • DC Native


  • brian

    As far as mayor’s go – there is no democratic or republican way to pave streets, pick up trash, clear snow, build streetcars, invest in infrastructure…So deciding based on party is silly. –Andy
    That’s exactly right, Andy. And partisan politics only encourages more of the cronyism and corruption we’ve seen with the Fenty and Gray Admins and a number of council members.
    DC ought to join 75%+ of other cities and adopt non-partisan elections. That would at least cut down on the party bossism and monied corruption we’ve endured.
    According to the National League of Cities, 18 cities larger than DC have non-partisan elections — ascending by current US Census population projections, they are …
    Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Antonio, Dallas, San Diego, San Jose, Detroit, Jacksonville, Austin, Columbus, Fort Worth, Memphis, Boston, El Paso, Milwaukee, Denver, Seattle and Nashville.

  • Both Democrats and Republicans are Johnny come latelies to gays and their rights, both chasing after public opinion at best, and not leading it. In DC the GOP locally has gay marriage in its platform, and the Democrats do not. But only the Libertarians have 3 gay candidates, and only they have ever run gays as Presidential candidates.

    Berin Szoka, a very bright and able campaigner for Ron Paul in 2008, has to my knowledge never been active in the Libertarian Party. He has a small l libertarian political philosophy, but is in another party and so is a libertarian activist, not a Libertarian Party activist. I suspect he does not know how much his ideas differ from Catania’s.

    One suspects there are voters who think Catania is more a supporter of the market economy or limited government or fiscal accountability than is Muriel Bowser for reasons that are prejudicial, superficial and thoughtless. An African-American, female, non-gay, Democrat, might actually be at least slightly more libertarian than a white, male, gay, former Republican. It is bigotry to assume Catania, who has defended putting taxpayers on the hook for hospital care for undocumented immigrants, regulating pharmaceutical employees, and bailing out government schools when almost all their students leave for charter schools, is more “libertarian” than Muriel Bowser

  • brian

    Catania got us gay marriage when HRC was quivering in the corner, saying the timing wasn’t right. He picked a battle against the odds (and the gay establishment) and he won. My husband and I are direct beneficiaries of his proven leadership. How gays could even contemplate voting for anyone else is beyond me.

  • BriansIons (NB, pls: no longer as “brian”)

    Catania got us gay marriage when HRC was quivering in the corner, saying the timing wasn’t right. He picked a battle against the odds (and the gay establishment) and he won. My husband and I are direct beneficiaries of his proven leadership. How gays could even contemplate voting for anyone else is beyond me. (posted 4/18/14, 10:07 am, above as another “brian”)
    For the benefit of all other Blade reader ‘Brians’ — whether using a first or other name — who feel they must also use a “brian” (lower case ‘b’) name tag, I will use my more familiar, more unique moniker(s) elsewhere of “brian.ions” or “BriansIons”– now and in the future.
    FOR THE RECORD… I am NOT the Blade reader who posted a comment (above) as “brian” at 10:07 am this morning (18 Apr).
    That raises a rather interesting question to consider.
    I do hope there is not an attempt at campaign “dirty tricks” going on here. (It would not be the first time, BTW.) I will be happy to alert readers here again if I detect such.
    Whatever, whoever, the poster is entitled to his personal opinion of course. And I don’t entirely disagree with its sentiment.
    However, to be VERY clear, I try NOT to speak for all ‘gays’ or all LGBT people. We are far too diverse a set of people for that nonsense.
    Moreover, I hope I would not be so presumptuous as to advise an entire group of Blade readers to vote for a mayoral candidate — even one as terrific as David Catania — solely on the issue of Marriage Equality.
    Fact is, Catania’s representation of the ALL of DC, through all his elections, has always been on the basis of addressing the FULL range of issues that face a big American city (over 500,000 in population, i.e.) — as well as some unique issues that face DC as the Nation’s Capital and a non-state, federal jurisdiction.
    David Catania has represented the entire city on COUNCIL for 17 years addressing that full set of issues– including his pioneering leadership on a full range of LGBT issues, which can never be matched by Bowser.
    Indeed, Muriel Bowser, so far appears to seek LGBT votes on the basis that she has a gay campaign manager and a gay brother. Seriously, folks.
    In addition, yesterday, one of Bowser’s supporters, Mr. Slavin (see above posts), a self-described, former DC “Dem party officeholder” even implied LGBTs in DC would suffer ‘damaged future collaborations’ with DC’s Democratic Party if “negative campaigning” was used against Bowser.

    Bowser is an untested, stealth candidate on lots of issues. But speaking of LGBT issues, are any LGBT voters reassured by the Bowser Campaign’s and party-boss supporters’ comments on the subject, so far?
    IMHO, Muriel Bowser should stop playing *politics-as-usual* games.
    Bowser has nothing to fear by conducting a campaign, right NOW, this Spring, that respects the curiosity of ALL voters about her unclear and sparse record on the Council. Bowser is already flip-flopping on education issues.
    Ms. Bowser should debate David Catania, now, and throughout the remaining campaign. DC voters deserve honesty and transparency from their candidates.

  • BriansIons

    Catania got us gay marriage when HRC was quivering in the corner, saying the timing wasn’t right. He picked a battle against the odds (and the gay establishment) and he won. My husband and I are direct beneficiaries of his proven leadership. How gays could even contemplate voting for anyone else is beyond me.
    (Posted 4/18/14, 10:07 am, above as another “brian”)
    One last thing I neglected to mention regarding this likely ruse-identity-posting yesterday… “quivering in the corner” is not a phrase I would ever apply to HRC’s approach to its persistent advocacy of LGBT human rights issues.
    It was (and is) easy for any of us to criticize a methodical, step-by-step approach with respect to any LGBT rights issue — especially when the existing legal protections of our inherent rights were nearly non-existent. Every jurisdiction poses its unique set of legislative challenges to change. Perhaps DC’s most noteworthy has always been the 90-day congressional veto.
    Over time, HRC’s careful, methodical approach to legislative change, nationally (and likewise, GLAA’s similar approach locally) has produced a steady string of accomplishments that LGBTs would not have enjoyed without those step-by-step efforts.
    It is not a zero-sum effort for the LGBT activists and elected officials, however. HRC’s and GLAA’s missions are tempered by their abilities to affect change. Likewise, effective legislators have entirely different abilities and doable missions.
    David Catania recognized the exquisite moment for Marriage Equality change in DC, and he acted without hesitation to get it accomplished successfully. That HRC and GLAA followed and assisted as Catania ‘took the point’ in that effort shouldn’t surprise anyone.
    David used his well-honed legislative skills, working in concert with Phil Mendelson, to make Marriage Equality a secure reality for DC.
    However, that was done in a careful, two-step process. Catania did it in a way that would not trigger serious congressional opposition — a possibility which could have easily set back the cause of Marriage Equality for DC and in other states nationally.
    That is skillful legislating and that is skillful leadership — which, without question, recommends David Catania highly for mayor.

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