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.
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.”