The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, has decided not to schedule a vote from its members to formally endorse Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser.
In an action that has puzzled some of the city’s LGBT Democrats, the club announced in a press release on May 12 that it is supporting the “Democratic ticket” in the Nov. 4 general election in which Bowser and six Democratic City Council candidates will appear on the ballot. The press release doesn’t mention Bowser or the Council candidates by name.
Other Democratic candidates running that the club is supporting are D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and shadow Senate and House nominees Paul Strauss and Franklin Garcia.
“The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club is proud to support a Democratic ticket of experienced leaders and new voices ready to move our party and our city forward,” the press release states.
“As the D.C. LGBT community grows it is important for Stein Club and our members to do what we can to increase our ranks and turn out our community to win Democratic victories,” the press release quotes the club’s president, Angela Peoples, as saying.
Peoples and the club’s Vice President for Legislative and Political Affairs Martin Garcia told members attending the club’s regular monthly meeting on May 12 that a formal endorsement vote was unnecessary because it was “presumed” and expected that a Democratic club would support all Democratic nominees in a city election, according to members who attended the meeting.
Gay Democratic activist and Stein Club member Lane Hudson, who’s backing gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) in the mayor’s race, introduced a motion at the meeting calling for the club to withhold any support for Bowser and other candidates until at least September, when the board of elections certifies all candidates for the ballot.
Hudson’s motion was defeated by a wide margin, a development considered to be a vote of confidence in the officers’ proposals for backing Bowser and the other Democratic candidates.
But at least two club members who spoke on condition that they not be identified said they believe the club’s officers chose not to schedule an endorsement vote out of fear that Bowser would not win the required 60 percent majority to secure the endorsement.
According to the two club members and several other members who spoke to the Blade, an unknown but potentially significant number of Stein Club members are supporting Catania over Bowser in the November election. Although the club’s bylaws don’t allow the club to endorse a non-Democrat in a race in which a Democrat is on the ballot, Catania supporters would have the option of voting for “no endorsement” in a club endorsement election.
If enough Catania supporters voted for “no endorsement,” several club members said, they could block Bowser from receiving the 60 percent super majority required under the club’s bylaws for an endorsement. Such a development would be highly embarrassing for the club, the members told the Blade, and this is most likely the reason that the officers have decided not to hold an endorsement vote.
Peoples disputes that claim, saying the officers were following a club precedent established in recent years in which the club doesn’t schedule a membership vote on endorsements in a general election for Democratic candidates that have not been endorsed in the primary.
“There was no intention on my part to prevent an up or down vote on an endorsement for fear that one candidate or another may not get an endorsement or any Democratic candidate might not get the endorsement,” Peoples said.
“I simply would not jeopardize the opportunity for the club to vote simply because I was afraid of the outcome,” she said.
One possible consequence of not formally endorsing Bowser and the three Democratic Council candidates that didn’t win the club’s endorsement in the primary is that the club may not be allowed to make a campaign contribution to those candidates under the club’s bylaws.
“The vote to make a financial contribution to an endorsed candidate’s campaign must be voted as a separate question from the vote to endorse,” the bylaws state on the issue of campaign contributions.
Peoples said she isn’t sure if that provision actually bans the club from making contributions to Bowser and the non-endorsed Council candidates. But she said a separate section of the bylaws allows the club to take out “newspaper” ads in support of non-endorsed candidates. Peoples said the officers plan to submit a proposal to the members at the June meeting to purchase one or more media ads on behalf of Bowser and the other non-endorsed candidates. She said the members will likely vote on whether to approve the proposal.
The club’s officers talked to former Stein officers, including former president Jeffrey Richardson, on the issue of whether an endorsement vote was necessary for the club to support candidates in a general election, Peoples said. She said the consensus among former officers was that a clear “precedent” exists for not taking a formal endorsement vote in a general election for Democratic nominees not endorsed in the primary.
Peoples noted that the club’s press release focuses mostly on the club’s plans for increasing the turnout of the LGBT vote in the general election following a disappointingly low overall voter turnout for the April 1 primary.
At least one former club president, Kurt Vorndran, disputes Peoples’ assessment that a longstanding precedent exists for not voting to endorse candidates in the general election. According to Vorndran, in past years the club has almost always voted to endorse Democratic nominees that the club didn’t endorse in the primary at the first regularly scheduled club meeting following the primary.
“There has always been an affirmative vote and it’s usually done with all of the fanfare of the approval of the minutes,” he said.
Vorndran called the club’s decision not to vote to endorse Bowser a “mistake,” saying he believes Bowser supporters have enough support among club members to secure the endorsement for her.
“I think whatever plans are being developed may be very well intentioned,” he said. “But I think the way the public will perceive it is that the Stein Club, a Democratic organization, is not coming out 100 percent for the Democratic nominee and it will be perceived as a statement of a lack of confidence in her,” he said.
“And I don’t think that’s justified. Muriel Bowser has been a great friend of our community,” he said.
Gay Democratic activist Paul Kuntzler, a founder of the Stein Club who is backing Catania, said Vorndran’s account of the club’s practices of voting to endorse Democratic nominees in a general election is correct. However, Kuntzler said the current situation is unprecedented because Catania has emerged as one of the strongest non-Democratic contenders ever to run for mayor in a D.C. general election.
“We have never had a division like this in the LGBT community in a general election,” Kuntzler told the Blade.
Catania, who holds one of two at-large Council seats that are reserved under the City Charter for a non-majority party candidate, has received strong support from Democratic voters, including LGBT Democrats, in his past Council races. His supporters predict his long record as a reform politician will prompt large numbers of Democrats to vote for him for mayor.
In the case of Bowser, Stein members were divided in the primary between Bowser and her primary opponents, including Mayor Vincent Gray and Council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large). Businessman Andy Shallal also garnered support among some of the club’s members during the primary campaign.
At a club endorsement forum in March, Gray came in first but fell short of obtaining the required 60 percent threshold, resulting in the club not endorsing anyone in the Democratic mayoral primary.
A similar no-endorsement outcome emerged in the at-large City Council race and the Council races in Wards 1 and 6.
Bowser beat Gray in the primary by a wide margin and emerged as the winner in most voter precincts with high concentrations of LGBT residents.
Incumbent Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) won the primary as did Ward 1 challenger Brianne Nadeau, who defeated gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). Ward 6 contender Charles Allen also won the nomination in his race for the seat being vacated by Wells, who gave up the seat to run for mayor.
D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and incumbent Council members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) won the Stein Club’s endorsement prior to the primary, which the three easily won against token opposition. The three are longtime strong supporters of the LGBT community.
Peoples told the Blade that similar to Bowser, the Stein Club will be supporting Bonds, Nadeau and Allen in the general election without formally endorsing them through a vote of the membership. All three have expressed strong support for LGBT rights, with Bonds having voted in support of LGBT-related legislation during her tenure on the Council.
Bonds also serves as chair of the D.C. Democratic Party for which the Stein Club is a recognized entity with two seats on the Democratic State Committee reserved for the club. Thus its decision not to formally endorse Bonds will likely raise eyebrows among some party officials.
Gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein and transgender activist Jeri Hughes, who supported Gray in the primary, are among Stein Club members who say the club should strongly support Bowser in the general election. Hughes said the club should formally endorse Bowser, even though she personally is undecided over whether to vote for Bowser or Catania.
Gay Democratic activist Everett Hamilton, who serves as a campaign consultant for Bowser, said he isn’t sure why the Stein Club isn’t officially endorsing Bowser. But he said he’s pleased that the club has pledged to support Bowser and looks forward to working with its members on Bowser’s behalf.
“The Democratic nominee is always happy to receive support from Democrats,” he said.