May 21, 2014 at 5:00 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Stein Club won’t endorse Bowser in mayor’s race
Angela Peoples, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

‘It is important for Stein Club … to do what we can to increase our ranks and turn out our community to win Democratic victories,’ said Stein Club President Angela Peoples.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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.

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

  • Lane Hudson

    The current position of the Stein Club in the mayor’s race is “No Endorsement” and that won’t change until a vote is taken with the membership. Since the bylaws don’t prescribe a process for changing from “No Endorsement” to an endorsement, it would require a 2/3 vote to suspend the rules. Any statement by Angela or other officers that the Stein Club “supports” Bowser is incorrect. The Club’s official position is one of non-support.

    Also, since Angela was unclear on the advertising piece, I’m pasting below the relevant part of the bylaws that address that question:

    In races where the Club’s position is “No Endorsement,” a motion to consider indicating support for more than one candidate in advertisements paid for by the Club, may be approved with a two-thirds vote of those present and voting.

  • Dwayne Bensing

    This article confuses Stein Bylaws and misrepresents the club’s current position in the Mayoral race. The Bylaws clearly state that “If, after a second ballot, a candidate has not received a supermajority vote, the Club’s official position in that race will be ‘No Endorsement.'” As the article mentions, that vote took place, no candidate received the requisite 60%, and therefore the Club’s official position for mayor MUST BE, according to the Bylaws (not based on ad hoc decision by the Board), “No Endorsement.” What was discussed at the meeting was how the club would support all Democratic candidates in the General Election (in which the Club ONLY supports Democrats). The Bylaws state “In races where the Club’s position is ‘No Endorsement,’ a motion to consider indicating support for more than one candidate in advertisements paid for by the Club, may be approved with a two-thirds vote of those present and voting.” Therefore, in the Mayoral race, where there is “No Endorsement,” the Club must vote, by a two-thirds majority of those present, to “support” Bowser. Whether Bowser (and other non-endorsed Democratic candidates) will garner that two-thirds vote will be decided at the next meeting by members attending that meeting. Until then, there is no news.

  • Peter Rosenstein

    Muriel Bowser is the Democratic candidate and clearly the LGBT Democratic club will support the Democratic candidate. The vote to not endorse a particular candidate occurred only for the primary and that vote is now irrelevant.

    Some members of the club can try to play games and interpret the bylaws in different ways but if the bylaws aren’t clear then they need to be changed to state clearly that unless the Democratic candidate is not fully supportive of LGBT human rights then they are the candidate endorsed by the club in the general election.

    Muriel Bowser has strongly supported LGBT rights and has restated that position recently. She has always voted that way during her time on the Council. She is as competent and able to be Mayor as David Catania any day. People confuse the role of a legislator with the role of Mayor. Passing legislation is good it doesn’t necessarily make for a good administrator. I believe strongly that Muriel Bowser will make the better administrator and is better able to bring people together. She will be a Mayor that will make all the people of the District proud.

    • Lane Hudson

      Peter, there is no provision of the Stein Club’s bylaws that make support for a Democratic candidate automatic. In the past, the Democratic nominee has been endorsed by the Club by a cursory vote following the Primary. That has not been done in this race. It is against the rules for the Club leadership to say the Club supports Bowser when an endorsement vote has not been taken. That is plain and simple. The fact that they will not seek an endorsement vote speaks volumes.

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