April 27, 2011 at 8:09 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Orange wins race for at-large Council seat

Vincent Orange (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Democrat Vincent Orange won the race for an at-large D.C. Council seat in the city’s special election on Tuesday, defeating eight rivals, including interim Democratic Council member Sekou Biddle, who received the backing of most LGBT leaders.

In a development that suggests rank-and-file LGBT voters may have rejected the advice of gay leaders, Biddle lost by lopsided margins to pro-gay Republican Patrick Mara in seven of the city’s 14 precincts identified as having high concentrations of LGBT residents.

Pro-gay Democratic candidate Bryan Weaver trounced Biddle in another five of those precincts in neighborhoods in Ward 1, which is Weaver’s home base. Orange won in the remaining two precincts —  in Anacostia and the Southwest Waterfront — which are believed to have a significant number of black LGBT residents.

Gay activist Bob Summersgill, a former president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance, said the small voter turnout in the election of slightly more than 12 percent of the city’s registered voters makes it difficult to draw conclusions about the LGBT vote.

“With a dismally low turnout, I don’t think there was a gay bloc of voters,” he said. “Most of the candidates were lackluster on our issues and were closely grouped in the mediocre range.”

Summersgill was referring to GLAA’s ratings of the candidates.

Robert Turner, president of Log Cabin Republicans of D.C., which endorsed Mara, disagreed with Summersgill’s assessment. He said Mara’s strong showing in precincts with high concentrations of LGBT residents show that they are not permanently tied to Democratic candidates.

“When presented with a viable alternative, our community is not monolithic,” he said.

Final but unofficial returns released Tuesday night by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics show Orange receiving 28 percent of the vote. Mara came in second with 26 percent. Biddle came in third with 20 percent, with Weaver coming in fourth place with 13 percent.

Democrat Joshua Lopez, who also expressed strong support on LGBT issues, received 7 percent. The remaining four candidates — Democrats Tom Brown and Dorothy Douglas; Statehood Green Party candidate Alan Page; and independent Arkan Haile — received a combined total of less than 5 percent.

Orange, who came out against same-sex marriage when he ran for mayor in 2006, reversed his position on the issue last year, saying he now supports the city’s marriage equality law. He pointed to what he called his strong pro-LGBT record during his tenure as a Ward 5 Council member from 1997 to 2007 on LGBT issues other than marriage equality.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Orange campaigned in many of the city’s gay bars. He received applause when he spoke earlier this month to a crowd attending a drag show at the Southwest gay nightclub Ziegfeld’s. Last week he hosted a meet-and-greet reception at the gay sports bar Nellie’s on U Street, N.W.

A number of LGBT activists backed his candidacy, including veteran gay Democratic and Ward 8 civic activist Phil Pannell, who was trailing in his own race on Tuesday for a Ward 8 school board seat.

Biddle received the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, and was backed by most of the city’s prominent LGBT activist leaders. He spoke out in support of LGBT-related issues in the city’s public schools during his tenure as a Ward 4 school board member.

He also received endorsements from Mayor Vincent Gray, Council Chair Kwame Brown, and seven other Council members, including gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large).

Some political observers said Biddle, who had the reputation of a good-government reformist and progressive candidate, suffered when Gray and Brown came under scrutiny over allegations of cronyism and abuse of government perks.

Gray became embroiled over allegations that a few of his high-level appointees hired family members to high-paying city jobs and that one of his top officials hired a former mayoral candidate to a high paying city job as a quid pro quo for helping Gray in the mayoral race.

Brown came under criticism for arranging for the city to purchase two “fully loaded” Lincoln SUVs for his use as Council chair. He later announced he would seek to return the vehicles after expressions of outrage poured in from constituents and media commentators.

With that as a backdrop, many voters – both gay and straight – may have perceived Biddle as the candidate of the entrenched political establishment at a time when city residents were becoming impatient with “business as usual” by city government leaders, according to City Hall observers.

In January, the D.C. Democratic State Committee voted to appoint Biddle as the interim at-large Council member to temporarily hold the seat vacated by Democrat Kwame Brown, who won election last November as Council chair.

Lateefah Williams, president of the Stein Club, said she doesn’t believe “rank and file” LGBT voters rejected the recommendations of the LGBT activist leaders who backed Biddle.

“The turnout in this election was too low to use it as a barometer to assess the impact of the endorsement of LGBT activists, including the Stein Club,” she said. “In the last Democratic primary, which for D.C.’s purposes is the election, eight of the nine Stein-endorsed candidates prevailed. So that indicates that the unique circumstances surrounding this race had a huge impact on the results.”

Like other activists commenting on Tuesday’s election, Williams said Biddle most likely was “a casualty of the prevailing sentiment against many of our locally elected officials.”

Biddle, Orange, Weaver and Mara each spoke out in support of LGBT and AIDS-related issues during the campaign. So did most of the other five candidates in the race; no one spoke against LGBT rights.

Similar to the city’s Democratic primary election last year in which Gray defeated former Mayor Adrian Fenty, voters in Tuesday’s special D.C. Council election appear to have divided along racial lines.

Mara, who is white, won by a significant margin in the majority white Wards 2, 3 and 6. Weaver, who is also white, won by a large margin in Ward 1, in which whites have a slight majority.

Orange, who is black, won by lopsided margins in majority black Wards 4, 5, 7, and 8.

All but one of the LGBT-oriented precincts are in majority white Wards 1, 2 and 6. Activists familiar with demographic trends in the city’s LGBT community point out that black LGBT residents tend to be dispersed throughout the city as well as within the majority black wards, making it difficult to accurately determine how they vote.

Precinct 112 in Anacostia is believed to have a high concentration of black gays living in various high-rise apartment buildings. Precinct 127, located in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood, is believed to have a significant number of black LGBT professionals, many of whom reportedly work in nearby federal government offices.

Orange won Precinct 112 with 58 percent of the vote, with Biddle coming in second with just 17 percent. Mara received 4 percent and Weaver received 2 percent.

The vote breakdown in Precinct 127 was closer, with Orange winning with 31 percent and Biddle finishing second with 27 percent. Mara finished third in the precinct with 21 percent and Weaver received 10 percent.

Following is the vote breakdown of the leading four candidates in the race in other precincts with high concentrations of LGBT residents. Percentages are rounded:

• Precinct 14 (Dupont Circle): Mara, 50 percent; Weaver, 21 percent; Biddle, 18 percent; Orange, 4 percent.

• Precinct 15 (Dupont Circle): Mara, 39 percent; Weaver 25 percent; 21 percent; Orange, 5 percent.

• Precinct 16 (Logan Circle): Mara, 46 percent; Weaver 18 percent; Biddle, 14 percent; Orange, 8 percent.

• Precinct 17 (Logan Circle): Mara, 41 percent; Biddle, 19 percent; Weaver, 18 percent; Orange, 13 percent.

• Precinct 18 (Shaw): Mara, 25 percent (94 votes); Orange, 25 percent (91 votes); Weaver, 23 percent; Biddle, 16 percent.

• Precinct 22 (14th and U Street, N.W. corridor): Weaver, 33 percent; Mara, 32 percent; Biddle, 19 percent; Orange, 10 percent.

• Precinct 23 (U Street-Columbia Heights): Weaver, 35 percent; Mara, 20 percent; Biddle, 15 percent; Orange, 12 percent.

• Precinct 24 (Adams Morgan): Weaver, 43 percent; Mara, 21 percent; Biddle, 17 percent; Orange, 11 percent.

• Precinct 25 (Adams Morgan): Weaver, 41 percent; Mara, 33 percent; Biddle, 15 percent; Orange, 4 percent.

• Precinct 36 (Columbia Heights): Weaver, 36 percent; Mara, 18 percent (69 votes); Orange, 18 percent (69 votes); Biddle, 14 percent.

• Precinct 89 (Capitol Hill): Mara, 55 percent; Biddle, 16 percent (104 votes); Weaver, 16 percent, 103 votes); Lopez, 7 percent; Orange, 4 percent.

• Precinct 90 (Capitol Hill): Mara, 45 percent; Lopez, 18 percent (55 votes); Weaver, 18 percent (53 votes); Biddle, 14 percent; Orange, 5 percent.

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

  • Thank you, Lou, for pointing out that our community strongly contributed to Mara’s near-win over Orange. It is apparent to this “rank-and-file” gay voter that our “leaders” have little influence or sway inside the community anymore and are largely party hacks.

  • Lou thanks for the good column. What it does show is that endorsements without a lot shoeleather behind them don’t guarentee a candidate a win. Unfortunately for Sekou Biddle there wasn’t much work done for him by some who endorsed him, both activists and politicians, and to make matters worse the Biddle campaign turned down some offers of help as well.

    I for one congratulate Patrick Mara for how well he did. Patrick is a good campaigner. The LGBT community will now have to work closely with Vincent Orange to be sure that he keeps his promises of support to the community in the long run.

  • It also shows we are not so easily lead by the “leaders.”

    Get out in the streets – gay voting clubs – and talk to the people.

    Your endorsement was wrong.

  • The embarrasingly low turnout says much more about voter indifference, and the generally lackluster choices, than it does about a rejection of the views of political groups. Peter was right that Biddle’s GOTV effort was dismal. Orange’s seat will be up in 2012, and the results based on 12 percent of voters showing up will scare away nobody. As for Patrick Mara, good for him for doing as well as he did, but it’s unlikely he’ll have another chance as golden as this special election was. Unlike former Republican councilmember Carol Schwartz, Patrick has done little to separate himself from the national GOP. To make matters worse, the DC GOP made nutjob Florida Congressman Allen West the keynoter for its annual dinner–as if they were channeling the Illinois GOP’s 2004 decision to nominate Alan Keyes for the Senate. I would love to see a more serious effort to elect someone from a minority party, rather than just have Democrats pretending to be Independents. David Catania, of course, is no Democrat. He was Republican before he was effectively driven out of the party. Next year, the Democratic nominee is going to be elected to the Council seat. As for now, Orange’s first act as councilmember-elect was to complain about the small office space he will inherit from Biddle. Well, next year he won’t be able to run as an anti-incumbent.

  • AS long as he is and stays pro gay, I’m not going to be involved. Can you immagien that monstrosity Jackson winning? the worst of the worst of homophobes, who make a fabulous living preaching hate. almost certainly he’s no different then ted haggard, and all the others

  • Lou, to echo Peter’s comment, thanks for the great article. It was a good assessment of the election.

    Rick, you seem to be stuck on stupid. Mara was not running on a national platform. He has always indicated that he was socially moderate. Demanding that he justify the Paul Ryan budget or a particular tax break or piece of Congressional legislation is counter-productive.

    And for the record, Mara’s obvious commitment to local LGBT issues is in stark contrast with the national party. As I’ve said on these pages and others, he was the only candidate in the race who testified in favor of bringing marriage equality to the District. Where was your candidate?

  • Actually it looked the way it was excpected. Most whites went for Mara regardless of him being a republican and African Americans went for Orange with the rest getting the “IN BETWEENS” if you will. It look like it was along racial lines as usual.

  • Mr. Turner, if you are going to hurl insults, you should find something more plausible than “stupid.” I am used to attacks from partisans who reflexively treat any criticism of their candidate as proof that the critic is a standard party hack himself; there is a good deal of evidence, however, that I personally and GLAA organizationally are not in that category. I voted for Biddle as an alternative to Orange, whom I criticized on GLAA’s blog even after his victory (something you seldom see from party hacks), but my fairly blistering criticism of Biddle’s recent letter to Sen. Harry Reid on school vouchers hardly squares with the notion that I viewed him with rose-colored glasses:
    Patrick Mara is a pleasant and energetic fellow who reached out constructively to me after earnting a mediocre rating from GLAA, instead of attacking as the Republican Ward 5 Council candidate did last year. So I give him credit for that. But I would like to see him show more independence from the national party. For example, Mara (like some Democrats including Kwame Brown) supports the congressional imposition of vouchers on the District. That’s not the same as supporting vouchers but respecting the local government’s decision against them. And I didn’t see him criticizing Congress for interfering with the District’s choices on how to spend its local tax dollars, or criticizing the DC GOP for inviting right-wing nutjob Rep. Allen West as keynoter for its annual dinner. When Patrick defeated Carol Schwartz in 2008, one of the big issues in that primary was Carol’s support for a bill guaranteeing a few days of sick leave for workers. Unforgiveable heresy! Please.

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