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New leader in fight to protect Md. marriage law

Levin ‘confident of victory,’ buoyed by recent polls



Josh Levin, gay news, gay politics dc

Josh Levin will lead efforts to defend Maryland’s marriage equality law. (Courtesy photo)

Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the statewide coalition leading efforts to defend the state’s same-sex marriage law against an expected voter referendum, announced on April 11 that it has hired political strategist Josh Levin as the coalition’s new campaign manager.

Levin, 33, a Chicago native who has served as campaign manager for Democratic congressional candidates in Illinois and Ohio, will replace Sultan Shakir, who headed the successful campaign to pass the same-sex marriage measure in the Maryland General Assembly.

A statement released by the coalition says Shakir will become political director in the campaign to defeat a referendum seeking to kill the Civil Marriage Protection Act before it takes effect. Opponents of the law are currently gathering petition signatures needed to place it on the ballot in the November election.

“I’m thrilled to be part of the historic effort to ensure all families and their children have the same legal protections,” Levin said in a statement. “We have a number of advantages this election year, and the momentum is with us,” he said. “We’re confident of victory.”

Levin has served as campaign manager for several U.S. congressional candidates, including Tammy Duckworth in Illinois. He has also served as state director for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq in Illinois, a 2007 effort opposing President George W. Bush’s plans to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Levin also served as regional field director for the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean and later that year worked as field director for the get-out-the-vote effort in Wisconsin for Americans Coming Together, an independent “527” committee supporting Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

“Josh’s campaign experience will be invaluable,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in a statement. “I’m confident voters this fall will come down on the side of human dignity.”

Marylanders for Marriage Equality also released on April 11 results of a poll it commissioned from Hart Research polling firm showing that 51 percent of Maryland voters support upholding the same-sex marriage law, with 43 percent saying they oppose it.

The poll also shows that nearly 70 percent of Obama voters and 30 percent of those saying they would vote for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney support marriage equality.

The poll was conducted March 18-23 among 604 Maryland voters. Marylanders for Marriage Equality did not release the poll’s margin of error.

In an interview with the Blade this week, Levin was asked what makes him confident that the Maryland marriage equality law can survive a voter referendum when same-sex marriage laws have gone down to defeat in all other states that have subjected them to a referendum.

“I think it starts and very nearly ends with 52 percent, which is what the polling says is the portion of the electorate in Maryland that supports marriage equality,” he said. “We have a majority now. We need to grow that and we need to defend it,” he said.

“And we need to take advantage of everybody who has said they’re on our side and is going to help us work on this,” said Levin. “And that’s members of our coalition – the group that hired me, that’s the governor and his commitment. And we will continue to work with the fact that public opinion has changed on this issue and changed quickly in the last two years in Maryland.”

When asked about how voters in California overturned that state’s same-sex marriage law in 2008 after early polls showed voters would uphold the law, Levin said, “I think we learn lessons from every campaign. I learn lessons from every campaign I’ve been a part of.”

He added, “In no way are we going to take anything for granted in Maryland. We’re working hard in communities all across the state because we have supporters in communities all over the state.”

Levin said the main theme Marylanders for Marriage Equality will stress in the campaign is the importance of families.

“We’ve got thousands of committed couples across the state in committed, stable, caring homes and we simply want to make sure that they’re recognized,” he said. “This campaign is going to be about those Maryland families, those gay and lesbian families and their kids and making sure that those kids have the same legal protections that the children of straight families have.”

Asked if same-sex families will be visible in the campaign, Levin said, “Oh yeah – the campaign is all about families. This is a campaign about marriage and marriage is about families. So yes, front and center.”

Following are excerpts from the Blade’s interview with Levin this week.

Washington Blade: Could you tell a little about the campaigns you’ve been involved with in the past?

Josh Levin: Yes, sure. I think the biggest and most relevant ones to us today are the ones talked about in the press release. I was working for Tammy Duckworth back home in Illinois in her congressional primary this year and then for Mary Jo Kilroy, who is a member of Congress from Ohio in 2010. So most of my background is in candidate campaigns, especially congressional campaigns. The bottom line is I’m a campaign type person.

Blade: Do you see similar issues that will surface in this campaign, which is not for a candidate but for an issue?

Levin: I think so. Part of the reason I was hired is because we’re turning the page now to the ballot effort. And I think that my experience is running campaigns with budgets and a staff that we’re going to need like this one and getting everything lined up and moving in the right direction, which is the biggest thing we’re going to need going into November.

Blade: In the course of getting ready for this campaign, have you had a chance to look at past same-sex marriage campaigns that went to referendum in some of the other states like California’s Proposition 8 and the campaign in Maine?

Levin: Sure, and we have been looking at it. We’ve been looking at both what is successful for the folks on our side of the issue and where we fall short. We’re looking at what our opponents are likely to do and what we can expect in terms of opposition. But the great thing is sitting here in Maryland we have some momentum and we have good reason to be confident right now based on what we have seen in other places but especially the unique experiences here in Maryland.

Blade: Are you expecting any particular tactics by the opponents once they obtain the signatures needed to place the referendum on the ballot?

Levin: We’re aware of what has been done in other places, and we expect to see some of the same. There were some documents just a couple of weeks ago that lay out some of the potential strategy that our opponents might follow. But as I said, I think we have a base of knowledge that is going to be helpful to us because of that.

Blade: Is there a budget that the campaign has or do you know what the budget will be in order to wage a successful campaign?

Levin: I don’t think I’m ready to put a number on it but it is going to be significant. The folks who raised the legislative campaign were successful in raising money for that. And I think we’re going to need to go both that and beyond to be successful for the fall. We’re going to have to be out there organizing an awful lot of communities. We’re going to have to get our message out to an awful lot of channels. The governor has already clearly made a commitment. He was up in Connecticut a couple of weeks ago raising money for us. And we have great partners at the table who are raising money from their members and other folks across the state.

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Lesbian candidate trails by just 17 votes in Hyattsville Council race

Election board mum on whether all ballots are counted



Lisbeth Melendez Rivera (Photo courtesy of the Melendez Rivera Campaign)

Lesbian activist and diversity consultant Lisbeth Melendez Rivera was behind her closet rival by just 17 votes on Tuesday night in a three-candidate special election to fill a vacant seat on the Hyattsville, Md., City Council.

In what it said were the unofficial results of the special election, the Hyattsville Board of Supervisors of Elections posted on its website that candidate Emily Strab had 280 votes, Melendez Rivera had 263 votes, and candidate Kelly Burello had 152 votes. Three votes were cast for write-in candidates, the election night posting said.

“Results are unofficial until certified by the Board of Supervisors of Election,” the posting said. The certification was scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6.

The online posting of the results did not say whether there were any outstanding votes from absentee or mail-in ballots. A spokesperson for the election board couldn’t immediately be reached Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

The Ward 2 seat on the 10-member Hyattsville Council in the Prince George’s County suburban city became vacant when the incumbent Council member, Robert Croslin, won election as mayor.

Melendez Rivera currently operates BQN Consulting, a firm she created to provide support services related to organizing, training and capacity building, according to the firm’s website. The website says that from 2014 to 2017 she served as Director of Latinx & Catholic Initiatives for the Human Rights Campaign, the D.C.-based national LGBTQ advocacy organization.

“I congratulated Emily,” Melendez Rivera told the Washington Blade Wednesday morning.

 “Have I said this is the end? No, because I want to wait until tomorrow at 1 to see the outcome,” she said.

“What I know is everything that was available to them was counted as of 9:30 last night,” she said, referring to the election board. “There is a process today. They will do a last check of the mail to see if anything was postmarked before 8 p.m. last night,” Melendez Rivera said in referring to possible additional mail-in ballots.

Melendez Rivera said she portrayed herself as the most progressive of the three candidates running for the nonpartisan City Council seat in a city that many consider to be one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the Washington metro area. Residents starting at age 16 and non-citizen immigrants are allowed to vote in local elections.

Like Melendez Rivera, Strab, a former teacher and school administrator, and Burello, who has worked as a workplace diversity trainer, each expressed support for Hyattsville’s diverse population, including racial minorities and immigrants.

The 698 total votes cast in the special election as of Tuesday night is considered a low turnout in the Ward 2 election district, which has a little over 2,000 registered voters.

This story will be updated when new information becomes available.

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District of Columbia

Gay ANC commissioner nominated for director of D.C. Office of ANCs

Confirmation hearing set for Oct. 12



Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kent Boese (Photo courtesy of Boese)

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) on Sept. 19 introduced a resolution nominating gay law librarian and Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kent Boese to become executive director of the D.C. Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

The ANC Office director, who is nominated and confirmed by the Council, oversees the operations of the city’s 40 ANCs, which consist of nearly 300 commissioners representing single member ANC districts located in neighborhoods throughout each of the city’s eight wards.

Boese currently represents ANC Single Member District 1A08 in Ward 1.

Shawn Hilgendorf, staff director of the D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations and Facilities, which has jurisdiction over the Office of ANCs, said Mendelson nominated Boese for the Executive Director’s position after the committee earlier this year accepted applications for the position and “interviewed a number of candidates.”

The Council’s Committee of the Whole, which is chaired by Mendelson, is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Boese on Oct. 12, Hilgendorf said. The committee consists of all 13 members of the Council. If it approves Boese’s nomination, as expected, the full Council is expected to then take a final vote on the resolution calling for Boese’s appointment.

Boese is a former president of the D.C. Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, which has since changed its name to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. In 2018, Boese ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Ward 1 D.C. Council seat in the Democratic primary.

A resumé for Boese submitted to the Council at the time of his nomination says he has worked since August 2008 as a law librarian, manager of technical services, and manager of library services for the D.C. law firm Wiley Rein.

“I’m honored & humbled by the confidence & support I’ve received from Chairman Mendelson during the selection process for a new Director of OANC,” Boese wrote in a Twitter posting. “I’m excited to leverage my ANC experience & relationships to build stronger supports & new services for ANCs across DC.”

Created under the city’s Home Rule Charter in the 1970s, ANCs serve as non-partisan, unpaid bodies that advise city government agencies on a variety of issues impacting neighborhoods, including zoning, trash collection, liquor license approval, and public safety. Although D.C. government agencies make the final decisions on these issues, they are required to give “great weight” to the recommendations of the ANCs.   

ANC commissioners are elected to two-year terms by the approximately 2,000 people who live in their Single Member Districts.

The director of the ANC Office oversees the administrative affairs, including the budgets, for all of the ANCs. The position became vacant last year when its longtime director Gottlieb Simon resigned. The Council appointed Schannette Grant as interim executive director while it conducted its search for a permanent director.

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Poll indicates Moore well ahead of Cox in Md. gubernatorial race

Democrat has 32-point lead over anti-LGBTQ Republican opponent



From left, state Del.Dan Cox (R-Frederick County) and Democrat Wes Moore. (Screen capture of Cox via WUSA9; screen capture of Moore via WBAL TV 11 Baltimore)

A new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll shows Democrat Wes Moore is ahead of Republican Dan Cox by 32 points in the state’s gubernatorial race.

The poll, which was released on Saturday, shows 60 percent of respondents supported Moore, compared to only 28 percent who backed Cox. The Post and the University of Maryland surveyed 810 registered Maryland voters by telephone from Sept. 22-27.

The results mirror those of the 2020 election, when now President Joe Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump in Maryland by 33 percentage points. The former president has endorsed Cox, who opposes LGBTQ rights.

While the poll reflects the candidate for whom Marylanders are more likely to vote, it also shows the one who is generally more liked. Fifty-one percent of respondents have a favorable opinion of Moore, compared to only 28 percent of respondents who said they feel favorably about Cox.

A Democrat from Baltimore County told the Post that she feels like Moore understand the issues of marginalized communities, 

“He is coming from an African American family and knows how hard life can be,” she said.

An Independent from St. Mary’s County told the Post they agrees with Cox’s opposition to teaching students about gender identity and structural racism in the classroom. The voter also said they feel Republicans can help the economy more than Democrats can.

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