The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, voted by acclamation Tuesday night to endorse D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) for the post of City Council Chair.
At an endorsement forum held at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, the club also endorsed Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) in his bid for re-election, D.C. “shadow” Sen. Michael D. Brown, and five candidates running for the D.C. State Board of Education, including gay education board candidates Phil Pannell and Jack Jacobson.
“It’s especially a pleasure for me to be here tonight because of the work I’ve done over the last several years to finally bring marriage equality to the District,” Mendelson told the gathering minutes before Stein members voted to endorse him.
As chair of the Council committee that had jurisdiction over 2009 legislation calling for legalizing same-sex marriage in D.C., Mendelson played a key role in shepherding the bill to passage, working closely with gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who introduced the marriage equality bill.
Mendelson, a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, emerged as the lead candidate for Council chair when the post became vacant earlier this year following the abrupt resignation of Democrat Kwame Brown, who was indicted on corruption-related charges.
Mendelson is being challenged by Democrat Calvin Gurley in a special election for the Council chair post set to take place on Nov. 6, the same day as the city’s regularly scheduled general election. Gurley didn’t attend the Stein forum, although a supporter placed his name in nomination.
Stein members voted Tuesday night against endorsing Council members Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who are considered strong favorites to win re-election on Nov. 6. Both voted against the same-sex marriage law, becoming the only two of the 13 Council members to oppose the measure.
Although Alexander and Barry have supported the LGBT community on other issues, Stein members said the two Council members’ opposition to the marriage equality bill prompted a majority of the membership to oppose endorsing them.
The club voted by a margin of 66 percent to 34 percent against endorsing Alexander and a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent against endorsing Barry, according to results announced by Stein Club President Lateefah Williams.
In the school board contests, Stein members voted to endorse Pannell for the Ward 8 seat over incumbent Trayon “Tray” White. Pannell, a longtime Stein Club member, has been a community activist in Ward 8 for more than 25 years.
Jacobson, a Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, is running unopposed for the Board of Education seat representing Ward 2. Similar to Pannell, he is a Stein Club member and community activist.
In response to questions from club members, Pannell and Jacobson said they would work hard for public school programs aimed at curtailing anti-LGBT bullying and other challenges faced by LGBT youth.
The club also endorsed at-large Board of Education candidate Mary Lord, who was praised by several club members as a “champion” for LGBT-related issues during her tenure as a Ward 2 school board member. Lord chose to run for the at-large seat rather than run for re-election to the Ward 2 seat, clearing the way for Jacobson to run unopposed for the Ward 2 seat.
Her opponent in the at-large race, Marvin Tucker, expressed support for LGBT-related issues, saying he would be an advocate for all students, “gay or straight.”
In other school board contests, the Stein Club voted Tuesday night to endorse D. Kamili Anderson for the Ward 4 seat and Karen Williams for the Ward 7 seat over rivals Villareal Johnson and Dorothy Douglas.
During the forum, each of the school board candidates in attendance said they would support condom distribution in city high schools as an AIDS prevention measure and sex education classes that discuss LGBT-related issues.
The Stein Club’s endorsement of Orange came seven months after the club didn’t make an endorsement for the at-large race in the city’s Democratic primary. At that time, Orange and his main rival, Sekou Biddle, split the vote among club members and neither obtained a required 60 percent margin needed to win an endorsement.
Williams said the club’s endorsement of Orange clears the way for the club to consider making an endorsement of a non-Democratic candidate running for one of the two at-large seats at play in the Nov. 6 election.
Under the city’s election law, only one of the two at-large Council seats up for election this year can be held by a Democrat. With Democrat Orange nominated for re-election to one of the seats, Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At-Large) is running for re-election for the so-called “non-Democratic” seat.
All at-large candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will appear on the same ballot, with voters given the option of voting for two candidates. The two with the highest vote count are declared the winners.
Although it’s possible that Orange could lose his seat if two of the non-Democrats receive more votes than he does, that outcome has never occurred since Congress put in place the city’s current home rule government in 1974 due to the overwhelming Democratic majority among the city’s voters.
Brown, a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, and independent candidate David Grosso, who has expressed strong support on LGBT issues, are campaigning aggressively for LGBT votes. Both are expected to push hard for the Stein Club’s endorsement.
Williams said she expects the club to hold an endorsement forum for the non-Democratic at-large seat in about two weeks.
Independent candidates Leon Swain and A.J. Cooper and Statehood Green Party candidate Ann Wilcox, who are also running for one of the at-large seats, are also expected to compete for the Stein endorsement. Also running for one of the seats is Republican Mary Beatty, who has been endorsed by Log Cabin Republicans of D.C.