Lateefah Williams, the president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club who lost her race for a second term in the club’s Dec. 3 election, announced on Sunday that she won’t be a candidate if the club decides to invalidate the balloting for her seat and calls a new election.
Her announcement comes in the wake of an uproar among many of the club’s longtime members over the successful campaign by three young activists who won control of the club by defeating Williams and two vice presidential candidates running on Williams’ slate.
Gay political consultant Martin Garcia, 27, who beat Williams by a vote of 47 to 45, is credited with playing the lead role in organizing the upset victory by arranging for at least 46 mostly young LGBT activists to join the club less than a week before the election and vote for him and his vice presidential running mates.
Angela Peoples, 26, a policy analyst for the U.S. Consumer Financial protection Bureau, and Vincent Villano, 26, communications director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, won the two vice presidential seats on Garcia’s slate.
Club treasurer Barrie Daneker and club secretary Jimmie Luthuli were not challenged by Garcia’s backers and won re-election unopposed. But in winning three of the club’s five officer’s positions, Garcia, Peoples, and Villano were expected to gain control of the club when they take office Jan. 1.
Last week, several longtime members, including transgender activist Jeri Hughes, called for an official challenge to Garcia, Peoples, and Villano’s election. The club’s existing officers responded by calling a special meeting for Dec. 19 to decide whether the election should be invalidated based on the challenges.
Daneker, who is in charge of maintaining the club membership list, said a review of the online application forms for 17 of the new members raised questions about whether some qualified for a lower priced special membership category.
Daneker said the review of the application forms also indicated some of the new members did not submit a valid home address, which could be a violation of club rules.
Those challenging the election say the election should be invalidated if the club determines some of the new members should be disqualified due to membership “irregularities” and the number of disqualified members exceeds the margin of victory of Garcia, Peoples, and Villano. All three won by a margin of between two and seven votes.
The longtime members who called for the special meeting, which is to decide whether the election should be upheld or invalidated, are believed to be supporters of Williams and her slate of officers who lost the election.
Williams announced her withdrawal from consideration for retaining her seat after her current term expires on Dec. 31 in an open letter sent by email on Sunday to the club’s membership.
“While I am deeply humbled and profoundly grateful for the support of these longtime members and I believe that it is important to investigate potential election irregularities, I am also very concerned about the future of the club,” Williams said in her Dec. 16 email.
“It is imperative that the Stein Club move forward into the future as a unified organization, so that we may continue to focus on effectively advocating for the District’s LGBT community,” she said. “To that end, I am removing myself from consideration as the 2013 Stein Club president.”
Williams noted that she recused herself from the vote by the club’s officers, who make up the group’s executive board, to call the special meeting.
“While the decision to hold the special meeting and to possibly invalidate the election results is, and always has been, a different matter than my candidacy, I want to state my intentions unequivocally, so that it’s clear that any decision that is made by the membership at the special meeting should be made independent of me,” Williams said in her email.
Daneker said the club had a total of 190 members prior to the effort by Garcia and his supporters to recruit new members. According to Daneker, 46 new members, including Garcia, Peoples, and Villano, who had not appeared on the club’s membership rolls before, joined the club in the week prior to the Dec. 3 club election.
Although some of the new members have said their recruitment effort doubled the club’s membership, Daneker said the new members appear to have increased the membership from 190 to 236, which is about 24 percent.
Confusion over the membership totals surfaced, Daneker said, when the balloting at the Dec. 3 election showed that a total of 92 ballots had been cast, with Garcia beating Williams by a razor-thin two vote margin. He said some people incorrectly assumed that the 92 people who voted in the election made up most or all of the membership.
When asked why he thought as many as 145 of the 190 existing members didn’t show up for the election, Daneker said, “Historically, we don’t get all the members to come to every single meeting.”
Garcia and his supporters have argued that their election recruitment effort brought in energetic new members who will reinvigorate the club.
“We are disappointed that the Stein leadership intends to challenge new members who want to contribute to Stein’s growth,” Garcia said in a statement released last week.
“These new members are young people, people of color, and people from low-income backgrounds who were otherwise not engaged in Stein’s activities…We should be having a special meeting celebrating these new members and finding ways to engage them.”
In a series of Facebook messages and a commentary in the Blade, Hughes has emerged as the lead advocate for invaliding the election and holding a new election for president and the two vice president’s seats.
An attorney who reviewed the question of whether the Stein Club election can be invalidated has said such an action could only take place if it can be shown that new members gave a false address or joined at the $15 membership rate rather than the standard $35 rate when they were not qualified or the lower rate. The $15 membership is limited under the club’s bylaws to students, senior citizens, and “limited income” members.
Hughes, while saying the issue of possible membership irregularities should be resolved, has called the election a “farce” because the new members stacked the meeting with their supporters.
“It became a farce when a group of new members – most of whom have never attended a Stein Club meeting or participated in the local issues affecting the District – attended the election night process with the sole intention of usurping the Stein Club leadership,” she said in her commentary.
“They are strangers,” she said. “By their own admission, none had been Stein Club members for more than a week.”
Not all of the club’s longstanding members agree with Hughes that the election should be challenged.
Gay Democratic activist Rick Rosendall, who won election last week as president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, is a longtime Stein Club member.
“Jeri, they won according to the rules,” he told Hughes in a Facebook posting. “They represent the biggest influx of talent and energy into the group in a long time. Forcing them out in a special meeting which itself violates the rules is not legitimate,” he said. “Nor does it advance our cause.”
D.C. transgender activist Julius Agers, the club’s vice president for political and legislative affairs, who did not run for re-election, said he, too, considers the influx of new members to be beneficial to the club.
“Let us all strive as hard as we can to be open minded, and not let old thoughts and old prejudices and old loyalties blur our vision,” he wrote in a Facebook posting on Saturday. “These young people have earned their respect from many circles. In fact, they have done amazing things and I for one am thrilled that they are bringing their passion in our direction.”
The special meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19, in Room 120 of the John A. Wilson D.C. city hall building at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.