March 6, 2013 at 5:41 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Council race heats up
Patrick Mara, Republican Party, Republican National Convention, Washington Blade, gay news

Patrick Mara at the 2012 Republican National Convention (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein raised eyebrows last week when he called on the LGBT community not to vote for pro-gay Republican candidate Patrick Mara in the April 23 special election for an at-large seat on the D.C. City Council.

In his political column in the Blade, Rosenstein reminded LGBT voters that Mara, while saying he personally supports LGBT rights, was a delegate at the Republican National Convention last summer for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who opposed nearly all LGBT rights initiatives.

“Mara tells anyone who will listen that he doesn’t agree with the Republican Party platform and personally favors marriage equality and full civil rights for the LGBT community and that he is pro-choice,” Rosenstein wrote. “In so doing, he asks us to overlook his active support for candidates and a party that don’t believe those things.”

But longtime gay Democratic activist and D.C. civic leader Joel Lawson, who’s supporting Mara, said Mara’s support for Romney doesn’t bother him and shouldn’t be a problem for others in the LGBT community who are considering voting for Mara.

“I’m a lifelong active Democrat,” Lawson told the Blade. “And the only ‘R’ I’m worried about is reform. And those attacks on Pat are just more nasty fighting that’s hurt D.C.”

Lawson added, “This race is between Pat Mara and business as usual, and Pat is the strongest [candidate] for reform.”

Political observers say people like Lawson – both gay and straight – appear to be part of a growing bloc of voters who are angry about the long list of ethical lapses that have surfaced in city politics over the past several years.

Among the concerns of these voters were the arrest and guilty pleas on corruption related charges by former D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown and former Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas, both Democrats, who were sentenced to time in jail.

The U.S. Attorney’s office continues to investigate illegal campaign finance practices uncovered in Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 election campaign. And the City Council last month voted to reprimand gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who was accused of violating city ethics rules by reportedly interfering with a city contract. Graham disputes allegations that he acted improperly on the contract matter.

Similar to most elections in D.C. over the past 20 years or longer, each of the seven candidates running in the special election – five Democrats, one Republican (Mara), and a Statehood Green Party candidate – are strong supporters of LGBT equality, including same-sex marriage.

The candidates include Democrats Michael Brown, a former Council member who lost his re-election bid last year to David Grosso (D-At-Large); Anita Bonds, chair of the city’s Democratic State Committee, which elected her as interim Council member until the special election is held; former Washington Post and Washington City Paper reporter Elissa Silverman, who most recently has worked as a budget analyst for the progressive think tank D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute; and local attorneys Paul Zuckerberg  and Matthew Frumin, who operate D.C. law firms.

Also running is community activist and ex-offender advocate Perry Redd, who was nominated by the Statehood Green Party.

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance is expected to rate each of the candidates on LGBT issues later this month based on their responses to a GLAA questionnaire that the group has been giving to candidates running for local office for more than 30 years. The Blade will report on the candidates’ detailed positions on LGBT issues when the GLAA questionnaire results are released.

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, is scheduled to hold a forum for the Democratic candidates on March 21 at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington. The club is also scheduled to vote on an endorsement at the forum. But club members say an endorsement is uncertain due to the group’s requirement that a candidate receive a 60 percent majority vote among members to earn the club’s backing.

With each of the candidates supportive on LGBT issues, activists following the campaign say the so-called “gay vote” could be driven by non-gay issues as well as name recognition and the perception of the candidates’ visibility in the LGBT community.

Brown and Mara have run for City Council seats in the past, and each has done well in precincts known to have high concentrations of LGBT residents at various times. Bonds, who has been active in city politics for many years, is less known to non-activists but has support from several key LGBT movers and shakers. Among them is David Meadows, a former Stein Club president, who now works on her Council staff.

Silverman, Redd, Frumin, and Zuckerberg are newcomers to electoral politics and must overcome a lack of widespread name recognition, political observers have said. Silverman, Frumin, and Zuckerberg told the Blade they have been longtime supporters of LGBT equality and, if elected, would push for city policies and laws that strengthen the ongoing quest to achieve full equality for LGBT city residents. Each said they would have voted for the city’s same-sex marriage law had they been on the Council when it came up for a vote in 2009.

Redd couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Longtime Statehood Green Party leader and LGBT rights supporter David Schwartzman told the Blade that Redd is a strong supporter of LGBT equality, including same-sex marriage.

D.C. political consultant Chuck Thies is among the local political observers who believe Mara and Brown are the two frontrunners in the race. Thies told the Blade that gay Democratic activists may be worried about Mara because he has received a significant number of Democratic votes in two previous runs for a Council seat.

In a 2011 special election for an at-large seat, Mara came in second, just behind Vincent Orange, a Democrat with wide name recognition who won the eight-candidate race. Mara beat Democratic candidate Sekou Biddle, who was backed by most LGBT Democratic leaders.

In a development that surprised some gay Democratic activists, Mara won by large margins in at least seven of the 14 voter precincts with high concentrations of LGBT voters.

In the special election set for April 23, Mara has a solid bloc of the city’s Republican voters and could benefit by his Democratic opponents splitting the vote among each other while capturing a sizable portion of the Democratic vote as a perceived reform candidate, Thies said.

Mara’s appeal to Democrats this year surfaced at the Stein Club’s February meeting, when a resolution was introduced to allow Mara to participate in the club’s candidate forum on March 21, even though the club’s bylaws bar the club from endorsing a non-Democrat in races where Democrats are competing.

“Some of us thought it would be useful to the community to give him a chance to speak,” said Christopher Dyer, the Stein Club member and director of the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs under Mayor Adrian Fenty, who introduced the resolution.

The resolution lost by a wide margin, with many club members saying a Democratic group shouldn’t be giving a platform to a Republican candidate. However, longtime club members said the fact that such a resolution even came up suggests that Mara appeals to LGBT voters.

Thies called Frumin the dark horse candidate, who could be a strong competitor to Mara and Brown based on his ability to raise campaign funds. The most recent campaign finance reports filed with the city show he raised just under $72,000 in contributions and kicked in $10,628 of his own money, making him the best funded candidate in the race so far.

Mara has raised just over $20,000 and Silverman has raised a little over $36,000 as of the last finance reporting period. Brown and Zuckerberg had raised around $9,500 during the same reporting period, with Bonds raising $11,000. Redd came in last in fundraising, with just $900.95 as of the last reporting period ending Jan. 31.

Like most special elections, voter turnout is expected to be low, giving key voting blocs, including the LGBT vote, the ability to play a decisive role in who wins. And so far, the buzz within LGBT political circles has been over whether gay Democrats should remain faithful to their party or break ranks and vote for Mara.

“Mara will not win LGBT votes if the community holds him responsible for his work for, and support of, an ultra-conservative party and Romney/Ryan,” Rosenstein told the Blade.

Veteran gay Democratic activist John Klenert, who’s supporting Mara, said that to him, Mara’s strengths outweigh his support for Romney.

“This race comes down to a personal issue: that Pat will serve honestly, with integrity and strong ethics,” Klenert told the Blade. “This is about new blood for an ethically challenged City Council.”

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

  • It is a false choice for Lawson to tell gay voters that we must either endorse corruption or sacrifice our interests by supporting a Romney acolyte.

    If Mara's stated support for gay rights had any substance to it, he wouldn't have tried so hard just a few short months ago to put an anti-gay bigot in the White House. Lawson should understand how vulnerable the District's gay residents are to homophobic intrusions from above.

    Quite obviously, Mara was hoping to be rewarded with a nice job in a new Romney administration, and if getting that gain for himself required him to sacrifice our rights, Mara had no problem with that exchange. Just imagine a world in which Mara's President Romney gave Antonin Scalia an ironclad majority on the Supreme Court. Mara was perfectly willing to foist that on us for his own personal gain.

    No, given that very recent track record, Mara simply cannot be trusted to stand firm on gay rights in the future. Manifestly, all it takes for him to sacrifice our rights for a generation is a Republican bigot dangling an offer of some personal gain in front of him, just like last year. No way!

    If Lawson has no worries at all, he's being very short-sighted.

    • “short-sighted”? Ouch! Well, it is an interesting phrase, given that between us, only one is asking that we look beyond November 2012; and, had the results been sadly different, the other would have had Ms. Bonds or Mr. Brown as our defender/ambassador to a hostile Admin.

  • Makes sense to not split the DC reform vote again and hand this election to an old guard that tramples on so many DC citizens — no matter who they might be.

    • What makes sense is for reformists to stop insulting gays and, instead, settle on a candidate who didn't just betray the gay community and won't divide the gay vote.

      As for trampling so many people's rights, let's contemplate that Scalia Court that Mara tried to make all but inevitable last year.

    • President Obama handily won reelection and it is time to build on gains being made in D.C. Fighting the last national election over again probably won't benefit anyone with a reform agenda. What's going on in Albany?

    • As my original comment made clear, I am not fighting the last national election; rather, I am drawing inferences from Mr. Mara's betrayal of the gay community during it, inferences about his credibility today and his trustworthiness tomorrow. Did I miss his apology to the gay community for betraying us all last year?

      My partner and I live in the U Street corridor, Mr. Siddall. So let's drop the tactic of dismissing me as an outsider, shall we?

  • I think it's simple…

    Vote for the person, who supports our status as 2nd-class citizens by just being a member of the GOP – And HIS party does so, without cessation, on every level of government… from local school boards to state houses and the nasty, nasty Tea-Baggers on the Hill.

    Vote for that supposed "change from within," which never, ever happens in that party, despite all of the Log Cabin' s press releases to the contrary.

    Vote for his posited moderation, as he has his photos taken at the GOP Convention with a rogues' gallery of politicians, who get elected and reelected by spewing anti-gay filth.

    Vote for THAT!

  • I'm 4 Pat….i am a big queer and i am sick and tired of the BS.

  • 8 ways to vote for your own Public Safety (and that of your loved ones, friends and neighbors)…

    1) Ask how each candidate will reverse 6 years of rising anti-LGBT hate crimes in DC.
    2) Ask each for specifics on what should be done about HRW’s recent report of MPD abuses and sex crimes case coverups. For inks to HRW lreport, google…
      “Youtube DC Police Fail Rape Victims”
    3) Ask how each can assure that DC’s police (MPD) is not covering up anti-LGBT hate crimes, too.
    4) Insist upon meaningful crime law enforcement details.
    5) Demand that MPD release their case arrest records on a regular basis for the public’s/ news media’s review.
    6) Demand serious police oversight by Council and its PS/Judiciary Committee
    7) Judge the candidates on how much each, overall, really cares about LGBT and women’s public safety.
    8) Reject candidates who provide usual campaign-season empty platitudes or hand-wringing lip service.

  • This reads as if Lou Chibbaro has endorsed Patrick Mara.

  • I think we would get more reform if Patrick Mara dropped out of politics. His partisan label is toxic to many DC voters, plus he has proven himself to be quite the opportunist.

    He was put up as a candidate by the local Chamber of Commerce in 2008 to defeat longtime gay ally Carol Schwartz (granted, her marriage position was not good) in the GOP primary as revenge for her voting against their economic priorities. Of course he lost the general election.

    In 2010, he ran for and won the Ward 1 seat on the Board of Elections. Having done such a stellar job, less than two months later he announced his candidacy for the special AT Large council seat in April of 2011. Thanks to him, Vincent Orange won since he drew votes away from Sekou Biddle.

    Now he wants to try again. He will only hurt true reform candidates, and he will never win enough of the non-white, non-wealthy vote to be a viable candidate in his own right.

    Support somebody else.

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