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Grosso discusses first months in office

At-large councilmember said ethics and election reform remain top priorities

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David Grosso, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade
David Grosso, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member David Grosso (D-At-Large) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) reflected upon his first seven months in office during an interview with the Washington Blade on Monday.

“It’s been a fairly exciting seven months,” Grosso said while speaking to the Blade in his office in the John A. Wilson Building. “I’ve been getting my feet wet, but also getting a well-rounded education on what happens up here.”

Grosso, who was an aide for then-D.C. Councilmember Sharon Ambrose from 2001-2006 and D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s legislative director from 2006-2007, defeated then-incumbent D.C. Councilmember Michael A. Brown last November for the at-large D.C. Council seat reserved for a non-Democratic candidate.

Grosso said ethics and election reform remain his top priority.

He and Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) in February introduced a bill – the Public Financing of Political Campaigns Amendment Act of 2013 – that would allow candidates to qualify for public financing if they receive contributions of $100 or less from individual donors. Each $100 a political hopeful raises would be matched by $400 under the measure.

“It gets more individuals engaged in the political process,” Grosso said, noting Connecticut and other states have implemented similar systems. “Somebody who donates $10 or $20 can see themselves as having the same political impact as somebody who donates $1,000. It kind of just opens up the doors of the political system.”

Grosso spoke with the Blade less than a week after the D.C. Board of Ethics and Accountability filed Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) $13,600 for accepting gifts from two city contractors.

The Washington Post on July 11 reported that Barry said in a statement he voluntarily disclosed the gifts and his “character and integrity remain intact.” He denied any assertions of an ethics scandal during an interview with MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry two days later.

“I find it extremely disappointing, just in general,” Grosso, who sits on the committee charged with reviewing the allegations against Barry and determining whether the Council should investigate them, said. He also pointed out he recuses himself from votes on city contracts of more than $1 million. “Councilman Barry has shown time and time again an unwillingness to play by the same rules as everybody else. And for me I think that’s just inexcusable.”

Grosso also supports non-partisan local elections and instant run-offs in contests where no candidate wins with a majority of votes.

“That’s a huge problem in our city, especially in special elections,” he said. “You have people winning with 15, 20, 30 percent of the vote, which is not a representative democracy.”

Government has ‘obligation’ to stop anti-LGBT discrimination

Grosso pointed out LGBT rights issues also remain an important part of his agenda.

The Council last month unanimously approved a bill that Grosso introduced alongside Barry and Councilmembers Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6,) Jack Evans (D-Ward 2,) David Catania (I-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) that expands the list of people who can officiate a wedding in D.C. Grosso also co-sponsored a bill his colleagues passed that will allow transgender Washingtonians to change the gender on their birth certificates without having undergone sex reassignment surgery.

Grosso, who received an endorsement from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance during his campaign, noted the country continues to make “great strides” on LGBT-specific issues, but noted it has “a long way to go.”

“Every single day we’re going to find a new thing where discrimination was prevalent, and we’re going to have to fix it,” he said. “It’s our obligation as a government to fix those things.”

Councilman blasts AG vote, supports liveable wage bill

Grosso blasted the Council’s late night vote on July 10 to delay next year’s attorney general election that D.C. voters approved in 2010. He specifically criticized Evans and Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) — who are both running for mayor in 2014 — for supporting the postponement of the referendum’s implementation.

“These people are running for mayor and they think they can just snap their fingers and do away with the peoples’ will,” Grosso said. “But they’re going to turn around in less than a year and ask for the people’s vote. I ask, when are people going to step up and say no, enough is enough with this kind of stuff.”

Grosso, who declined to tell the Blade whether he would support D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray if he were to seek another term in office, has also signed onto a bill that Wells introduced last week that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in the nation’s capital. Grosso said he is also working on a separate measure that would legalize the drug in D.C.

Grosso on July 10 also voted for the so-called Wal-Mart bill that would require the company and other large retailers to pay their D.C. employees at least $12.50 an hour – twice the city’s minimum wage of $8.50 an hour. Gray has yet to publicly say whether he will sign the measure into law.

“We must balance the interest of attracting large retailers to our less developed Wards 5, 7 and 8, while also attracting quality jobs to support our residents and their families,” Grosso said in a blog post on Wednesday.

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17th Street High Heel Race draws large crowd

D.C. Mayor, three Council members, police chief mingle with drag queens

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34th annual High Heel Race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Close to 1,000 spectators turned out Tuesday night to watch D.C.’s 34th Annual 17th Street High Heel Race in which several dozen men dressed in drag and wearing colorful high heel shoes raced along a three-block stretch of 17th Street near Dupont Circle.

As she has in past years, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose office organizes the annual event, gave the official signal for the runners to start the race from a stage at the intersection of 17th and R streets, N.W. 

Joining the mayor on the stage was Japer Bowles, who Bowser recently named as director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, which plays the lead role in organizing the High Heel Race. 

Also appearing on stage after being introduced by Bowser were D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council members Robert White (D-At-Large) and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2).

Bowser, who along with the three Council members delivered brief remarks before the start of the race, said the event highlights the city’s diversity and resilience coming after over a year of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we want the world to know – that even in a pandemic, even when we had to trim the budget, we stayed focused on how we can make life better for our LGBTQ community,” Bowser told the crowd. “And we’re going to keep on doing it,” she said. “We’re investing in making sure everybody in our community is accepted and safe.”

D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee, who walked along the three-block section of 17th Street before the race began, was greeted warmly by bystanders, some of whom called out his name to welcome him to what has become the city’s largest Halloween celebration.

“This is a great event,” Contee told the Washington Blade. “I enjoy coming out to be among D.C. residents and all who find our D.C. culture,” he said. “It’s just a great evening, so we’re happy to be out here supporting our community.”

Members of the D.C. police LGBT Liaison Unit were among the police contingent on duty at the event and overseeing the closing of the streets surrounding 17th Street.

Like past years, many of the race participants and dozens of others dressed in Halloween costumes paraded up and down 17th Street beginning at 6:30 p.m., more than two hours before the start of the race, which was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.  

However, the mayor this year gave the signal to start the race at about 8:35 p.m. Although a large number of drag runners participated in the race, some who planned to join the race didn’t make it to the starting line in time because they expected the race to begin at 9 p.m. as advertised, according to people in the crowd who knew those who missed the race.

To ensure that everyone had an opportunity to participate, Bowles and others from the mayor’s office agreed to hold a second race about a half hour after the first one. The number of participants in the second race appeared to be about the same as those who joined the first race, indicating many of the drag participants ran twice.

“This is a special treat,” said one bystander. “We got to see two races instead of one.” 

The High Heel Race was cancelled last year due to restrictions related to the COVID pandemic. Many in the crowd watching the race on Tuesday night said they were delighted the city decided to go ahead with the event this year at a time when other large events continue to be canceled or postponed.

Also similar to past years when the High Heel Race took place, the restaurants and bars that line 17th Street were filled on Tuesday night, including the gay bars JR.’s and Windows as well as the longtime LGBTQ-friendly Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse.

Prior to the mayor’s arrival, gay local radio and TV personality Jimmy Alexander of DCW 50 TV served as host to a drag show and costume contest on the stage. DCW 50 also set up and hosted a separate stage on the sidewalk next to JR.’s bar in which race participants and others dressed in costumes were invited to have their pictures taken and provided with copies of the photos of themselves.

“I think it’s amazing,” Bowser told the Blade after the completion of the first race. “It’s good to be back. It was tough missing a year of activities,” she said referring to the business shutdowns brought about by the pandemic. “We had a lot of great, beautiful racers. And so, I’m really excited about it.”

To see more photos from this event, click here.

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Gay attorney’s plans to run for Del. Senate foiled by redistricting

Activists say move will ‘dilute’ LGBTQ vote

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Mitch Crane, gay news, Washington Blade
Gay Democratic activist Mitch Crane. (Photo courtesy Crane)

Plans by Delaware gay attorney and Democratic Party activist Mitch Crane to run for a seat in the Delaware State Senate in a district that included areas surrounding the town of Lewes, where Crane lives, and Rehoboth Beach ended abruptly this week when state officials approved a redistricting plan that removes Crane’s residence from the district.

The seat for which Crane planned to run is in Delaware’s 6th Senate District which, in addition to Lewes and Rehoboth, includes the towns of Dewey Beach, Harbeson, Milton, and surrounding areas, according to the state Senate’s website. 

The seat is currently held by Ernesto “Ernie” Lopez, a moderate Republican who became the first Hispanic American elected to the Delaware Senate in 2012. Lopez announced in July that he would not seek re-election in 2022. 

The redistricting plan, which was approved by leaders of the Democratic-controlled Delaware General Assembly, places the section of the Lewes postal district where Crane lives into the 19th Senate District. Crane said that district is in a heavily Republican and conservative part of the state dominated by supporters of President Donald Trump who remain Trump supporters.

Under Delaware law, changes in the district lines of state Senate and House districts, which takes place every 10 years following the U.S. Census count, are decided by the Delaware General Assembly, which is the state legislative body.

Crane told the Washington Blade that neither he nor any other Democrat would have a realistic chance of winning the State Senate seat next year in the 19th District.

“Jesus could not win in that district if he was a Democrat,” said Crane.

Crane said a Democratic candidate could win next year in the reconfigured 6th Senate District now that incumbent Lopez will not be seeking re-election.

The Cape Gazette, the Delaware newspaper, reported in an Oct. 22 story that Crane was one of at least two witnesses that testified at a two-day virtual hearing held Oct. 18-19 by a State Senate committee, that the proposed redistricting would dilute the LGBTQ vote in the 6th District and the draft proposal should be changed.

 “The proposed lines remove a significant percentage of the LGBTQ residents from the current 6th District where most of such residents of southern Delaware live and place them in the 19th District which has a smaller such population,” the Cape Gazette quoted Crane telling the committee. “By doing so, it dilutes the impact of the gay community which shares political beliefs,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

“The proposed lines dilute the voting power of the LGBTQ community in addition to others who respect diversity,” the Cape Gazette quoted 6th District resident Sandy Spence as telling the committee. 

In an Oct. 10 email sent to potential supporters before the redistricting plan was approved, Crane said he believes he has the experience and record that make him a strong candidate for the state Senate seat. He is a former chair of the Sussex County Democratic Party, where Rehoboth and Lewes are located; and he currently serves as an adjunct professor at Delaware State University’s graduate school, where he teaches American Governance and Administration.

He is a past president of the Delaware Stonewall PAC, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, and he’s the state’s former Deputy Insurance Commissioner.

 “I intend to focus on smart growth in Sussex County; work on the problems of homelessness and the need for affordable housing; and assuring that this district receives its fair portion of tax dollars,” he said in his Oct. 10 email message announcing his candidacy.

Crane said he posted a Facebook message on Oct. 26 informing supporters that the redrawn district lines removed him from the district, and he is no longer a candidate.

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MSNBC’s Capehart to host SMYAL’s Fall Brunch Nov. 6

Ashland Johnson to serve as keynote speaker

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Gay journalist Jonathan Capehart will host SMYAL’s Fall Brunch. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Pulitzer Prizing-winning gay journalist Jonathan Capehart, the anchor of MSNBC’s “Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart,” will serve as host for the 24th Annual SMYAL Fall Brunch scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 6, at D.C.’s Marriott Marquis Hotel.

The annual Fall Brunch serves as one of the largest fundraising events for SMYAL, which advocates and provides services for LGBTQ youth in the D.C. metropolitan area. 

“Each year, a community of advocates, changemakers, and supporters comes together at the Fall Brunch to raise much-needed funds to support and expand critical programs and services for queer and trans youth in the DMV area,” a statement released by the organization says.

The statement says attorney and former Division I women’s collegiate basketball athlete Ashland Johnson will be the keynote speaker at the SMYAL Fall Brunch. Johnson founded the sports project called The Inclusion Playbook, which advocates for racial justice and LGBTQ inclusion in sports.

Other speakers include Zahra Wardrick, a SMYAL program participant and youth poet; and Leandra Nichola, a parent of attendees of Little SMYALs, a program that SMYAL says provides support for “the youngest members of the LGBTQ community” at ages 6-12. The SMYAL statement says Nichola is the owner and general manager of the Takoma Park, Md., based café, bar, retail, and bubble tea shop called Main Street Pearl.

According to the statement, the SMYAL Fall Brunch, including a planned silent auction, will be live streamed through SMYAL’s Facebook page for participants who may not be able to attend in person. For those attending the event in person, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required, and masks will also be required for all attendees when not actively eating or drinking, the statement says.

The statement says that for attendees and supporters, the Fall Brunch is “a community celebration of how your support has not only made it possible for SMYAL to continue to serve LGBTQ youth through these challenging times, it’s allowed our programs to grow and deepen.”

Adds the statement, “From affirming mental health support and housing to fostering community spaces and youth leadership training, we will continue to be there for queer and trans youth together.”

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