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David Catania forms mayoral exploratory committee

Five-term Council member could be nation’s capital’s first gay mayor

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David Catania, gay news, Washington Blade, 2013 Capital Pride Parade

Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) filed papers on Wednesday to create an exploratory committee for a possible run for mayor, raising the possibility that he could become the first openly gay mayor of the nation’s capital.

As a 16-year veteran on the Council, Catania has been credited with taking the lead on many far-reaching legislative initiatives; including the city’s same-sex marriage law, the expansion of health insurance coverage to nearly all city residents long before Obamacare, and sweeping reforms at the Department of Health and the AIDS office.

In a letter to city residents posted on his exploratory committee’s newly launched website, Catania said improving the D.C.’s public education system is currently his top priority as a Council member and would be his highest priority as mayor should he choose to enter the already crowded mayoral competition in 2014.

Mayor Vincent Gray and four of Catania’s Council colleagues are among the 11 candidates that have entered the Democratic mayoral primary. A Statehood Green Party candidate and Libertarian Party candidate have also entered the race and are expected to be on the ballot in the November general election along with Catania should he decide to run.

“In 1997, as a political outsider, I ran for the Council of the District of Columbia,” he said in his open letter. “I believed that through hard work and standing up for what’s right, I could contribute to a brighter future for our city and its residents. Since then, we have made incredible progress as a city, and I am proud to have played a part in it,” he said.

Catania won his first race for the Council in 1997 as a Republican running in special election to fill a vacant at-large seat. He won re-election the following year followed by election wins in 2002, 2006, and 2010.

In 2004, Catania withdrew from the Republican Party in response to the support by then-President George W. Bush and the Republican Party leadership of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He has remained an independent since that time.

Should he decide to run for mayor next year he would have to give up his Council seat since that seat is also up for election in 2014. But as an independent, Catania would have the advantage of knowing who wins the Democratic primary scheduled for April 1 before the deadline for filing as an independent mayoral candidate in June.

And if he chooses to run, he would be considered a significant challenger to the Democratic nominee in a city where the mayoral contest has almost always been effectively decided in the Democratic primary. No non-Democratic candidate has ever won election as mayor since D.C.’s first home rule election for mayor in 1974.

Although Catania has wide name recognition and has won a citywide election for the Council six times, he has always competed for one of the two at-large seats up for grabs every two years that by law must go to a non-majority party or independent candidate. While Catania has won his races by large margins he – along with all other non-Democrats competing for the non-Democratic seat – has received about half the votes that the Democratic candidate running for the other at-large seat.

Political observers say the drop off in the vote for the non-Democrat may be due more to the fact that many voters don’t realize they can vote for two candidates rather than one in the at-large race, with the top two vote-getters winning the seat. Even with the so called “drop-off” vote, Catania has always received strong support from Democratic voters, a factor that could make him competitive against a Democratic mayoral candidate.

Catania said in a telephone interview on Wednesday the fact that the Blade was the only news media outlet so far to ask him about his sexual orientation out of more than a dozen interviews throughout the day was indicative of the “extraordinary progress” the city has made on LGBT equality.

“16 years ago when I was first elected to the Council in every sentence in every report, every story that came out in the weeks following my election there was always a comma – openly gay,” he said. “It was a label that no matter what I was talking about it always included my sexual orientation. And 16 years later we don’t see that anymore.”

Catania said he had no objections to being labeled as openly gay then or now. But he said the apparent disinterest in his sexual orientation as he launches a mayoral exploratory committee this week shows that the city has progressed to a point where someone’s sexual orientation is no longer a big deal.

“I think it underestimates the independence of all of our voters to suggest that they will vote for someone simply by virtue of their sexual orientation, or their gender or their color or geography,” Catania said. “I think we are entering an era where people no longer feel that they have to or are inclined to support a person who may demographically be similar to them.”

He added, “We have a smart and sophisticated electorate that will make a decision based on who they believe best represents their value system and that they trust. And in that debate I think I’m going to do well across all demographics.”

Catania said he’s optimistic that if he decides to run his record as a Council member and a concerned city resident will likely be how he will be judged.

“I’m very proud of what I feel I’ve contributed to over these last 16 years,” he said. “The renaissance of the city and particular initiatives I’m proud of includes things like marriage equality, smoke-free D.C. I’m proud of offering the medical marijuana initiative. I’m proud of the work I did to bring health insurance to 40,000 people. I’m proud of the work I did on HIV/AIDS and on so many other subjects.

“But an enduring challenge remains, and that is the quality and the state of our public education system,” Catania added. “And that is the singular focus of this exploration at this point. How to set our kids up to succeed. We are never going to tackle the income inequality in this city if we continue to do things as we have done them. And at the moment, while our schools are showing a modest improvement, that improvement is uneven and is leaving vast portions of our city behind because we do not have excellence in every school for every child. We do not. And until we make it a top priority of this city we are not going to be the city that we can be.”

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Carey Campbell

    December 5, 2013 at 3:19 am

    Eugene Puryear, Howard University alum, is the candidate gathering petition signatures to be on the ballot as the Statehood-Green Party candidate for mayor.
    The young Green Party candidate is a young man in a hurry, at only 27 years old, Eugene Puryear has a record of achievement. Already Eugene Puryear has been a TV talk show host, and producer. A published Green Party author, with a brand new book, Eugene Puryear is a gifted orator, and political organizer. Can the young Green Party leader bring an equally talented full slate of 10 Green Party candidates with him to the ballot in DC?

  2. ALF Coalition

    December 5, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Hopefully he will run and clean up the corruption in this city that is failing to protect its children http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgZYCA4qCL8

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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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