February 20, 2014 at 9:00 am EST | by Mark Lee
Will it matter if gays zero-out in D.C. elections?
David Catania, Jim Graham, District of Columbia, D.C. Council, D.C. election, gay news, Washington Blade

Openly gay D.C. Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) both face tough races. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Two potential political developments in the current D.C. election cycle could result in both local gay elected officials not retaining their positions. If that occurs, it would be the first time in 17 years without a gay politician holding major elected office in the District.

Would it matter?

When David Catania became D.C.’s first gay elected official in 1997 it was a significant development that startled political observers. Catania, then a Republican, won a citywide D.C. Council At-Large seat in a special election to fill a vacancy on the 13-member legislature. He defeated a high-profile Democratic prior officeholder who had been selected by the party to fill the vacant seat as interim incumbent. Catania was re-elected in 1998 and 2002 as a Republican, and won in 2006 and 2010 as an Independent after changing his registration.

Catania, whose current four-year term is expiring, has formed a mayoral campaign exploratory committee and has indicated he is almost certain to run in the general election. Campaigning for mayor would preclude Catania from seeking re-election to his Council seat. While polling competitively against likely Democratic primary winner Mayor Vincent Gray in a recent Washington Post survey, odds are long that he could win.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, a gay Democrat and former director of then-named Whitman-Walker Clinic, was elected to represent one of eight Council districts in 1998. Graham won the determinative party primary in Ward 1 with a plurality, defeating the incumbent in a five-person race that included another gay candidate. Now seeking a fifth term, he previously won re-election in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

Graham, 68, had delayed until December a decision on whether to seek re-election. His last primary race was his most competitive, winning 57 percent with two candidates splitting the opposition vote. Graham’s challenge in this year’s primary is facing only one opponent while tarnished by multiple instances of alleged questionable ethical behavior, resulting in censure by his Council colleagues and loss of alcohol-licensing oversight. Should Graham survive the primary, he will face a well-known Democrat running as an Independent in the general election. Many political observers consider Graham’s decision to seek re-election as the fight of his political life.

If Graham loses either the primary or general election and Catania surrenders his seat to run unsuccessfully for mayor, it is almost certain that D.C. will not have any openly gay politicians serving in cardinal positions. Two announced gay candidacies, Council At-Large Republican candidate Marc Morgan and Libertarian mayoral candidate Bruce Majors, are unlikely to be competitive.

When Catania first won election, he enthused at his victory celebration that “I think we’ve made two important milestones. One is the first time a Republican has beaten a Democrat in a head-on race in the city. And as the first openly gay member of the [Council], that is a breakthrough, and it shows how marvelous … open-minded, accepting and truly magnificent the people of this city are.”

Catania’s characterization of the local electorate is truer today than then.

In a city distinguished by its community consensus and public policies providing comprehensive LGBT civil equality, legal protections and administrative equity, the sexual orientation of elected officials is inconsequential. No anti-gay politician is a credible candidate for public office anywhere in the city, and it has been that way for a long time.

Likewise, public acceptance and political accommodation are neither generated nor guaranteed by gay politicians. The non-controversial adoption of Council legislation or city rulemaking related to LGBT-specific concerns is more a matter of delegated domain than cause championing.

LGBT residents are fully integrated into the fabric of local life. Most of us vote for or against candidates, including gay ones, based on a multiplicity of considerations. Similar to those everyone else examines.

Other than mere symbolism, it doesn’t matter whether any or all of the city’s elected officials are gay or not.

This is what equality looks like.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

  • I respect Mark Lee's opinion, but one only has to replace the word "gay" in his piece with "female" or "black" to realize how silly the argument really is. Misogynistic or racist individuals would also, to put it mildly, lack credibility as political candidates in D.C., but it does not follow that an all-male or all-white city council is acceptable to voters who want a political class that reflects the diversity of the people of our city. The District is not Shangri-La for LGBT people just yet, so the LGBT community deserves authentic voices in local government who will continue to fight for true equality and act as role models for LGBT youth.

  • *****
    “…the LGBT community deserves authentic voices in local government who will continue to fight for true equality and act as role models for LGBT youth.”
    Denis is spot on. Moreover, it’s from Council our very powerful DC mayors spring. So we need to consider what the difference between a LGBT mayor and a non-LGBT mayor might be.

    Just consider the institutional anti-LGBT POLICE BIAS being perpetrated behind that Gray curtain RIGHT NOW– just in the past few weeks.

    — If our current mayor was LGBT he/she would not permit MPD’s police chief to dismantle MPD-GLLU’s core unit– pulling them off of policing services to the city’s LGBT population and putting them on street patrols.

    — Indeed, If our current mayor was LGBT, he/she probably would not permit MPD’s chief to cover up all the anti-LGBT hate crimes NOT CLOSED with an arrest during the past four years.

    — If our current mayor was LGBT he/she wouldn’t permit said mayor’s reelection campaign to hire a political operative who fought against Marriage Equality and produced campaign promotions which intentionally demonized DC’s LGBT people– and by inference, LGBT parents and their kids.

    — Nor would a LGBT mayor permit his police chief to award a MPD “Chief of Police Special Award” to a sitting ANC Commissioner (and, in 2010, was a MPD-5D CAC officer) who just FIVE month AFTER Marriage Equality became effective in DC (March, 2010), demonized DC gay couples, making virulent, “homophobic comments”– appropriately so characterized by the police chief…
    “…God’s word will never change – Never. God’s road is narrow and we are to love each other, but same sex marriages prevent expansion of human life…I believe in God’s word.”

    — Nor would a LGBT mayor permit his police chief to award a MPD “Citizen of the Year” award to yet another sitting ANC Commissioner who also has a long history of anti-LGBT political activity, including virulent opposition to Marriage Equality. The fact that this anti-gay ANC Commissioner is also currently running for a Ward Council seat would be especially abhorrent to an ethical LGBT mayor. (Carolyn Steptoe called her Award by MPD a “Valentine’s present.”)

    Given the ant-LGBT police bias in which our current mayor’s police chief is furthering– encouraging more LGBT candidates for Council and Mayor would be wise.

    Time is of the essence, however, given our Chief’s fast-paced assaults on DC’s LGBT interests.

  • Yes because NOT having representation in out government has helped ALL of out so tremendously. Let me guess….Mike Lee is white, heterosexua, male OR christian…how typical this response from a privilege person.

  • HAHA…MARK not Mike.

  • this fellow BRIAN espouses a lot of unsubstantiated nonsense. He always manages to knock people down, conveniently hiding behind his anonymity. His posts are unworthy of response. BRIAN is a coward. He is ashamed of his own name.

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