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Catania enters race for mayor

Gay Council member reiterates call for Gray to resign

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David Catania, gay news, Washington Blade
David Catania, gay news, Washington Blade

David Catania is the first serious openly gay contender for the office of D.C. mayor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) filed papers on Wednesday to become a candidate for mayor in the November general election, saying he has the “values and the vision and the tenacity” to tackle the challenges facing the city.

As a 16-year veteran on the Council with a long record of legislative accomplishments, including his role as author of the city’s historic marriage equality law, Catania becomes the first serious openly gay contender for the office of D.C. mayor with a shot at winning.

“This is a city that believes strongly in equality of opportunity, a strong sense of fairness and the importance of playing by the rules,” Catania said at a news conference outside the city’s Reeves Center municipal building, where he registered his candidacy.

“These are the values we all share and these are the ones that have guided me since I was elected,” he said.

In what many LGBT activists will likely view as a twist of fate, a large segment of the city’s LGBT community has already lined up behind the re-election campaign of Mayor Vincent Gray, who they consider the most LGBT-supportive mayor in the history of the city.

The potential dilemma of LGBT voters having to choose between an out gay candidate with a longstanding record of support on their issues and a pro-LGBT mayor they consider a longtime friend and ally was likely heightened on Wednesday when Catania reiterated his call for Gray to resign.

When asked by reporters at his news conference what he thought about revelations by the U.S. Attorney earlier this week that Gray was aware of an illegal “shadow campaign” orchestrated by businessman Jeffrey Thompson to benefit Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign, Catania said he believes the allegations to be true.

“I made my feelings known about the mayor’s shadow campaign when it was first disclosed nearly two years ago,” he said. “I said he should have resigned then and I believe that today.”

Catania, however, said the timing of his declaration of candidacy for this week was set in motion over a week ago, before the revelations of the U.S. Attorney were known, when he set up a campaign bank account that required him to formally enter the race this week.

Catania said he’s ready to run against Gray or any of the other seven Democrats challenging Gray in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary, including four of Catania’s Democratic colleagues on the Council.

In response to questions by reporters, Catania said he’s not at all deterred by the fact that he’s an independent and former Republican running in a city with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate. No non-Democrat has ever won election as mayor in the District of Columbia.

“I want to be as clear as I can be,” he said. “I won more citywide races than everyone else in the race combined. I’ve won five times citywide. I’ve represented every corner of the city since 1997.”

Catania added, “I believe I have the values and the vision and the tenacity to tackle the challenges facing the city and I have the record of accomplishments that supports it. So I’m not worried about who prevails in the Democratic primary. I’ve got a record that I’m very proud of and that I’m very excited to share, and I’m very excited to talk about my vision for the city.”

The most recent poll on the Democratic primary, which was conducted before the latest revelations about Gray’s alleged 2010 shadow campaign, show Gray leading his closest rival, Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), by a margin of 28 percent to 20 percent. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), were trailing with 13 percent, 12 percent and 4 percent respectively.

Businessman Andy Shallal had 6 percent, attorney and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis had 3 percent, and civic activist Carlos Allen had less than 1 percent.

Political observers, including Bob Summersgill, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said that if Gray squeaks out a victory in the primary with around 30 percent of the vote or less, many of the Democratic voters that backed his rivals could turn to Catania in the November election.

When asked by the Blade where he thinks the LGBT vote would go in the general election, Catania said he believes he would be a strong contender for that vote based on his record on a wide range of issues.

“I think people are going to vote their interests and their values,” he said. “And I hope we can refrain from having constituency voting blocs. I don’t think that’s good for anybody.”

But he added, “I’m happy to put my record as an LGBT advocate against anyone. I hear in these forums how everyone takes responsibility and credit for same-sex marriage. But I was there. I know members who never showed up for the hearings and never said a word on the dais,” he said.

“I know the difference between those who have revisionist history and those who were there,” he said. “And so whether it’s having been the first openly gay elected member of the Council, from championing everything from HIV education and treatment to same-sex marriage to adoption to transgender rights, I’ll put my record against anyone’s.”

When asked about a recent independent report indicating shortcomings in the D.C. Police Department’s handling of anti-LGBT hate crimes, Catania praised Police Chief Cathy Lanier but said he would not discuss personnel issues before the election.

“I think Cathy Lanier has been an excellent chief,” he said. “Now we can all do better and learn from our mistakes…[T]here’s always room for improvement both in terms of the reaction of the LGBT community, internal affairs and others,” he said.

A partial transcript of Catania’s news conference follows:

Reporter: So you just filed your papers today to run?

Catania: Actually, this has been in the works for some time. We decided in January that this would be the week we would announce. In fact, just last Wednesday, before any of the latest revelations came out, we opened our bank account and by law we have five business days to file. And so last Wednesday we opened our bank account, always with the intention of filing this week. And of course you know what has happened in the intervening time known to all of us.

Reporter: What do you think about what’s happened with the mayor this week?

Catania: Well, I made my feelings known about the mayor’s shadow campaign when it was first disclosed nearly two years ago. I said he should have resigned then and I believe that today.

Reporter: What is your path to victory at this point? Does the mayor have to win the primary?

Catania: No. I want to be just as clear as I could be. I won more city wide races than everyone else in the race combined. I’ve won five times citywide. I’ve represented every corner of the city since 1997. I believe that I have the values and the vision and the tenacity to tackle the challenges facing the city and I have the record of accomplishments that supports it. So I’m not worried about who prevails in the Democratic primary. I’ve got a record that I’m very proud of and that I’m very excited share and I’m very excited to talk about my vision for the city.

Reporter: This is a city that remains hugely Democratic.

Catania: That’s right. And I would be delighted to put my record against any of those who have Democrat by their name as it relates to democratic values. I think my record more embodies democratic values than the field of candidates running as Democrats. If you look at what I’ve done for marriage equality, medical marijuana, smoke free D.C., cutting the rate of uninsured children and adults in half in this city, my work with HIV, and most recently my work with respect to education, including a fair funding bill which is finally going to give the resources for poor kids to catch up. And so labels are fine but I think the people are looking for a leader who’s actually delivered. And there’s one thing I can say – I’ve delivered.

The others have talked a good game and good for them for having labels. But I’ve actually delivered.

Reporter: You’re a former Republican and you’re also a white person. How does that play into the racial mix of this city?

Catania: Well I think the citizens of this city want a leader that shares their values. And it doesn’t matter what label you have. Clearly I do. This is a city that believes strongly in equality of opportunity, a strong sense of fairness and the importance of playing by the rules. These are the values we all share and these are the ones that have guided me since I was elected. So with respect to labels, you know, I think they may matter with some but by and large if you look at where we are in the city and if we’re going to secure our future we need a leader who shares our values, has a vision, and has the tenacity to get the job done.

Reporter: Your campaigns have actually taken money from Jeffrey Thompson and then I guess you had a really serious falling out with him. Would you give back the money you took from Jeffrey Thompson or did you give the money back?

Catania: You know, Mr. Thompson held a fundraiser for me in 2006. And so the bulk of the funds that were raised through that fundraiser were in 2006. Unfortunately, as you know, we, unlike federal campaigns, we close each of our campaigns out – by law we’re required to – at the conclusion of the election. So the money has simply been closed out. Now the money – whatever was left over – went to a constituent services fund. And so it’s not like I have additional monies lying around to do that. And I think we’re prohibited by law from taking our existing campaign funds to pay back the debts of another campaign.

Reporter: Were you the chairman of the Health Committee when the agreement to give Jeffrey Thompson more money signed out? You fought that, didn’t you?

Catania: I think what’s interesting is that we’re here today because of the work of the Committee on Health when I became chairman. In 2005 when I became chairman of the committee the first thing I wanted to do was kind of survey the landscape of the area of responsibility that I had, which included the city’s three largest contracts for managed care and for Medicaid. And so I actually put the money in in 2005 to conduct an audit of our three managed care organizations, including Jeff Thompson’s. That audit is what ultimately led to Mr. Thompson having to settle with the city with $17 million in 2008. So it’s not about having a falling out one way or another. I was doing my job. I wanted the city’s largest contracts to be subject to an audit. They were. It demonstrated that he was helping himself, candidly, and that resulted in him having to pay some money back. I suspect that’s part of what inspired him to try to find leaders that were more malleable. I wasn’t one of them.

Reporter: The mayor calls him a liar. He says everything he says is a lie, lie, lie.

Catania: Well I think this whole subject, this whole drama we’ve had with Jeff Thompson – this great drama – the time has come for this to end. And you know we need to be talking about how we’re going to make sure our kids are ready to succeed. We need to be talking about an affordable housing plan and a public safety plan of action for Fire and EMS. The less we talk about Vince Gray and Jeff Thompson the better. That’s for others to talk about. I’m talking about my vision for the city, which doesn’t include serving as a human lie detector for Jeff Thompson or Vince Gray.

Reporter: What about this settlement. Did you think that settlement that was reached with Chartered Health was good and above board or did you think —

Catania: Which settlement, the first one or the second?

Reporter: The one that was agreed to [by the city] and paid him.

Catania: This was obviously an attempt to square accounts with the shadow campaign as far as I am concerned. It was laid out as meticulously as it could be. Jeff Thompson in 2008 had to pay $12 million because he stole from the city. And then two weeks after he wins his primary his group begins putting in motion the very settlement that ultimately, that Mayor Gray advanced – that we paid him the money from the false claims actions against the city. Do I believe the mayor knew it and participated and do I believe the city actually paid the shadow campaign money back? Yes, I believe that…

Reporter: You have a reputation for being a little difficult. I won’t even say the words that some – [Tom Sherwood interrupts: The Rahm Emanuel of D.C.?]

Catania: Well listen, we’re not cutting the crusts off cucumber sandwiches here. This is not a garden party. This is about running a $12 billion organization where the lives of 640,000 people depend on someone being honest, having values and a vision and being faithful to those values and those visions. And so I’m not going to apologize for the passion that I take to this job. I think most of us are outraged when they have Fire and EMS officials just standing by while our citizens are in harm’s way. I think most of our citizens are outraged when they see half of our African American males not graduating on time for high school. I think most of our citizens are outraged when they see our homeless in rec centers. So I’m not going to apologize for that outrage. I’m not going to apologize for the passion. It’s helped me get though some of the toughest measures in the last 15 years, 16 years on the Council…

Reporter: Concerning the police department, there was an independent report that just came out saying there are some shortcomings in their handling of hate crimes and that the chief may have caused the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit to not be able to do its job as well as it could. If you were elected, have you decided whether you would retain the police chief?

Catania: Look, I think Cathy Lanier has been an excellent chief. Now we can all do better and learn from our mistakes. But I want to make clear I’m not talking about personnel decisions until after the election. It is the right of every mayor to select those individuals that he or she wishes to work with. I think that Chief Lanier has been an excellent chief but there’s always room for improvement both in terms of the reaction of the LGBT community, internal affairs and others.

Reporter: We’re now in the primary. Will you be out campaigning or will you wait to see who wins the primary?

Catania: No, the race starts today, Tom. The race starts today.

…If we’re electing leaders rather than administrators I think it’s time for people to look at the record. And among those who are running for mayor if you look at what have they done in the last 15 months. I think that’s a fair subject for discussion and it’s what I intend to talk about during this race. But look, it isn’t about who the Democratic nominee might be. I have an affirmed agenda that I believe is consistent with the values of our residents. I think we can do better. We have incredible fundamentals. When I look at our economy and I look at the values of our citizens and we have yet to capture the entire trajectory, the entire direction of those values…

Reporter: The leading candidates in the Democratic primary are all very supportive on LGBT issues. The mayor says he’s very supportive. Whoever wins the primary, how do you think the LGBT vote will go in the general election?

Catania: Lou, I think people are going to vote their interests and their values. And I hope we can refrain from having constituency voting blocks. I don’t think that’s good for anybody. I’m happy to put my record as an LGBT advocate against anyone. I hear in these forums how everyone takes responsibility and credit for same-sex marriage. But I was there. I know the members who never showed up for the hearings and never said a word on the dais. I know the difference between those who have revisionist history and those who were there. And so whether it’s having been the first openly gay elected member of the Council, from championing everything from HIV education and treatment to same-sex marriage to adoption to transgender rights, I’ll put my record against everyone’s or anyone’s.

Reporter: Can you say something about the EMS?

Catania: You know, I’m very open to the idea of separating the EMS and putting it candidly under the Department of Health because I see the EMS as the front line of the Department of Health. These are the front line deliverers of health services. The way it has been organized, specifically it’s been subsumed by the Fire Department and has not been able to stand on its own. And so I’m open to the idea of separating the two…

Reporter: Would you retain Chief Ellerbe as fire chief?

Catania: No. I’ll make an exception because that’s so glaring.

Reporter: How do you assess your chances?

Catania: Good.

Reporter: Why do you think they’re good?

Catania: Well I think this is an election about change. I think the electorate is eager to have a leader instead of an administrator and I think the work that I’ve done touches many constituencies across the city. Who else can claim that they saved our public hospital? Who else can lay claim to a marriage equality bill that finally made all of our families equal before the law? Who else can claim that they produced the lowest rate of uninsured children in the country? Who else championed medical marijuana or the most comprehensive mental health system for young people in the country? So I think it’s time to ask some of those who are running on the inertia of a label why they believe they have a chance of winning having accomplished so little.

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Delaware

Flight attendants union endorses Sarah McBride

Del. lawmaker would be first transgender member of Congress

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Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride speaks at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delaware congressional candidate Sarah McBride has earned the support of the Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s most prominent flight attendant union.

It’s the second big labor endorsement for McBride after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27’s endorsement. The Association of Flight Attendants praised her for spearheading efforts to bring paid family and medical leave to Delaware, which will take effect in 2026. 

“Sarah’s record in the Delaware Senate shows that she understands how to work collaboratively, build power and make big things happen,” the union’s president, Sara Nelson, wrote in a press release shared exclusively with the Washington Blade. “That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy.”

McBride also announced her support for creating a list of abusive passengers and banning them from flying. Each airline has a list of passengers banned from flying, but airlines don’t share the lists with each other, though Delta Air Lines has asked them, because of “legal and operational challenges,” as a representative for the airline industry trade group Airlines of America told a House committee in September 2021.

“Right now, someone can be violent towards a flight attendant or another passenger and walk directly off of that flight and onto one with a different airline to endanger more people,” an Association of Flight Attendants spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would put the Transportation Security Administration in charge of building the database of passengers fined or convicted of abuse and has bipartisan support but has sat idly in committee since March. It failed to pass last year, and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have charged that the list would disproportionately target people of color and strip and a better step to reducing hostility would be making flights more comfortable. Reports of defiant and unruly passengers have more than doubled between 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022.

“I thank the Association of Flight Attendants for endorsing our campaign,” McBride wrote in the press release. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate the symbiotic relationship between strong, unionized workforces and the continued growth of employers here in our state.”

The union representing 50,000 flight attendants across 19 airlines is putting pressure on airlines to grant union demands in contract negotiations. At American Airlines, unionized flight attendants voted to authorize a strike — putting pressure on the airline to accede to its demands. Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines say they are ready to strike but have not voted to authorize one yet. United Airlines flight attendants picketed at 19 airports around the country in August, ratcheting up the pressure. 

The union’s endorsement adds to a growing list of McBride endorsements, including 21 Delaware legislators, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and Delaware Stonewall PAC. McBride, who would be the first openly transgender politician in Congress, has powerful connections in Washington — including with the White House — and is favored to win Delaware’s lone House seat. 

A poll commissioned by HRC shows her leading the pack of three candidates vying for the seat — 44 percent of “likely Democratic voters” told pollster company Change Research, which works with liberal organizations. The poll of 531 likely Delaware Democratic primary voters, though, was conducted only online — meaning those with less familiarity or access to the internet may not have been counted — and Change Research’s methodology for screening likely voters is unclear. The company also did not provide a breakdown of respondents by age, gender, and race, but says it uses an algorithm to make the results representative.  

Nelson said McBride’s time in Delaware’s state Senate shows her prowess in building power and working collaboratively.  

“That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy,” she wrote.

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Virginia

Lawsuit seeks to force Virginia Beach schools to implement state guidelines for trans, nonbinary students

Va. Department of Education released new regulations in July

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(Bigstock photo)

Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

NBC Washington on Friday reported Cooper and Kirk, a D.C.-based law firm, filed the lawsuit in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement them. 

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Local

HME Consulting and Advocacy stands on frontline of LGBTQ policy

Heidi Ellis is a consultant who doesn’t take clients ‘not aligned with my mission’

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‘Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission driven,’ says Heidi Ellis. (Photo courtesy of Ellis)

September is here, which means Congress and the D.C. Council return from their August recess and life for consultant Heidi Ellis quickly gets busy. 

Her days are filled with negotiating with Council members, phone calls with clients, and policy planning for advocacy groups. The organizations she represents are looking to her to help them push policy and she hopes to guide them to victory. 

Ellis’s company, HME Consulting and Advocacy, came after years of working in the public and private sectors as a consultant. In 2019, Ellis decided to shift her focus to work that stood at the center of the intersections in which she lives. She sought to figure out how she could better serve her community as a Black queer Latino woman. Ellis recognized that there was a niche for mission-driven consulting in the District. 

“I was sought out and recruited by a lot of organizations that wanted me and I took a beat, because I was like ‘Do I want to go back into a machine where even if I do effect change, I have to answer to someone?’”she said, in reference to consulting agencies that were in pursuit of her talent. Ultimately, she decided against continuing her work under another company. “By doing what I do, I have much more flexibility for one to say ‘Yes’ but also to say ‘No’.”

Although Ellis has considered going back to working in the corporate space, she still loves the flexibility of being able to be nimble as a private consultant. 

Although Ellis doesn’t work entirely in the advocacy space, her consulting clients still align with her personal values. She joked that she differs strongly from the stereotypical money-driven D.C. consultant who sports Brooks Brothers suits on K Street. 

“Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission driven,” she said. “I don’t take any clients that are not aligned with my mission.”

Her mission is simple, Ellis is “committed to elevating issues that sit at the nexus of education, mental health, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of color.”

“The more marginalized you are, the more you suffer from the failures of policy and the gaps of service,” she said. 

As a consultant in the advocacy space, Ellis does the behind-the-scenes work for organizations to help correct these policy failures and close the gaps. Whether she is facilitating training for companies to better understand how to serve their LGBTQ communities, or she is on the frontline of education policy changes –– Ellis aims to only do work that she is passionate about.

She said that the balance of her combined passion and level-headedness help her to build trusting relationships with her clients and in the end, “Get stuff  done.”

Since starting her organization, some of her proudest work has been done with the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition. The coalition is made up of more than 30 organizations that aim to advocate for investments and policy changes that affect LGBTQ lives. As a leader of this coalition, her services include policy support, facilitation, training, initiative development and organizational redesign. Since she began leading the coalition, they have raised more than $5 million of investments in LGBTQ programs.

Later this fall, she will work with the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition along with the ANC Rainbow Caucus to convene the first LGBTQ+ Housing Summit from Nov. 29-30.

“The one thing we all recognize is that housing is the common denominator of every other social affliction facing LGBTQ communities,” she said.  

At the summit they will focus on the barriers within the current housing system and explore revitalized approaches to dealing with the current housing market. To pre-register for the event, visit the LGBTQ+ Housing Summit website.

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