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Muriel Bowser’s very big problem

Imploring voters to cast ballots based on party loyalty no longer wins elections

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Muriel Bowser, mayor, D.C. Council, Democratic Party, primary, gay news, Washington Blade, party loyalty
Muriel Bowser, mayor, D.C. Council, Democratic Party, primary, gay news, Washington Blade

Muriel Bowser’s supporters make a mistake if they believe she can rely on the preponderance of registered Democrats to win her way to the mayor’s office without earning each vote. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Muriel Bowser has a very big problem.

Not only is the Democratic candidate for D.C. mayor competing against a compelling and credible independent challenger in the Nov. 4 general election, some of her most ardent campaign supporters are plaintively imploring voters to support her utilizing an outdated and counterproductive message.

They may think they’re helping her, but attempting to coerce support with what they don’t appear to realize is an off-putting rationale is more likely to have the opposite effect. Their cocoon-bred perception of what might most matter to contemporary voters is way off the mark.

Whether Bowser wins or loses – and it’s looking like the outcome could go either way – she will inadvertently reveal a new reality about the electorate.

District voters, as with counterparts across the country, are increasingly less concerned about party affiliation than other factors when deciding our electoral choices. This is especially true in local elections.

Even Bowser supporters seem to understand this all too well. Recent entreaties essentially begging party-registered Democrats to support the party-designated candidate transparently belie the fear they won’t.

What these pleading partisans don’t comprehend, however, is that admonishing party-affiliated voters to back a candidate solely or primarily due to fealty to a particular party apparatus isn’t persuasive. Instead, it merely emphasizes candidate vulnerability and underscores that she may have more than a small problem prevailing.

In other words, in a modern political era in a rapidly evolving city with a substantial number of new residents and a growing younger voting-age demographic, it reeks of desperation.

Loyalty to political parties continues to weaken nationwide at an accelerating pace. In D.C., where an antiquated “closed primary” system precludes participation in the typically determinative initial vote if not registered with the overwhelmingly dominant Democratic Party, nearly one-in-five registered voters have nonetheless chosen the independent “No Party” designation when signing up. In half of the city’s political wards the number is higher, including in the fastest growing area of center-city Ward 2 where fully one-in-four registrations are independent.

Independents are the fastest growing segment of U.S. voters. Unaffiliated registrations have exceeded party-affiliated registrations in 11 of the 12 states with competitive statewide elections this fall, increasing 17 percent since 2008. Nationwide, the number of registered independents has grown by 11.2 percent in the past five years, while the percentage of registered Democrats and Republicans has continued to drop. In California, the secretary of state reported last month that both Republican and Democratic party registrations declined while “no party” independent registrations increased – with tens of thousands of registered voters switching away from both major political parties.

Fully 42 percent of all Americans now consider themselves independents, up from 36 percent in 2008, according to the latest Gallup survey. A majority of those under 35, at 54 percent, now self-identify as independents not aligned with either major party.

Further complicating the issue in D.C. is that local candidates essentially mount sole-source election efforts. The infrastructure of political parties is decidedly weak and general election campaigns are basically independent undertakings. For that reason alone, invoking a mythical party machine or even a purported adherence to vague party principles strikes District voters as ridiculous.

In a city where most candidates espouse common themes and hold similar issue positions in a larger political context, quibbling over party identification seems largely beside the point. It’s certainly no reason to blithely dismiss alternate candidacies without consideration.

To the consternation of the Bowser campaign, the recent appearance of “Democrats for David!” signage in yards and on social media indicates a potentially widespread willingness of party registrants to support At-Large Council member David Catania over the Ward 4 representative.

Bowser’s supporters make a mistake if they believe she can rely on the preponderance of registered Democrats to win her way to the mayor’s office without earning each vote.

Most of all, it doesn’t comport with modern voter attitudes – in D.C. or elsewhere.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at [email protected].

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Peter Rosenstein

    May 15, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Using words like coerced and bullied- which is what some supporters of David Catania are saying about Democrats that decide to vote Democratic are really demeaning and insulting to voters who decide to vote Democratic. Saying things like that won’t shame Democrats from voting their choice which is what the Catania supporters are seemingly trying to do. I think it will actually backfire.

    When Bowser wins some will say it’s only because she is a Democrat and try to belittle her abilities and discount the idea that people voted for her because they actually think she will make the better Mayor. It will be difficult to discern all the reasons people cast their vote for her.

    I have said before that Party identification is clearly not the only reason to vote for a candidate but it certainly has a place in the overall decision making process on who someone will vote for. It is one factor.

    • Surely U Jest

      May 17, 2014 at 11:37 pm

      No worries there Peter. If Bowser wins, I am fairly certain people won’t be saying it was because she was a Democrat.

      • DC Native

        May 19, 2014 at 12:15 am

        No worries Surely U Jest, If Catania wins , I am fairly certain people won’t be saying it was because he was a Indpependent.

        • DC Native

          May 19, 2014 at 12:16 am

          I meant Independent

  2. pachamama

    May 15, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Bowser’s biggest problem is that she cares less for the well-being of DC residents than deep-pockets corporations — WalMart, for example, for the benefit of which, Bowser voted against the Large Retailer Responsibility Act, which would have forced Walmart and other wealthy big-box stores to pay their workers a wage they might actually be able to live on.

    And then there’s the fact that she facilitated — over the loud objections of Ward 4 residents and shop owners (all Bowser’s constituents) — the plopping of the mega-WalMart on Georgia Ave. NW. Sadly, the local merchants’ businesses are now in decline, as we all knew they would be.

    One wonders how much Walmart, et al., pay Bowser for her support.

    • Peter Rosenstein

      May 16, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      Just to be clear Catania voted the same way. And it was the right vote as the issue was that the Large Retailer Responsibility Act (LRRA)was a poorly constructed bill that would have effected very few workers in the District. The Council with Bowser’s support passed a bill to raise the minimum wage and tie it to inflation which will help many more workers than the LRRA bill ever would have.

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Opinion | Lovitz for Pennsylvania state representative

Accomplished gay candidate is longtime equality advocate

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Jonathan Lovitz, gay news, Washington Blade
Jonathan Lovitz (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It’s an embarrassment of riches for residents of center city Philadelphia, which includes the “gayborhood,” as they prepare to vote for their next state representative. 

The post has been held by Rep. Brian Sims, who’s gay, since 2013. Sims is giving up the seat to run for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor. More on that later.

Two out LGBTQ candidates are among those competing in the 182nd District’s Democratic primary to replace Sims — Jonathan Lovitz and Deja Alvarez. Lovitz, who’s gay, has served as senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce for five years. If elected, it would be the first time a seat held by an LGBTQ state representative transitioned to another LGBTQ official and he would be the first LGBTQ Jewish elected official in Pennsylvania.

Alvarez, who’s transgender, is director of community engagement at World Healthcare Infrastructures and serves as chair of the Philadelphia Police LGBT Liaison Committee. She would become the first out trans person to serve in the Pennsylvania Legislature if elected.

Both are excellent candidates who would make their own bit of history if elected, but Lovitz stands out as the strongest choice to replace Sims in the legislature, a change that local residents desperately need.

To paraphrase Oprah in her famous endorsement of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton: Just because I am for Lovitz, doesn’t mean I am against Alvarez. I am acquainted with Lovitz and know him to be an ethical, smart, hard-working professional who is deeply dedicated to his work and to the residents of Philadelphia. He would make a fearless and tireless advocate for Philly and for equality issues in Harrisburg.

At NGLCC, Lovitz has helped write and pass more than 25 state and local laws, including in Pennsylvania, extending economic opportunity to LGBTQ-owned businesses around the country. As the country struggles to emerge from pandemic restrictions, we need more legislators at all levels of government who understand the importance of small business. Lovitz has the experience in business and in his work on equality issues to deliver tangible results for Philadelphia. 

Contrast his record with that of Sims and it’s a no-brainer that the people of the 182nd District have nowhere to go but up. Sims has sponsored or introduced scores of bills in the past year, but only one has been enacted, according to BillTrack50. Sims has been criticized in the district for his endless media tour and social media self-promotion. He is more interested in thirst-trap selfies than in constituent service. He lacks the professionalism and temperament for elected office, favoring profane outbursts and juvenile insults over diplomatic compromise and legislative achievement. As Christopher Pinto wrote in the Philadelphia Gay News, “Almost a decade in the State House, and he has no legislative victories that he can claim as his own. He spent more time out of the district than inside it, flying from one speaking engagement to the next, while abusing his state issued travel budget and being shrouded in a lengthy ethics investigation.”

Lovitz will not succumb to such vanities. He is a grounded professional who understands how to craft legislation and, more importantly, how to get it passed. He won’t alienate colleagues as Sims has done. 

On equality issues, Lovitz has worked on behalf of marginalized communities at NGLCC and last year he organized PhillyVoting.org, which works to boost turnout among Black and LGBTQ voters. 

“The ongoing violence against our communities, especially against our trans siblings, is a stunning reminder that our work together continues,” Lovitz wrote in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Gay News. “Once again the movement for long-overdue social change in America is being led by communities of color, especially right here in Philly,” he wrote. “And the LGBTQ community must continue to stand in solidarity with them.”

Lovitz understands the moment. He has a passion for business and for helping entrepreneurs to succeed, something cities desperately need after more than 200,000 small businesses have shuttered due to COVID, according to the Wall Street Journal; more than 1,000 Philly businesses closed in just the first five months of the pandemic, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Voters, donors, and our national advocacy organizations should support his bold campaign and help retain an out LGBTQ voice in Harrisburg while improving constituent service for residents of the district. 

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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Opinion | LGBTQ Virginians advocate D.C. statehood

The right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society

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My hometown will always be Washington, D.C. It’s the place where I was born and spent all of the first seven days of my life. As a lifelong Virginian however, where I live and attended schools, I straddle two communities important to me. 

As a business owner of 30 years in Washington, D.C., I pay many of my taxes and payroll taxes to the Nation’s Capital while I also pay income tax to Virginia where I’m a citizen.

Most important of all, as a gay Virginia voter, I can think of few lifelong political goals more important to me than achieving statehood for Washington, D.C. One of the compelling reasons I still make my home in Virginia and cross the Potomac River every day of my life, is because of my right as a Virginian to vote for two U.S. senators and for a member of the House of Representatives with the power to vote in Congress.

(It is still shocking to know that, with Washington, D.C. statehood still beyond grasp, the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives, has never yet had the authority to vote on the floor of the House.)

At an early age, I was dumbfounded to know that D.C. then did not even have a local government. We lacked an elected mayor and city council, with almost all decisions for the District of Columbia made by the federal government. Yet today, even with a mayor and local government in place, it is breathtaking to know that my friends, neighbors and co-workers still have zero voice in the Capitol and no one to vote for them – and for us – in Congress.

Consider that one of the world’s most diverse and educated cities has so often been bullied by extreme conservative leaders on Capitol Hill who – whenever possible – turn back the clock for D.C. citizens on voting rights, abortion rights, gun measures and our civil rights including LGBTQ equality. Not a single voter in D.C. has much, if any, say over any of those decisions.

The absence of statehood and the lack of real voting rights means that the unforgivable strains of racism and homophobia often held sway not just for Washington D.C., but in denying the United States a true progressive majority on Capitol Hill too. 

Virginians get it. In the past decade, we’ve worked very hard in every county and city in the commonwealth to turn our regressive political past into a bright blue political majority. We have elected LGBTQ candidates to state and local offices in unprecedented numbers. Our vote is our power.

More significantly, through the work of Equality Virginia and its many allies, we are repealing scores of anti-LGBTQ measures and reforming our statutes and constitution to secure equal rights as LGBTQ voters, adoptive parents, married couples, students, and citizens. Doesn’t Washington, D.C. deserve that future?

Virginia needs more states – like D.C. – to join forces and represent all Americans. To achieve this, and to defeat or neuter the anti-democratic Senate filibuster rule, we need our friends, allies and neighbors, the citizens of Washington, D.C. to share in our democratic ambitions.

Long ago, Washington, D.C. resident, abolitionist and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass declared that “the District is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state. Washington, D.C. residents have fought and died in every American war just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. The District deserves statehood and Congress should act to grant it.” 

Speaking for LGBTQ Virginians, we agree. Conferring statehood is not a gift nor a blessing from the rest of us, but instead, it is the absolute right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society. As LGBTQ Americans, if we are to pass the Equality Act and other fundamental civil rights measures, we need the State of Washington, D.C. and its voters by our side.

Bob Witeck is a longtime LGBTQ civil rights advocate, entrepreneur, and Virginian, with long roots and longstanding ties to D.C.

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Opinion | Representation matters: The gayest Olympics yet

From one out athlete to more than 160 in just 33 years

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OK, I really want a Tom Daley cardigan. The now gold-medal Olympian told Britain’s The Guardian that he took up crocheting during the pandemic. He even has an Instagram page dedicated to his knit creations, MadeWithLoveByTomDaley. It’s all very adorable; it’s all very Tom Daley. 

All that aside, you’d have to be practically heartless to not feel something when Tom Daley and his diving partner Matty Lee won the gold on Monday in the men’s synchronized 10-meter diving competition, placing just 1.23 points ahead of the Chinese. And then seeing him with tears in his eyes on the podium as “God Save the Queen” played. Later that week, he knitted a little bag featuring the Union Jack to hold and protect his medal. So very wholesome

Daley is certainly one of the highest profile LGBTQ athletes in these games. Besides the diver, the 2020 Summer Olympics, now in 2021 because of the pandemic, are hosting more than 160 out athletes. A record to be sure, but calling it a record does it somewhat of an injustice. The United States sent the first out athlete to the 1988 Summer Olympics, Robert Dover an equestrian rider competing in dressage. Dover remained the only out (sharing the title once in 1996 with Australian diver Craig Rogerson) for 10 years. Then, during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the number of out athletes jumped to 15. London’s 2012 Olympics saw the number increase to 23. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the number jump to 68 out athletes. And now we’re at over 160. 

So you get the trend building here. From one out athlete to more than 160. So very far, so very fast. And competing in everything from handball to sailing to golf to skateboarding. Also, noteworthy, New Zealand sent the first trans athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. These are but numbers and names, but to be sure, this sort of representation, this sort of visibility, is hugely important. Not just for athletes coming up behind them, but let’s think too of those out there, not yet even out, maybe watching in their parents’ living room. Seeing Tom Daley thank his husband, mention their son, this sort of queer normality being broadcast as if it is both groundbreaking and at the same time nothing at all — the importance of this cannot be overstated. 

On top of that, growing up gay, how many times were we all told, whether outright or simply implied, that sports were more or less off limits to us. Meant to display the peaks of gender and ability, sports were not meant for those who couldn’t fit neatly into that narrative. But it appears that that narrative is slowly becoming undone. Just look beyond the Olympics, to the wider world of sports. Earlier this summer, pro-football’s Carl Nassib came out.   

And maybe I’m just of a generation that marvels at the destruction of each and every boundary as they come down. We had so very little as far as representation back then. Now to see it all, and in so many different sports, you can’t help but to wonder what the future will hold for us; and it really delights the imagination, doesn’t it? 

It is the gayest Olympics yet. And if the trend laid out above continues, it will only get gayer as the years go on. And if it’s a barometer for anything, I think we will see a lot of things getting a bit gayer from now on.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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