May 28, 2014 at 9:00 am EDT | by Peter Rosenstein
Is it cool to be an independent?
Independent voter, elections, primary, candidates, D.C., gay news, Washington Blade

The ‘I’ label on the ballot means the person doesn’t identify with a particular party and voters don’t necessarily have an indication what they believe. What set of political principles do they espouse?

Some voters believe that registering as an “independent” is a cutting-edge, even cool thing to do. That made me think about party labels, what they mean, and about those who reject party labels yet may want to vote in the primary of a party they made a conscious decision not to join.

I grew up in New York City and like D.C. most voters were Democrats. Many had experiences with discrimination and the Democratic Party was a comfortable political home. New York was a melting pot and home to many minority groups. There were Jews who escaped the Holocaust; Irish Americans whose ancestors escaped the famine; and Cubans who fled Castro. My parents weren’t political but mom was an activist fighting for everything from planting more trees, integrating schools and stopping Columbia University from taking over more of the Morningside Heights neighborhood.

At 12, I joined a local Democratic club. Being a Democrat meant joining the party of JFK, Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy. I was proud to be a member of the party that supported civil rights, women’s rights and, as I got older and came out, the party whose platform evolved to support the rights of the LGBT community.

Disliking a candidate of my party didn’t lead me to become a Republican or an independent but rather inspired me to join with others in the party to push for change. We fought to elect progressive Bill Ryan (D-N.Y.) to Congress. We supported Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972. Though we lost the presidency, we continued to fight for the principles we believed in within the party. We had an intra-party fight that resulted in Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) being the Democratic candidate for Congress after Bill Ryan died. Through the years, the party I choose has been more in tune with my beliefs than any other.

So it’s perplexing that mayoral candidate David Catania, who is smart and an independent, found that the Republican Party matched his principles for all the years it did. He moved to D.C. in 1986 for college and for the next 16 years until 2002, when he was already an elected official, proudly called himself a Republican even supporting and contributing to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign. He left his party and registered as an ‘independent’ only when it became clear the GOP didn’t support gay rights and actually worked to make things worse for the LGBT community. I figured that was for personal expediency to keep his seat on the Council not realizing until recently that it was more than that when he was quoted in the Washington Post saying, “The Republican Party that I grew up with disappeared a long time ago. As far as being an Independent, it’s a suit that really fits. I joke that I’ve been in one bad marriage and I’m not about to jump into another.” He needs to explain what principles the Democratic Party stands for that were so abhorrent to him as to consider it would be a bad marriage.

The ‘I’ label on the ballot means the person doesn’t identify with a particular party and voters don’t necessarily have an indication what they believe. What set of political principles do they espouse? What is it about my Democratic Party they find objectionable? Is it support for unions? LGBT civil and human rights? Public education, women’s rights, choice, equal pay for women, raising the minimum wage, removing impediments to voting or working to deal with climate change? If they agree with all those positions are they simply afraid to run in a primary or are they ‘independent’ simply for political expediency?

Recently it’s been suggested that D.C. voters may be coerced or bullied into voting Democratic. That is absurd and offensive. People vote for candidates whose positions they like and who they feel comfortable with. When they do consider party in their decision, it’s often because it gives them a window into the candidates’ beliefs on issues that may not be part of the discussion in a particular election but are still very important to them.

Some ascribe the ethics problems in D.C. to a particular party. But ethics problems relate to individual candidates. Some might consider that George W. Bush being elected in 2000 caused more harm to District residents, especially those with family members in the military or National Guard, than lying on a mortgage application for which one D.C. Council member was appropriately indicted and convicted.

Positions, history and vision are important when considering who to vote for but don’t be coerced or bullied into not considering party affiliation when voting. It is one factor of so many in choosing a candidate. We have a Democratic president and likely will still have a Democratic Senate in 2015.

During the term of the next mayor we will very possibly elect the first woman president, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. So one additional factor voters might want to consider in choosing a mayor is who will have more access to power to benefit the people of the District. Would it be a former Republican who walked away from his party to become an independent, or a woman who is a proud fifth generation, D.C. Democrat? Just more food for thought.

  • I have no worries that David Catania, who will share the world spotlight as the first gay mayor of our nation’s capital with the first woman to be President of the United States, will have no problem getting an audience or having the ear of Hillary. Are you really suggesting that Hillary is so petty or childish that she would ostracize an elected leader over past political decisions that he has repudiated? If so, Bill must still be in the doghouse for signing DOMA and DADT. Come on Peter admit that even you, the good little gay Democrat, didn’t feel like the “D” stood for dupe when Democrats joined Republicans in overwhelming numbers to put those bills on the President’s desk. Do you remember the bone that Clinton threw out to LGBT voters after he relegated us to second class citizen status? He urged the next Congress to expeditiously pass ENDA. If anything you are a patient and forgiving man Peter Rosenstein. I on the other hand am not. I wonder which one of us is more responsible for the shift in the Democratic Party’s support for gay rights? The vote they can always count on no matter what they do, or the one they need to earn to win?

  • And he only walked away because of Gay Marriage He’s now a Republican in the closet! otherwise known as an Independent

  • I’m Just Sayin’ – maybe it’s time you came ‘out’ of the closet-if you want to have an intelligent discussion on the issues.

  • When the Blade offers me a paid column same as you Peter, I’ll be happy to self-identify. Until then I am content to poke holes in a simplistic, one dimensional rationale for how we should choose the next Mayor. As for that intelligent discussion you offer, a mind has to be open to be changed and yours is clearly set on voting party. I actually understand why you cling to that little nugget considering it was you who offered this damning condemnation of Vincent Gray’s democratic primary opponents: “None of the mayor’s challengers has the administrative background to indicate they could administer the city government. At most they have run small office staffs and in one case run a small chain of restaurants, which is very different from administering a city with a budget of more than $10 billion.”

  • Dear Mr. Rosenstein: I note with interest that while you suggest that Independent is not an indication of meaningful positions, you fail to list two DC parties that do have meaningful positions–The DC Statehood Green Party and the Libertarian Party. Ten years ago I discovered that my DC taxes were then more than my Federal taxes when in earlier years they were only about half. Exploration of earlier tax returns revealed that in 1973-4 when we got Home Rule, our Deductions and Exemptions were parallel to the federal rates. I saw that while the federal rates went up according to inflation in DC they went up according to the whim and decisions of our almost all Democrat Council and Mayor. By 1991 the D&Es were only half of the federal D&E rates. Then no increases up to November 2004. Since Democrats had totally ignored this fact, and since I knew David Catania I phoned him and had a lengthy discussion about this issue. He agreed it was unfair and introduced legislation to “couple” our D&Es with the federal rates. The spring of 2005 I was caring for my late husband in his final death spiral from Alzheimers, so was not able to follow this issue closely. I am told the measure did not make it out of committee then, but in 2006 and in 2008 there were small increases, but NONE since.

    Even with these increases, a couple under 65 on 2013 taxes could only deduct $7,450 in D&Es, whereas on the IRS 1040 they could deduct $20,000. With so many in the LGBT community contemplating and getting married, think about that the next time you vote. As for those with children or contemplating raising them, consider this. In DC a couple with 2 children can only deduct $10,800, whereas on the 1040 they could deduct $27,800. And all this thanks to years of Democrat rule on the Council. Now the Tax Revision Commission has recommended that the DC Deductions and Exemptions should be the same as the federal D&Es. However, the Council and Mayor still must approve and vote for this. If approved, next year and each year thereafter, we would all retain a total of $85 million of our tax money. Thanks to 40 years of Democrat neglect we have all lost over $1 billion of our tax money.

    Thus after recovering from the loss of my husband, and feeling I had the will and energy to reengage in politics, I chose to become an activist member of the DC Statehood Green Party. I had also been bringing up the D&E issue every time I testified on anything remotely related to taxes and budgets, plus twice before the Tax Revision Commission. For more information on this issue as well as other issues especially supported by our Party see my blog:

  • Peter, Catania’s quote about having been in one bad marriage and not about to jump into another is a joke about the Republican Party having been a bad marriage for him. As you well know, the seat he holds on the Council cannot be held by a Democrat, so any question of why he is still an independent is easily answered.

    As for the principles he stands for, people like you who have supported him in the past know very well what his principles are. He has a long record and those not familiar with it can see it here: . That record and the issues he addresses contain nearly 16,000 words. Anyone who is doesn’t know what his principles are isn’t looking very hard.

    As a comparison, Muriel’s webpages on both her record and her issues, including three “position papers” total just over 3,200 words. I find this to be an interesting comparison because it plays into a larger narrative that Muriel is light on the issues and doesn’t have much depth.

    Also, as for the insinuation that, because David doesn’t have a “D” by his name, he may not share Democratic principles. I challenge you to find one single piece of legislation that he has introduced that Muriel hasn’t voted for. Just one.

    This race should be, and is increasingly becoming, about who is the most qualified candidate to lead the city. When that is the criteria, the answer is very easy.

  • I’m Just Sayin’ – maybe it’s time you came ‘out’ of the closet-if you want to have an intelligent discussion on the issues. – Peter

    Peter, a personal, ad hominem attack against a Blade reader and regular, civil commentator here is wholly unwarranted.
    I’m wondering… is this the kind of political contempt and arrogance we can expect from a Bowser Administration? That’s a lot like the dismissive, personal contempt for critics Bowser’s mentor, Adrian Fenty, exhibited as mayor. In some measure, that’s likely why Democrats stayed home in droves for the primary.
    Like Fenty, like Bowser? Probably. Why on earth should good Democrats vote for such arrogance again?

  • Peter, You’re seriously wasting your time. LET THEM VOTE FOR CATANIA it’s their right to do so. They know they’re already excluded from delegate action in 2016 so let them vote for whom they choose. If David wins he wins. I hope not. But then don’t go smiling at Muriel talking about she ran a good campaign and then all of us Democrats will love one another again! That’s not going to work.

    Gays like Catania for the issues that concerns them and Bowser supporters likewise. Again as I always say watch the exit polls after the election. I’m still undecided, And Democrats stayed home because of the stunt pulled by Machem on Gray in which THERE IS NO INDICTMENT YET! We’re still waiting on bended knee for him to be arrested which we all know HE WON’T BE. It was a good stunt to give Catania the boost he needed to run.

    Again watch the exit polls!

  • Whether it's cool or not, it's certainly the case that nationwide the Democrats and Republicans are losing voters to independents and other parties. I don't believe most Democrats even understand what various independents want. They simply make extremely uninformed and unimaginative comments about how anybody not following them in their support of Reid, Rangel, Grayson, Schumer, Pelosi, Obama and other such worthies must be Republicans. It's funny that they've dropped that and are now touting Clinton. Wasn't she the front runner at this point in the last election cycle, just before she claimed she had bravely walked through Bosnian sniper fire? Democrats are basically dependent on 40% of the voters not voting – the number who didn't vote last time, bored or opposed to the two choices allowed on the ballots and in the media, greater than the 30% who voted for Obama or the 29% who voted for Romney.

  • I have always been an independent and never registered with either party because I find both of them to make assumptions about my background, my beliefs, and my social goals. I review every candidate thoroughly and I make my choice based on my goals and the office for which the candidate is running which led one year in Massachusetts to voting Republican for Governor, Green for a local position, and Libertarian for State Treasurer.

  • I'm a Democrat, and have consistently voted Democrat, but Bowser has not impressed me as a qualified candidate. Despite his Republican past, I'm seriously considering voting for Catania. I don't think the Democratic establishment in DC should consider the LGBT vote a freebie.

  • Why would anybody consider Hillary? She is a wicked witch with blood on her hands. She is a warmongering fascist even worse than John McCain or Lindsey Graham. In the good old days gay people were into Gay Liberation, the Liberation of Humanity, and peace and prosperity for all. Not the warmongering fascism we have today in the Democrat Fascist Warmongering Party, not to mention the Republican Fascist Warmongering Party. But I guess somebody has to guard the opium poppies and brutally murder innocent children around the world in the name of protecting our freedom. But don't blame me, I voted for Peace and Prosperity instead of War and Poverty. I voted for Ron Paul.

  • After reading about the courageous act of Wilson High’s principal coming out in front of the entire student body during their Pride celebration, I think the very least that DC’s LGBT voters can do is open their own minds, set party affiliation aside and OBJECTIVELY consider the candidacy of David Catania. If you find him so lacking that the city would be doomed if he were elected mayor, or you have lived a life of perfect choices that you can’t accept a person who has made some questionable ones in their past, then so be it. However, to suggest that we have come so far in terms of equality that it no longer matters that we put a gay man in the highest office of city government in our nation’s capital is utter nonsense. Or as they say at Wilson High….bogus.

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