Connect with us

Opinions

Vague D.C. statute hinders my attorney general run

City must provide guidance on key qualification for the race

Published

on

Lateefah Williams, gay news, Washington Blade
Lateefah Williams, gay news, Washington Blade, attorney general

Lateefah Williams (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

This may come as a surprise, but for the past two weeks I have been privately exploring a run for D.C. attorney general. I decided to consider running after reading about the declared and potential candidates and feeling that there is no one in the race with an extensive background in public service or community advocacy.

While some people are salivating over the prospect of several “big law” partners showing interest in the race, I am concerned that underrepresented communities and the average person will not have a voice. The prospect of another attorney general who does not prioritize the pursuit of justice and service to all D.C. residents, particularly our most vulnerable residents, is a frightening scenario to me.

As a 37-year-old woman with more than a decade of experience as a licensed attorney (11 years in Maryland; six years in D.C.), I have a good blend of youth and seasoning. My previous experience includes serving as counsel to the Prince George’s County Maryland State Senate Delegation, political and legislative director for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, and as a law firm associate handling insurance defense, plaintiff-side tort law, and family law matters.

Upon first glance, the qualifications for the attorney general position appear basic enough. They are:

 

§ 1-301.83. Minimum qualifications and requirements for Attorney General.

 

(a)    No person shall hold the position of Attorney General for the District of Columbia unless that person:

 

(1) Is a registered qualified elector as defined in § 1-1001.02(20);

 

(2) Is a bona fide resident of the District of Columbia;

 

(3) Is a member in good standing of the bar of the District of Columbia;

 

(4) Has been a member in good standing of the bar of the District of Columbia for at least 5 years prior to assuming the position of Attorney General; and

 

(5) Has been actively engaged, for at least 5 of the 10 years immediately preceding the assumption of the position of Attorney General, as:

 

 (A) An attorney in the practice of law in the District of Columbia;

 

(B) A judge of a court in the District of Columbia;

 

(C) A professor of law in a law school in the District of Columbia; or

 

(D) An attorney employed in the District of Columbia by the United States or the District of Columbia.

 

So, you have to be a D.C. resident and registered voter, who has been a member in good standing of the D.C. Bar for at least five years. The tricky part is section (a)(5)(A), which requires that you have been “actively engaged” for at least five of the last 10 years as an “attorney in the practice of law in the District of Columbia.” As an attorney who has spent most of my career engaged in legislative and policy work, I decided to seek clarification on this requirement.

It is a well-known and accepted practice that many organizations hire attorneys to work in public policy positions because of the additional legal analysis skillset that we bring to the position. The D.C. Code does not define the term “actively engaged,” so it is not immediately evident how this provision applies to attorneys with the requisite years of bar membership, who are practicing law in less traditional ways.

When I first pondered running for attorney general two weeks ago, I decided to call the D.C. Board of Elections to see if I meet this provision. I called and asked to speak to an attorney, but the person who answered the phone asked my concern, relayed my question to one of the attorneys, and then told me that the attorney said it did not matter what type of law I practiced, so public policy is fine. With this assurance, for the next two weeks, I began the process of reaching out to friends, relatives and community advocates to gain a sense of whether there was interest in my candidacy and the level of support that I would have or could potentially obtain.  After numerous conversations and weighing the pros and cons of running, I made the decision to run. I decided to pick up my petitions on July 3, so I could begin circulating them at events during the July 4 holiday weekend.

When I arrived at the Board of Elections, I convinced the front desk personnel to allow me to speak directly with one of the attorneys.  The attorney that I spoke with said that they had not pondered my specific question and she verified that the term “actively engaged” has not been defined. She suggested that I reach out to the General Counsel of the D.C. Council for more guidance. I called the Council’s General Council while I was still at the BOE and asked him my question about the qualifications. He also said that my specific question had not been considered and that I should reach out to the attorneys at the BOE because they would be tasked with interpreting the statute. I then told him that I was calling from the BOE and an attorney there suggested that I call him. He then said he would reach out directly to the BOE attorney, which he immediately did once we ended our call.

I then spoke to the BOE attorney again and she advised me that the D.C. Council’s general counsel is continuing to research the matter, including the legislative history, and that I should have guidance on the matter well before the deadline to submit petitions.  However, both attorneys seemed to lean toward the interpretation that to have been “actively engaged” as “an attorney in the practice of law” you must hold a position that cannot be held by a non-attorney.  Thus, lawyers who are active bar members and have practiced for decades, but are currently employed as corporate vice presidents or nonprofit executive directors would be excluded if they had done this work continuously for the past 6 years.

I presented them with my exact scenario. During four of the years in question, while an active member of the D.C. Bar, I served as a nonprofit speech rights policy analyst for OMB Watch (now the Center for Effective Government) researching and analyzing how tax laws impact nonprofits. I even mentioned the caveat that the nonprofit speech rights director who hired me was also an attorney and my legal expertise was one of the reasons I was hired.

The second position was as the political and legislative director for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 (Metro’s largest union). This also may not meet their definition, even though at many organizations the legislative counsel reports to the legislative director.

The irony of all of this is that according to provision (a)(5)(D), if I was employed by D.C. government or the federal government, then I would only have to be an attorney, but the provision “in the practice of law” does not apply, so if someone graduates from law school, is admitted to the D.C. Bar, and works for the government in any capacity for five years, then they are eligible, but someone like me who practiced in Maryland for years in positions that would definitively count, then once licensed in D.C., used my legal expertise on public policy matters, is possibly precluded from running.

As I mentioned, the Council’s general counsel is continuing to research this matter and I expect him to give me guidance soon. I appreciate the time that the D.C. Council and Board of Elections attorneys took to immediately answer my questions and begin researching a scenario that does not appear to have been contemplated.  Even when I receive the D.C. Council’s general counsel’s opinion, it will serve as guidance, but it will not be official. Thus, if I decide to run and am challenged, the three-member Board of Elections would decide the matter and it could then be appealed to the D.C. courts.

Some may see this as evidence that the election should be held in 2018 and not 2014, but I believe this situation illustrates the opposite. If the D.C. Council was not so busy trying to push the election back to 2018, it may have paid more attention to important logistical matters surrounding the 2014 election. It is absolutely outrageous that in the midst of an election’s petition period, a potential candidate cannot receive definitive guidance on a key qualification for the race. It should increase the outrage that the result may serve to silence a candidate who is a member of several underrepresented groups that otherwise will not have a voice in this race.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Commentary

My suicide ideation: A journey to self-love

It is much harder for those of us on the margins

Published

on

Jessica Arends is a writer who lives in Hyattsville, Maryland.

(Editor’s note: This piece is a response to last week’s Blade cover story by David Lett recounting his suicide attempt. If you are experiencing suicidal ideation, call 988 or one of many LGBTQ-specific advocacy groups offering support. If you would like to share your own story of overcoming isolation, depression, or suicidal ideation, email us at [email protected].)

Perhaps it was the grinding loneliness of the pandemic, but about two years ago my fantasies of being with women became daily distractions. I could not be fully present with my husband and felt a constant tug for something more, something outside of a life I had spent 18 years cultivating. I lived in a constant cycle of fantasy, guilt, denial, back to fantasy.  

My supportive husband was willing to try an open marriage, but non-monogamy did not agree with my Christian upbringing. Then, as most stories go, I met someone. She was funny, attractive, and OK with the situation, so we gave it a shot. Each date sailed me up into unprecedented heights and hollowed out an equally deep pit of despair. “Yes! I am like this. . . Oh, dear God, I am really like this!” It was like coming home to who you knew you always were only to find you were now among those most judged, wicked, and despised. With each queer book we read and lesbian drama we watched, I discovered deep and integral parts of me debilitated and atrophied by shame. They started to heal.

The more these parts of me solidified, the more other parts unraveled. A cascade of questions and doubts plagued me. If I was not heterosexual, what else was not true about me? Was my life just a string of acts meant to fulfill social expectations? My career, education, even my friends. Was I me or just performing someone not me for others? The great irony of living by the rules of others is that we live for no one. Without the willingness to bravely share who I truly was, no matter how broken, that primal quest for connection, love and belonging would never be satisfied.

Hence I navigated that precarious path of how out to be — how to stay honest to myself but not cause discomfort. My husband remained open, but my late nights and emotional distance took a great toll on our relationship. I would return home to neatly folded laundry, well-prepared meals and enormous guilt. It was liberating and devastating all at once.

Staying with my husband seemed impossible, but the fear of being alone and rejected from family at age 45 was unbearable. This innate thing inside of me was destroying my life. I imagined cutting myself open and tearing out those parts, but when I looked closely I found they were inseparable — my queerness is fully entwined with my heart, head, and gut. I broke under the weight of this agony and spent weeks in and out of crying spells.

One day I found myself down by the tracks. The sound of a train thundering by broke through my numbness. With a few steps, I could surrender and be free from this torment. I stepped through the thin line of brush that separated me from the tracks. They seductively glistened in the sunlight. Relief. Yes, the final silence of death could take away everything.

Another train raced by, the horn deafening. The blast of wind pushed me away. I collapsed sobbing. I needed help if I was going to survive this. 

Thanks to therapy, acupuncture, yoga, LGBTQ support groups and caring friends and family, I am slowly opening the door to self-love. It is much harder for those of us on the margins. The love from others is no substitute, be they a long-time partner, new girlfriend or family member. Unlearning my self-hatred meant letting go of the deeply held but deeply flawed promises of the straight life: be they heteronormativity, monogamy, gender conformity, the picket fence  — you name it. I had to break my own heart. Only then I could truly love myself.

Jessica Arends is a writer and artist.

Continue Reading

Opinions

Left-wing candidates hurt Democratic Party

We will lose more elections if we nominate socialists

Published

on

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ran for and lost the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. President. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

We are seeing time and time again how left-wing candidates are hurting the Democratic Party. While I agree with much of what some like Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are supporting, we are seeing left-leaning candidates supported by them losing in the general election in most of the country. 

While Trumpers are so much worse in what they stand for, the one similarity we are seeing, as we did in the mid-term elections, is these candidates also can’t win a general election.  The reality is, the majority of the country is moderate. In fact, in many areas the general election voter is moderate-leaning right.  

We witnessed that last year in the Buffalo, N.Y. mayor’s race where a Democratic Socialist won the Democratic primary, and then was defeated in the election by a write-in moderate Democrat. In New York City the moderate candidate, Eric Adams, won the mayor’s race. 

In the mid-term elections we have seen the same thing. A left-wing candidate can win a Democratic primary, then lose in the general election. James Hohmann recently wrote about this in the Washington Post in a column titled “The Democrats have a ‘candidate quality’ problem, too.” He wrote, “Consider the 5th Congressional District of Oregon. Leading Republican and Democratic operatives agree that Rep. Kurt Schrader would have handily won reelection if he’d made it to the general in a district Biden carried by nine points. But he didn’t. Instead, a more liberal Democrat, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, won the nomination in May and then lost the seat to Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer last week by 8,500 votes.” Another example he uses is “Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) narrowly beat back a primary challenge from his left in the primary and then easily won in the fall. In a neighboring district of the Rio Grande Valley, however, outspoken liberal Michelle Vallejo beat a moderate by just 30 votes in a primary runoff. Then she lost to Republican Monica De La Cruz by nine points. The GOP picked up a number of seats in New York state under similar circumstances.” I would propose Alessandra Biaggi’s primary against Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), supported by AOC, cost him the seat in the general election in the new 17th district in New York. 

It’s good that Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who will most likely be the new Minority Leader, is a moderate. There is a story on ABC News about the potential new leadership of the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives. “Jeffries, first elected in 2012, has long been considered Pelosi’s heir apparent, rising through the ranks to land a perch in the party’s House leadership.”

In a statement after Pelosi’s speech on Thursday, he called her “the most accomplished” speaker in the country’s history but did not allude to his own plans. A 52-year-old descendant of enslaved people, Jeffries could be a potential history-maker himself if Democrats retake the House in future cycles: He would be the first Black speaker. Jeffries has a reputation as a capable operator inside the conference with sharp media skills to sell a Democratic message to the public (and a penchant for referencing Biggie Smalls in floor speeches). However, he could face some opposition from the most vocal progressives in the House, who labeled him a centrist. “I’m a Black progressive Democrat concerned with addressing racial and social and economic injustice with the fierce urgency of now. That’s been my career, that’s been my journey and it will continue to be as I move forward for however long I have an opportunity to serve. There will never be a moment where I bend the knee to hard-left democratic socialism,” he told The Atlantic last year.”

It could easily be concluded Democrats lost the Wisconsin Senate seat because the disgusting incumbent, Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), could tie his Democratic challenger to the ‘Squad’ and bring up his original support of the slogan ‘defund the police’. While some will say newly elected Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman was also tagged with the left, he was lucky he had such a crazy Trump supported Republican like Dr. Oz to run against, and a moderate Democratic candidate for governor, Josh Shapiro, on the ticket who won big. 

If Democrats are to retake the House and win the presidency in 2024, we will need moderate congressional candidates and a moderate to head the ticket. He/she/they can be for moving forward legislation on climate change, LGBTQ equality, choice, and a host of other issues that progressives like; but they can’t be seen as left-wing or socialist. If they are, Democrats will lose. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

Continue Reading

Opinions

A tribute to our LGBTQ bars

From Pulse to Club Q, these spaces are sacred

Published

on

A memorial to Club Q was set up outside As You Are Bar on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

(Editor’s note: I wrote this piece in 2016 after traveling to Orlando to cover the Pulse massacre. Sadly, its message is newly relevant today after the horrific events in Colorado Springs.) 

ORLANDO, Fla. — The world watched in horror this week as the proudly resilient LGBT community here coped with unthinkable tragedy.

Sadly, our community has a lot of experience with such things.

From the AIDS crisis in which we fought an indifferent government and hostile neighbors. To an untold number of previous attacks on our bars and clubs, including the 1973 firebombing of the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans that killed 32 gay men. To enduring the playground taunts and everyday slurs that go along with being “different” in this country.

We were horrified, too, about what happened at Pulse, though not as shocked as our straight counterparts. They will never know what it’s like to walk through life with a permanent target on your back. To pause before each touch; to hesitate before exchanging a hug or kiss with a partner or spouse. To calculate before coming out at work. To endure the judgmental stares when checking in at a hotel or booking a restaurant reservation on Valentine’s Day. To walk around the block, scanning the scene before mustering the nerve to walk into a gay bar. To be insulted, mocked, beaten up just for loving someone of the same sex. We’ve all been there.

So much has been written in recent years about this “post-gay” world in which we supposedly live. A world in which there’s no need for LGBT-identified spaces like bars, clubs, coffee shops, bookstores and, yes, newspapers, because we’re “integrated” and “accepted” now.

What happened in Orlando is a heartbreaking reminder that there’s no such thing as “post-gay,” and that our spaces are sacred. Where outsiders see only a bar or club, we see a community center or the place where we formed our closest friendships or met our significant others. Our bars and clubs have played a heroic role in supporting the community, serving as gathering places in times of triumph and tragedy and helping to raise countless dollars to fund our causes, to fight HIV, to aid our own. When the government turned its back, the first dollars raised to fight AIDS came from the bar and club scene.

The attack in Orlando was an attack on all of us because there’s a Pulse in every city in this country. A place where we can let our guard down, be ourselves, embrace our friends and kiss our partners openly. We need those places because regardless of whether you live in Dupont Circle or rural Alabama, there is a risk in engaging in public displays of affection if you’re LGBT.

A look at the public response to the Orlando massacre reveals just how much work lies ahead. The Florida governor has tried to erase LGBT identity from the attack. We can’t even get validation in death in some quarters. The lieutenant governor of Texas tweeted homophobic Bible verses on the morning of the attack yet somehow still has a job. Last week, before the attack, Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.) read a Bible verse on the U.S. House floor that calls for the death of gay people. Shortly after, the House voted overwhelmingly to reject a spending bill that included discrimination protections for LGBT workers.

Even those Republicans who have issued milquetoast statements offering “thoughts and prayers” are left to reconcile those sentiments with their own voting records hostile to LGBT causes. The presumptive GOP nominee for president, whose name I can’t bear to include in a tribute to Orlando, claims to care about what happened, yet has pledged to nominate Supreme Court justices committed to overturning the marriage equality ruling.

Hillary Clinton is right — this isn’t the time for politics. As we struggle with how to respond to the massacre and to those who would demonize and discriminate against us and cast us back into the closet, we should resist the urge to lash out and respond simply with love.

It’s been humbling to be here in Orlando this week, watching members of our community cope with such grace, dignity and determination. They didn’t shut down the community center in fear, instead they opened the doors wide to all while working tirelessly to raise money for the victims, collect donations of water and supplies for blood centers overwhelmed by volunteers, negotiate deals with airlines to fly loved ones to town for unexpected funerals and more.

One of the remarkable people I’ve met here this week, Pastor Brei, said it best:
“Have faith and believe that evil and hate can be eradicated one person at a time. How do you treat someone? How do you embrace someone who treats you wrong? We all bleed, laugh, hope and have great victories and major defeats. And so, you know me, even if you don’t know my name — I’m you.”

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

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular