Lesbian attorney and former Gertrude Stein Democratic Club President Lateefah Williams received compliments for her LGBT advocacy work from two of her four rivals in the race for the city’s newly created elected attorney general’s position during a debate Monday night at a saloon on H Street, N.E.
Williams is one of five attorneys, all Democrats, competing for the position in the city’s Nov. 4 election in a race in which a recent poll showed Williams was in second place with strong support from black voters.
But the poll, commissioned by the Washington Post and NBC4 News and conducted by the Marist polling firm, also showed that a whopping 57 percent of respondents were either undecided or had no opinion on who they would vote for.
The poll showed attorney, civic activist and marijuana legalization advocate Paul Zukerberg in the lead with just 14 percent of likely voters and 12 percent of registered voters. Zukerberg successfully sued the city to have the attorney general election this year rather than in 2016 as favored by the City Council.
Williams had 7 percent of likely voters and 9 percent of registered voters. The poll showed candidate Lorie Masters also with 7 percent of likely voters and 8 percent of registered voters.
Edward “Smitty” Smith had 5 percent of likely voters and 6 percent of registered voters, with Karl Racine receiving 5 percent of likely and registered voters, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent for the sample of likely voters.
Most political observers have said the poll conducted Sept. 14-16 confirms that a solid majority of city residents were unfamiliar with the candidates and issues surrounding the city’s first-ever attorney general election and that the outcome of the election could not be predicted.
During Monday night’s debate at the Rock & Roll Hotel bar and restaurant, Zuckerberg complimented Williams for her advocacy for LGBT equality and pointed to his own record of support for the LGBT community. He pledged to be a “champion” for equal rights for all people, including LGBT people, if elected.
His comment prompted the other candidates to declare their strong support for LGBT rights. Among them were Racine, a law firm partner and former Clinton administration official; “Smitty” Smith, a partner in another prominent law firm and former Obama administration official; and Masters, also a law firm partner specializing in insurance law and a former board member of D.C. Vote, the lead group pushing for D.C. voting rights in Congress.
In response to a question by the debate’s moderator, Washington City Paper reporter Will Sommer, asking whether Williams and Smith’s relatively short experience practicing law in D.C. qualified them for the attorney general’s post, Racine jumped in to defend Williams.
Calling the question “almost insulting,” Racine said Williams’ overall experience as a lawyer and community activist fully qualified her for the job, although he pointed out later that his own experience as a practicing lawyer for more than 20 years made him the most qualified among the candidates to serve as attorney general.
Summer noted in a City Paper web posting the next day that it was Williams herself who raised the issue of her legal experience in a Washington Blade column.
“I think a lot of people really don’t know too much about my background,” Williams told the Blade after the debate. “It gave me the opportunity to let them get to know my full legal background so that they can hear about my litigation experience,” she said in discussing how she did in the debate. “I think it went well,” she said.
Williams has argued that her long experience as a community advocate and organizer gives her a perspective that her rivals lack in ensuring that the Office of the Attorney General will meet the needs of the average citizen as well as the city’s legal needs.
In separate interviews with the Blade, Zukerberg, Racine and Smith discussed their plans for ensuring that the rights of LGBT citizens are protected by the Attorney General’s office. The Blade will be speaking with Masters shortly.
Some observers suggested the lack of voter knowledge of the candidates could place Williams at a disadvantage because her campaign has raised the least amount of money – less than $10,000 as of the August reporting period – possibly making it difficult for her to promote her campaign through advertising.
The most recent campaign finance reports show that Racine raised more than $240,000 for his campaign, with $225,000 coming from his own donation or loans to his campaign. The reports show Smith was in second place in fundraising, with around $150,000 on hand to spend. Masters’ and Zukerberg’s finance reports showed both raised just under $50,000.
Williams and the other attorney general candidates were expected to discuss their positions on LGBT issues in detail at a Stein Club endorsement forum scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 6, at the Smith Public Trust, 3514 12th St., N.E., near the Brookland Metro station.