Lesbian communications executive Courtney Snowden won the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club Monday night in the hotly contested 15-candidate race for two at-large seats on the D.C. City Council.
With close to 200 people attending an endorsement forum at the Smith Public Trust bar and restaurant in the city’s Brookland section, law firm partner and former Obama administration official Edward “Smitty” Smith won the club’s endorsement for attorney general.
“The reality is we need representation from our own community on the Council and people recognize that,” Snowden said after the vote.
“I’m a lot of things,” she said. “I’m a sixth-generation Washingtonian. I’m a mother and parent. And most importantly, though, I’m a member of the D.C. community and yes I’m also an open lesbian,” she said. “And yes, we’re going to make history in this race.”
Prior to joining the D.C.-based communications and public affairs firm the Raben Group, Snowden worked as a staffer for then-Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), the first out lesbian to be elected to Congress. Snowden later worked on LGBT issues for the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network or GLSEN.
Snowden and Smith each captured the Stein Club’s endorsement in a second ballot vote after they and 12 other candidates participating in the forum were unable to garner a required 60 percent of the vote on the first ballot.
“I’m so proud to have the endorsement of the Stein Club,” Smith said after the vote. “It’s a major Democratic institution in this city and so having this endorsement means a lot to me personally and means a lot to this campaign.”
In an unscheduled appearance, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) greeted the crowd at the end of the forum, basking in the endorsement she received earlier in the day from President Obama.
“We had a big day in the party today — did you hear?” she said to loud cheers and applause. “President Barack Obama said Muriel Bowser for mayor is the way to move our city forward.”
The Stein Club endorsed Bowser for mayor in June.
Six of the 15 at-large candidates on the ballot didn’t participate in the club’s forum Monday night. Among them were incumbent Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who has already received the club’s endorsement; and gay Republican candidate Marc Morgan, who’s ineligible for the Stein endorsement because of his Republican affiliation.
Smith, whose campaign for the attorney general post made an aggressive outreach to the LGBT community, received 82 votes in the first-ballot contest (59.8 percent), eliminating from contention three other candidates, including lesbian attorney and former Stein Club President Lateefah Williams, who received 16 votes (11.6 percent).
Smith was not well known in the LGBT community prior to becoming a candidate for attorney general. He said after the vote that he and his LGBT community supporters have been educating the community on his strong record of support.
“I think it happened because people around this city have heard my message and my message resonates,” he said. “And people were eager to come out to support this campaign because they see in me a candidate who has both the ability and the experience and also the commitment to the city and public service to represent them as attorney general.”
Snowden has noted during the campaign that gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) is giving up his Council seat to run for mayor and gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) is leaving the Council in January after losing his re-election bid in the city’s April primary.
If she isn’t successful in her race for Catania’s seat, the Council will be without an out gay member for the first time since 1997, Snowden and other LGBT advocates have said.
Attorney, civic activist and marijuana legalization advocate Paul Zukerberg came in second place in the first ballot contest with 18 votes (13.1 percent). In the second ballot contest between Smith and Zukerberg, Smith beat Zukerberg by a vote of 76 to 23. Under the club’s rules only candidates finishing in first and second place are eligible to compete in a second ballot runoff.
Two recent public opinion polls have shown Zukerberg in the lead in the five-candidate attorney general race, but one of the two polls showed 57 percent of respondents were undecided or had no opinion on the race.
The other attorney general candidates that participated in the Stein Club forum were law firm partner and executive Karl Racine, who received 6 votes in the first-ballot vote; and law firm partner Lorie Master, who received 12 votes.
All the attorney general candidates expressed strong support for LGBT rights and all but Williams vowed to be a committed straight ally to the LGBT community while serving as attorney general. Williams told the forum that as a member of the LGBT community she has the best understanding of issues of concern to LGBT people as well as issues impacting the city as a whole.
With dozens of forum attendees entering the popular Brookland restaurant and tavern wearing “Smitty” stickers or buttons it became clear at the start of the event that Smith had lined up the most supporters for the forum.
Traditionally, large numbers of new members have joined the Stein Club prior to forums and meetings where candidates compete for the club’s endorsement. Under the club’s current rules, someone must be a member for at least 30 days to be eligible to vote on an endorsement.
In the contest for the at-large Council seats, Snowden finished second in the first ballot vote behind journalist and civic activist Elissa Silverman, receiving 44 votes compared to 47 votes cast for Silverman. Attorney and civic activist Robert White received 21 votes.
The remaining candidates participating in the forum finished far behind, with trade association official and civic activist Eric Jones receiving five votes; D.C. ‘shadow’ Senator Michael D. Brown received three votes; restaurant owner and progressive activist Khalid Pitts received one vote. Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kishan Putta; attorney and Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Hart; and Rev. Graylan Hagler, a longtime supporter of marriage equality, each received no votes.
Pitts’ poor showing surprised some observes attending the forum because he has been a longtime supporter of LGBT issues and causes, including marriage equality, through his association with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). He has also been endorsed by Joe Solmonese, former president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT political advocacy group.
Silverman received strong support from many LGBT activists when she ran for an at-large Council seat last year. She came in a close second to D.C. Democratic Party Chairperson Anita Bonds, who’s running for re-election this year as the Democratic nominee.
Under the city’s election law, a Democrat is only eligible for one of the two at-large seats up for election. And in a process that has long confused city residents, each voter can cast two votes for the at-large candidates, with the highest two vote getters declared the winner.
Each of the candidates’ responses to a Stein Club questionnaire on LGBT related issues can be viewed here.