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Catania: ‘I’m best qualified to be mayor’

Gay candidate asks voters to look at record, ‘not party label’



David Catania
David Catania, gay news, Washington Blade

‘I see a city that can do better,’ said mayoral candidate David Catania. ‘And I see things that aren’t right and I want to make them right.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series profiling the leading candidates for mayor. Last week’s interview with Carol Schwartz is available here. Next week: Muriel Bowser.


If he should emerge as the winner in the Nov. 4 mayoral election, D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) would become the first non-Democrat, the first white person, and the first out gay to become mayor of the nation’s capital since the start of the city’s home rule government in 1974.

Most political observers agree that those are three big hurdles to overcome, and many believe Catania’s status as a non-Democrat may be the most difficult of the three.

But Catania, 46, and his supporters – both gay and straight – argue that a careful assessment of his 17-year record on the City Council would convince voters that he is the most progressive of the three main candidates in the race and a proven ‘good-government’ advocate who’s most qualified for the job of mayor.

“I’m the only one in the race with a progressive record of substance,” Catania said in an interview with the Washington Blade earlier this month.

“And I think that progressive record resonates across all demographics in our city,” he said. “I’ve won five races citywide. I’ve made friends in every corner of the city. And I have delivered for every corner of the city.”

Added Catania, “And when people go into the voting booths they are asking themselves do they want a mayor who can deliver and who has delivered and who knows where he or she is going to take the city. Do they want values or do they want labels?”

Some believe Catania faces another hurdle of overcoming his status as a former Republican in the eyes of at least some D.C. voters. Catania first won his seat on the Council in 1997 as a Republican. He switched from being a Republican to an independent in 2004 when President George W. Bush announced his support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Catania again points to his record, dismissing as ridiculous any notion that he would be influenced by the rightward drifting GOP he says he abandoned for reasons beyond Bush’s opposition to marriage equality.

He said his Republican roots stem, among other things, from his childhood upbringing in his mother’s hometown of Osawatomie, Kan., a town in which the abolitionist movement with close ties to the then fledgling Republican Party took hold shortly before the start of the Civil War. Catania notes that the town’s leaders advocated for Kansas to become a free rather than a slave state.

He’s most proud, he said, of his role as author and lead advocate for the city’s marriage equality law that the Council passed in 2009 and enabled same-sex couples to begin marrying in D.C. in early 2010. He says he’s also proud to have authored a transgender rights measure that requires the city to issue a new birth certificate for people who transition from one gender to another.

Other city measures he authored and played a key role in shepherding through the Council include the city’s medical marijuana law and the “smoke free” law banning smoking in most places of employment, including bars and restaurants. During his 10-year stint as chair of the Council’s health committee, Catania is credited with pushing through major reforms in the city’s AIDS related programs, boosting the city’s program for providing medical insurance for low-income residents and children, and preventing United Medical Center, the city’s only hospital serving residents east of the Anacostia River, from closing due to financial problems.

Catania’s two main rivals in the mayor’s race – Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), the frontrunner in the race according to latest polls, and former Council member Carol Schwartz, a Republican turned independent, argue that their own records and accomplishments make them the best suited to be mayor.

Bowser has said she is reaching out to all voters, even though her campaign emphasizes she’s the Democratic candidate who’s been endorsed by President Obama. With more than 76 percent of the city’s voters registered as Democrats, most political observers consider Bowser to have a significant advantage.

Catania supporters, including his large cadre of Democratic supporters such as former Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), point to what they say are strong signs of voter dissatisfaction with the status quo of D.C. politics.

The indictment of three City Council members in recent years on corruption-related charges and the investigation of Mayor Vincent Gray for the illegal “shadow” campaign linked to his 2010 election have changed the way voters view their elected officials and candidates, many political pundits have said.

Catania backers, noting that two of the three indicted Council members were Democrats and the other had strong ties to the Democratic Party, have said voters are ready to break from the past trend of electing only Democrats as mayor.

“I’m clearly the anti-establishment candidate,” he said. “In this city we have a machine and I don’t want to be a part of that machine…I want to see things that aren’t right and I want to make them right.”

Catania has been endorsed by a number of organizations his supporters consider to be progressive, including the Sierra Club and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. He received a +10 rating from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the group’s highest possible score.

The Blade interviewed Catania for this story on Oct. 6, the day the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage to become legal in several new states.


Washington Blade: There’s breaking news this morning from the Supreme Court, which refused to take on the same-sex marriage cases from several states, including Virginia. It appears that same-sex marriages can begin in Virginia as soon as today. What is the significance of that as you see it?

David Catania: It’s breathtaking – the scope and pace of change with respect to marriage equality today. I’m reminded that on this day five years ago on Oct. 6 of 2009 is when I introduced the marriage equality legislation in the Council. So we’ve come a long way in five years. It’s a pleasant coincidence that the Supreme Court would deny cert for these many circuits on the subject of marriage equality on the same day that marks the introduction of marriage here. We’ve come a long way.


Blade: How do you see D.C. fitting into all of this?

Catania: What’s interesting is that in 2014 a lot of people kind of jumped on the marriage bandwagon. But I remember laying the foundation for this work in 2008, when many of the individuals who have been involved in advancing LGBT rights in the city were not sold on the timing of my introduction and the strategy that we took. But I took a very purposeful strategy starting in November of 2008 that ultimately culminated in the introduction in October of 2009. It was a very deliberate, very focused effort to get people, to get the community galvanized, to get the community on board with the notion of inevitability to bring the various leaders in the community together, to bring the religious community together with the LGBT community.

We got very lucky. A whole series of events made it possible for us to go forward. I want to say that I think often about Frank Kameny. And it’s a name I hope we don’t forget. And I think of him in particular as the father of the movement here in so many ways. Now there have been so many others. I don’t want to suggest him at the exclusion of others. But as far as me personally, Frank Kameny played a big role in my thinking toward how we were going to capture our equality.


Blade: With that as a backdrop, why are you running for mayor?

Catania: Well, for the last 17 years I’ve gotten up every day with an incredible sense of urgency, and I’ve run toward the city’s problems. And I’m running for mayor for the same reason I ran for Council in 1997. I see a city that can do better. And I see things that aren’t right and I want to make them right.

That’s what I’ve spent my career doing. And globally it’s a city that has strong enduring fundamental strengths. But we haven’t really lived our values. Our values – our common values as a city – where after 17 years having been in every corner of the city I can tell you as a city we have common values that are deeply American values. We believe in opportunity. We believe in fairness. We believe in playing by the rules. And yet our government very often falls short of those values. I think we need a government that is as good as we are, as good as our values. And that’s why I’m running.

I’m the only one in the race that candidly has a record of delivering for people. So my principle opponent is trying to encourage people to be for her because of her party label. And it’s hard to see any evidence that she advanced the ball on behalf of the people in our city.

You know, I can look at without question having the most progressive record in this race, regardless of label. My values are in line with the residents of our city. I have the most progressive record without fail in this race – having authored marriage equality, having authored medical marijuana many years ago before that was an easy thing to do.

My work as the chairman of the Committee on Health – we made some historic progress in this city. We cut the rate of uninsured in half through improvements in our publicly funded system and targeted expansions and eligibility. We went from 12.8 percent uninsured to 5.9 percent — the second lowest rate in the country — 3.2 percent for children — the lowest rate in the country.

You recall the HIV/AIDS crisis that I inherited in 2005, when we were compared to Third World countries, where we had an epidemic three times the rate of a World Health Organization epidemic, where we weren’t paying vendors. It took us a year to pay vendors. We had a pile of money in the bank and a wait list for HIV drugs. There was very limited testing, etc.

And you know through force of will and very tight and focused management and oversight – we had weekly hearings of the HIV/AIDS Administration early on to turn this around. We cut our new infections in half during my eight years and deaths by 69 percent.

I’m the only one with a record of touching the lives of people who live east of the Anacostia River. My opponents can’t point to a single thing for a quarter of our city that lives east of the Anacostia River. And my work to cut the rate of the uninsured in half had a profound impact.

The community legislation I wrote in 2006 secured ties to our tobacco settlement and produced $240 million in capital. The largest investment in primary and acute care in our city’s history was under my leadership, including a $100 million investment in United Medical Center to turn that hospital around. It includes a Children’s National Medical Center run pediatric emergency room on that site that sees 40,000 kids per year.

I think these are historic initiatives that give people an understanding of things I care about and my approach to issues and so on.


Blade: As you know, some of your critics are saying that along the way during the oversight hearings you held on a lot of these issues, including hearings on HIV/AIDS matters, you have been too abrasive in grilling the government officials who came before your committee. On the other hand, others have said they were glad you did that because some of the unresponsive bureaucrats needed a verbal kick in the pants. How do you respond in your own words to the criticism that your temperament may be a little too harsh?

Catania: You know I think you should look at some of the people that were before me during those early years and see where they are now. Among my biggest supporters and contributors were the people who were on the other side. People like Shannon Hader and Dr. Pane, who was the head of the Department of Health. During this entire period Shannon Hader who was the head of the HIV/AIDS Administration – Dr. Feseha Woldu, who was the longest serving [D.C.] deputy director of health. If you look at actually the people that I worked with, they’re among my biggest supporters because they appreciated that what I was doing was breaking logjams in the entire government.

It wasn’t focused at the person at the table. It was focused at the entire organization. And, you know, like it or not we went from an epidemic that was uncontrolled and unresponsive to one where we have among the best data and research analysis in the country with our annual epidemiology report. What we don’t have are waitlists for HIV/AIDS drugs, where we went from 8,000 to 138,000 publicly funded [HIV] tests. We went to a factor of 10 increase in publicly distributed male and female condoms. We improved the infrastructure of primary care facilities across the city. We engaged primary care physicians on how to broaden their practice of treating the epidemic – and on and on and on.

And governing isn’t easy. This is not a garden party. This is about marshaling resources. It’s about constructing accountability plans; it’s about pushing people until you get the results that our residents deserve.


Blade: Some of the Bowser supporters are saying you’re taking credit for some of the things that a lot of other people played a role in. Concerning the decline in the number of AIDS deaths they say it was due to the availability of improved drugs nationally that became available.

Catania: Well it’s interesting that Muriel Bowser in seven years on the Council has never mentioned HIV/AIDS once – not once. Obviously she has not mentioned or introduced a single measure on the subject. But she’s not even mentioned the subject once.


Blade: Do you mean while in a Council meeting?

Catania: Ever — I have never heard her — there’s no introductions, there’s no proposals, there’s never been any leadership at all from Muriel Bowser on the subject of HIV/AIDS…She’s had seven years on the Council and has done nothing but platitudes on anything, including HIV/AIDS. And so people have to decide for themselves. Look, I’m offering myself as a leader who took the city from an epidemic and vastly improved the response by government…


Blade: Some in the community are saying that Carol Schwartz, Muriel Bowser and David Catania are strong supporters of the LGBT community and they’re strongly committed going forward to do what they can. So therefore there is no real difference between the three of you on those issues so they should vote based on non-LGBT issues. What do you say to that?

Catania: Well I think people should vote on non-LGBT issues, of course. I think people should vote on the person they believe has the best record and experience and values to secure our future. But there’s a difference between rhetoric and record. In this race, only one of us championed marriage equality. Only one of us has introduced measures to secure the rights of the transgender community with the Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Act. Only one of us candidly has employed a person who happens to be transgender. Only one of us has talked in a substantive way on HIV/AIDS through legislation.

So it’s one thing to rhetorically say I’m supportive of the community. But then when you actually look and see what has the person done? What is the record? That is a very different conversation than rhetoric.  And if people are satisfied with empty gestures and rhetoric — that’s one thing. But I think an empty gesture and rhetoric doesn’t tackle HIV/AIDS. An empty gesture of rhetoric doesn’t secure marriage equality or secure the rights of the transgender community. Empty gestures and rhetoric don’t do anything. They don’t accomplish anything substantively that changes the lives of everyday people – records do.


Blade: Can you tell a little about your background growing up in Kansas, your early years in Washington and what you did before you ran for public office? Was it Kansas or Missouri?

Catania: I spent time on both sides of the state line. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri. But I spent time on the Kansas side and the Missouri side. My mother is from a small town in Kansas – Osawatomie. And I spent my summers when I was younger there in my mother’s hometown. And went to middle school and high school – most of my schooling was on the Missouri side. And then graduated from high school and came to Georgetown in the School of Foreign Service in 1986. I graduated in ’90 and took a year off from school then into law school also at Georgetown.


Blade: It’s widely known that you started out as a Republican in your earlier years and you dropped your Republican affiliation in 2004. Can you respond again to the critics who are saying now that you should be viewed suspiciously because you may still have a Republican philosophy that may be at odds with the best interests of D.C.?

Catania: … I think most reasonable people see my record – they see a couple of things. They see I left the party 10 years ago. And they see the fact that in my 17 years on the Council before and after I left the party I have a totality of a record that’s the most progressive record in this race.

It’s so progressive, in fact, that the most progressive governor in this country, Pete Shumlin (D) the governor of Vermont, supports me and endorsed me last week. Now why would the most progressive governor in the country endorse me if I were somehow at odds with his value system? And let’s talk about that endorsement. Unlike many people who get an endorsement because of party affiliation where it’s obligatory, Pete Shumlin and I worked together for over a decade. He was in the Senate in Vermont and I was obviously a member of the Council here.

And I chaired this national legislative association on prescription drug prices. And we would see each other throughout the year – quarterly visits – sometimes more. And for 10 years we worked on a whole host of issues that were ultimately folded into the Affordable Care Act.

So this is a person who knows me inside out for 10 years and he has endorsed me and essentially has told the residents of this city that I have the most progressive democratic values in this race…

It is true that I was a Republican until 2004. The Republican Party that I grew up in and grew with is a very different party than it is now and a different party than it was in ’04. I was active in the party in part because I wanted to bring it toward the center and I wanted to make it relevant for issues that people in cities confront.

And as a result I worked with the Republican Main Street Partnership and fought with Congressman Steve Gunderson who came out [as gay] and then left Congress. And we were looking at how we can improve and broaden the party’s base and be more moderate. And ultimately we weren’t successful. And it was made clear to me that I wasn’t going to be successful in that effort when President Bush announced the amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

And so that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It wasn’t the only issue. It was a long series of issues. And I invite you to talk to my ex – Brian Kearney. He went with me – when we went to Crawford [Texas in 2003] it was for a particular purpose. It wasn’t to fawn on the president. It was to raise issues that relate to cities. It was to talk about LGBT issues, to talk about housing and cities. And it was to have a voice at the table. In order to have a voice at the table with these kinds of leaders you have to do things like raise money. And you hope that once you have a voice at the table you can moderate and change the party. I tried it. It was unsuccessful. But that was 10 years ago.


Blade: On some of the issues that will be coming up, you have said you will not say whether you will retain the public schools chancellor and the police chief until after the election. Is that your position?

Catania: We haven’t had an election. I think engaging in personnel items before an election is premature. Where does it end? I for one think the respectful thing to do is – these individuals presently have a boss. There’s no successor until there’s an election. And their boss is the mayor.

Look at the public safety issue. I have a great deal of respect for Chief Lanier. And I called her after I received the endorsement of the FOP [D.C. police union] and I said I want you to know that once I’m elected I hope you and I can sit down and talk about your future here because I have a great deal of respect for you.

All indications, of course, are why would I not keep her? I told her look you’re the chief of police. The mayor is your boss. And to have candidates compete for you or to have these conversations in the meantime I think it clouds the chain of command.

And the same is true for the chancellor. I’ve had a great relationship with her. I look forward to talking to her after I win on the issue of whether she is willing to stay and under what terms and conditions is she willing to stay? I just think these discussions before an election are premature.


Blade: In terms of the chief, you may know, there has been some friction among some in the LGBT community and the chief ever since she was appointed by Mayor Fenty over the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit. The head of the police division that oversees the GLLU was just transferred after a member of the GLLU filed a complaint against him for calling him Justine when his name is Justin. If you were mayor how would you handle a situation like that? Even if you didn’t want to replace the chief do you see yourself playing some role in departmental policies?

Catania: The mayor is not going to be getting into and should not be getting into issues like who should be the 8th grade biology teacher…There are certain things where you hire good people and you trust their judgment. When they give you reason not to trust their good judgment you have conversations with them going forward. Without knowing the whole detail I’m not going to comment on this particular issue.

But I think it’s safe to say that if the chief has a member of the LGBT community as the mayor the chief will be particularly sensitive of the LGBT community, among others – not exclusively obviously but I think it will color the way in which this issue is handled. Going forward obviously there will be zero tolerance of violations of our city’s Human Rights Act.


Blade: You’ve been asked this before. Everybody familiar with the city knows we’ve never had a non-Democratic mayor, we’ve never had a white mayor, and certainly we’ve never had an out gay mayor. So you have a number of what some say could be hurdles to go through. Do you see the demographics of the city changing so these hurdles could be overcome?

Catania: I think the people want the best mayor. I think the majority – there will always be people who have points of view who can’t check their prejudice. I think the majority of the people want the best mayor. And so they want a mayor with experience and values and vision. I have a 126-page vision statement that goes into detail about how I intend to lead our city and the priorities that I have for the city.

I’m the only one in the race with a progressive record of substance. And I think that progressive record resonates across the board with all demographics in our city. I’ve won five races citywide. I’ve made friends in every corner of the city. And I have delivered for every corner of the city. And when people go into the voting booths they are asking themselves do they want a mayor who can deliver and who has delivered and who knows where he or she is going to take the city? Do they want values or do they want labels?

This is an election where my record contrasts with my opponents’ rhetoric. And of things that matter to your readers, on more things than not, I think they are more closely aligned to me than they are my opponents. I’m appealing to all voters. And we have support from all voters…

And I think people are kind of sick and tired of the machine in this city. And it’s a machine that has governed this city to its own benefit that has given up on the idea of ideas and governs by trying to cajole people in some instances and intimidate them in others to vote for their candidate. And I think people want a fresh start. They want a new leader, a leader with vision, a leader who has done things on their behalf.

And I think it would be historic just as it was historic in 1997 when I became the first openly LGBT member of the Council. That was historic. I think people thought, ‘Oh gosh he’s going to be the openly LGBT Council member.’ And we dispensed with that notion quickly and people saw me as someone who is a fighter for the people of our city across demographics, across the city. And that’s exactly the kind of mayor I’ll be.

So any time you take on the establishment – and I’m clearly the anti-establishment candidate. I am clearly not part of this machine, nor have I ever been nor would I ever aspire to be a part of the machine. That’s not meant to be pejorative to a particular party. It is in this city we have a machine and I don’t want to be a part of that machine. I want to see things that aren’t right and I want to make them right.


Blade: You’ve said in the past that your upbringing in Kansas played some role in you becoming a Republican. Can you tell a little about that?

Catania: I grew up playing in the John Brown State Park. We were all very proud of the abolitionist tradition, the Lincoln Republican tradition. It was deeply embedded in who we were. But it was a different party than the one that exists now and existed 10 or 12 or over 20 years ago. If you’re from a small town and you’re deeply part of that – the roots of that community, you know, it’s hard to let go of those roots and those labels.

I grew up with labels that were extraordinarily progressive – I mean the values that were extraordinarily progressive…

And so my mother’s hometown was a very proud tiny community that has a history that was hard to let go of. And that’s why maybe I worked so hard to try to make the party what it represented to me as a child and as a young person.

But again, I’ve had a pretty incredible life. How many kids can come from a single mother without a 10th grade education as a gay person? And all these other things people look at as barriers I look at as opportunities – and to come and stand before and be a serious candidate to lead their nation’s capital – it’s a miracle, it’s a miracle.

And so I am an eternally optimistic person. So when people try – I mean who as a gay person, who among us – we have all been tormented. So there are people in our community and some who will try to torment me one way or another. But I’ve been tormented for a good part of my life and I used that as a fire – candidly – to see things that are wrong and try to make them right.

So you know passion and anger – not in a mean-spirited way – but passion and anger are necessary components of great leaders. You cannot – unless there is that eternal fire in the belly – that quest to make things right that sustains you in good times and in bad.

And so you ask how are you going to win? You are all of these things. You are a duck-billed platypus and you’re all this other stuff. People who view me through those lenses miss what America is. The vast majority of the people in this city understand what America is. They will judge me on myself and my record and can they trust me and have I delivered for them.


Blade: When you mentioned being tormented in your younger years did you mean anti-gay bullying and that sort of thing?

Catania: Well listen, no more than anyone else. I mean all of us have been called faggot. If you can find a gay person in their 50s or 40s in this country that hasn’t been called a faggot or worse – but it’s how you respond that matters. And my life made me stronger. It made me what I am.


Blade: Can you respond to the issue that Carol Schwartz has been raising in the recent debates – that your decision to work in outside jobs during your tenure on the Council at a law firm and later with a construction company that has city contracts are problematic.

Catania: I’m not responding to her in particular. But I think what we’re doing is we’re hiring this city’s mayor. We’re hiring a mayor, a chief executive. And I think it’s absolutely necessary to look at the totality of our experiences. Until the end of 2012 I was vice president of corporate strategy for one of the most innovative, fastest growing design build companies in the East Coast – 3,000 employees and 30 offices around the world.

And I was responsible for everything from compliance to legal affairs to organizational development. And so as you look at the candidates and say, ‘Oh gosh, who here can run an $11 billion outfit, which is the size of our government of 30,000 employees? Who here has a clue as to actually running a government or to run an organization?’ And I’m the only one in this race who has done it.

Let me give you an example as to why it’s important. One of the things I was responsible for – and I mention this all the time on the campaign trail – I was responsible for organizational development. The tenets of how you build a great organization are these. It’s how you recruit your workforce, how you educate your workforce, how you evaluate your workforce, how you promote your workforce, how you retain your workforce. In other words building a great organization is indispensable if you intend to accomplish anything. You simply can’t take a disjointed, dysfunctional entity and expect it’s going to deliver once you make a pronouncement.

Neither of my principal opponents have ever been part of running an organization, let alone a multi-national organization with 3,000 employees where we had to get up every day and make sure we were meeting our customers’ needs and we were being innovative and creative and competitive.

As far as I’m concerned, I would take my experience that includes everything from water projects in Panama to cyber security in Europe – I would take my experiences and I would think they would apply quite nicely when it comes to running a government.

Now in campaigns people always try to take cheap shots. The fact is the company I worked for – the contracts it had were always less than 2 percent of the company’s total contracts – always. They were always competitively bid. I recused myself from all matters involving the contracts – votes and otherwise. So trust me, if anyone had any goods on me picking up the phone on behalf of that company — that would have been dimed out long ago.

Carol says, ‘Well our budgets include the money.’ That’s true. We do approve budgets. But then we do contracts on how we spend them. And on those contracts I recused myself at every time.

But I had a top-secret security clearance with this company. I went through a thorough investigation by the National Industry Security Program that gave me a top-secret security clearance. I was up to my elbows in national security issues because of the work we did with our government contractors. The notion that the company would lose the livelihoods of 3,000 people for a contract in this city or to do anything nefarious is just a joke. So I am really not responding to that.

I have the experience and the values and the vision to secure our city’s future and I intend to be the next mayor of this city. And I think having an LGBTQ mayor is a very powerful international symbol because it’s a symbol of what America is. We are a place where there is equality of opportunity – where there is fairness when people play by the rules. I intend to be the mayor of our city. I intend to be an LGBTQ symbol. And I intend to use my office to point out things that are wrong in this world.

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Eastern Europe

Former Ambassador Daniel Baer explains it all on Ukraine crisis

Expert downplays strategic thinking behind Putin’s move



Daniel Baer, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, gay news, Washington Blade
Daniel Baer served as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Daniel Baer, who worked on LGBTQ human rights and transatlantic issues as one of several openly gay U.S. ambassadors during the Obama administration, answered questions from the Washington Blade on Ukraine as the international crisis continues to unfold.

Topics during the interview, which took place weeks ago on Jan. 27, included Putin’s motivation for Russian incursions, the risk of outright war, predictions for Russia after Putin and how the crisis would affect LGBTQ people in Ukraine.

Baer was deputy assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and U.S. ambassador to the Organization of Security & Cooperation in Europe.

The full interview follows:

Washington Blade: What’s your level of engagement with this affair? Are you doing any consulting work? Is the administration reaching out to you at all?

Daniel Baer: I actually think the White House is doing a pretty good job of recognizing that they need to not only have press conferences, but also talk to other people who are trying to figure out how to be constructive critics, idea generators from the outside.

Blade: OK, so you’re being solicited and engaging on this issue. My next question for you is why do you think Putin is doing this at this time?

Baer: So, I guess taking a step back from the whole thing, one of the things about a problem like this is that everybody is searching for the right answer assuming that there is a like comfortable or compelling or intellectually accurate answer, and I actually think we’re just in a really hard moment.

I don’t know why he’s doing it now. And in fact, I think that one of the puzzles that we haven’t solved yet is that all the things that he says are the reasons that he’s doing it — that he feels encirclement by NATO, … or that the situation in Ukraine is untenable — none of those things have changed. Setting aside the fact that they’re spurious, it’s not like there’s been some new move in the last 12 months that has precipitated [a reaction] on any of those fronts that you can say, “Oh, well, he’s responding to the recent meeting where Ukraine was offered membership in NATO, or he’s responding to a change in government in Ukraine that it’s clearly anti-Russia, or any other move that we’ve done.” The explanation just doesn’t hold water, and so I think we need to look for alternative ones.

The best I can come up with is actually just a broad — it doesn’t actually explain this particular moment, but I think you could look at the timing of his life. He has, I don’t know, 10 years left. And during those 10 years, it’s unlikely that Russia is going to grow more powerful; it’s much more likely that it’s going to become at least relatively and probably nominally less powerful. And so, if you’re unhappy with the status quo, and you feel like you’re a declining power, and you don’t have endless time, there’s no time like the present. And you’ll make up whatever reasons you need to in order to justify it.

I also think there’s a tendency on our part to attribute far more “strategery” to Putin than there necessarily is. I mean, he’s a bully and a thug. I think the whole Putin’s playing chess and we’re playing checkers is actually completely inverted. We’re in our own heads that there’s some kind of nuanced position that would mollify him. He’s just a gangster and he’s taking a punch because he has one. And I don’t think it gets much more complicated than that. And so, I guess the answer to why he’s doing this now, because the international conditions are such that he feels like the United States is focused domestically, the Ukrainians are not moving forward with succeeding to build — they’re kind of in stasis on building a European state— and he has, you know, he has the space to take a punch, so he’s contemplating doing it, or he’s already decided to do it. And he’s just extracting as much as possible before he takes it.

Blade: That leads me to my next question: What is your judgement of the risk of out and out war?

Baer: I don’t know because I have two hypotheses that cut both ways. One is that I think Putin is vastly underestimating the degree of resistance. On the other hand, I think that nothing short of domination is satisfactory. And so, I don’t know. I guess I think there’s a 90 percent chance that he does something, and I think there’s a 75 percent chance that what he does is not an all out invasion or ground invasion, at least not at first, but rather something that is aimed at confusing us. So some sort of hybrid or staged or false flag kind of attack in tandem with a political coup in Kiev, where he works to install a more Russia-loyal leader.

The thing with the ground invasion is that Russian soldiers’ moms are one of the only, like, powerful political forces in civil society in Russia. I just don’t see any way that a ground invasion doesn’t involve massive Russian casualties, even if they will be dominant. The people who are going to impose the consequences on him will be the Ukrainians, not the rest of us, and he should not invade, and if he does, we should, frankly, work hard to make it as painful and difficult for him as possible.

Blade: What will that look like?

Baer: I think we should at that point continue — we shouldn’t pause, we should continue to send the defensive equipment and backfill as much as possible their ability from an equipment basis to resist.

Blade: So if we were to look at a model for past U.S. engagements. I’m thinking Greece under President Truman, which was so successful that nobody really knows about it, I don’t think. Is there any model we should be looking toward, or not looking toward?

Baer: No, I guess. I’m not sure there’s any good historical model because obviously, any of them you can pick apart. I do think that one thing that has gotten lost in a lot of the analysis — and this goes back to Putin being a gangster thug, and not being such a genius — is there’s a moral difference between us. The reason why Putin gets to control the dialogue is because he’s willing to do things that we aren’t willing to do — as gangsters are, as hostage-takers are — and so yes, they get to set the terms of what we discussed, because we’re not holding hostages. We’re trying to get hostages released. And the hostage-taker has an upper hand and asymmetry because they are willing to do something that is wrong.

We shouldn’t lose the kind of moral difference there. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that Ukraine is being menaced. And I’m not saying it’s our obligation [to intervene militarily], certainly not our obligation. They aren’t a treaty ally. We have neither a political obligation nor a moral one to necessarily risk our own lives, our own soldiers in defense of Ukraine. But if Ukraine wants to defend themselves, there’s a strong moral case to be made that anything, short of risking our own lives, is something that is morally good. We generally believe that self-defense from lethal threat is a reasonable moral cause and assisting others in defending themselves is too — I think there’s a lot of back and forth that get glossed over whether that’s a provocation or whatever, and I want to say to people stand back, look at this: we’ve got one party that is attacking another. And the question is, does the other have a right to defend itself? Yes. And if they have a right to defend themselves, and they also have a right to have whatever assistance people will offer them in defending themselves.

That doesn’t mean that they get to demand that we show up and fight in the trenches with them, of course, and I don’t think there’s any serious people who are recommending that but it’s a good thing to help them. It’s not like a technical thing. It’s a good thing to help

Blade: Getting into that moral background, one thing I want to ask you was about the significance of what would happen in this concept of democracy versus autocracy. First of all, how much is Ukraine a functional democracy, in the sense that if we’re defending Ukraine, we are defending a democracy, and what signal do you think it would send if that Ukrainian government fell to Russian autocracy?

Baer: I think the institutions of government that the Ukrainian people have are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment …

They are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment to the idea of democratic institutions. So the answer is today’s Ukrainian government is a mixed bag and it’s very hard to build, on the rot of a Russian fiefdom, a functioning democracy, so I think it’s a mixed bag. I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing [the changes], or that they’ve completely bungled an easy project. It was always going to be a hard project, and it was never going to be linear.

But I think that what we’ve seen from the Ukrainian people — by which I mean not Ukrainian people, but people of Ukraine — is that there is a broad part of society that a) does not want to live under a Russian thumb and b) sees its future in kind of European style democracy. And so I think that if there was, there’s no question that the Russian attack would be in part about subjugating the people of Ukraine and forcing them to live under some sort of new Russian satellite. And I think that there’s little space for serious argument that that’s something that the people of the country wish to have.

Blade: But I’m just kind of getting at — you’re kind of minimizing that this is a strategic move by Putin, but if he were to successfully dominant Ukraine it becomes a Russian satellite isn’t that saying like, “Well, ha ha West, you thought the Cold War was over and there’s going to be just be a unipolar world in the future but no, we’re gonna we have this we’re back and we’re gonna create a multipolar world for the future.”

Baer: Yeah, I mean, my answer to the Russians who always raise the multipolar world to me is, “Fine, it’s going to be a multipolar world. What makes you think that Russia is one of the poles?” Poles by definition draw people to them, they are compelling and a pole attracts, magnetically or otherwise, and there is nothing attractive about the model that Russia is pursuing. And if the only way that you can be a pole is by subjugating, to force your neighbors, you are proving that you are not one.

I think the benefits for Russia are far smaller than Putin thinks and I think the consequences for the rest of the world of allowing a violation of international order to go forward are much larger than many people recognize.

Blade: But that was their approach when they were the Soviet Union. They were subjugating the Eastern Bloc through Russian force. They did have, in theory, the concept of their worldview of you know, of socialism, or whatever you want to put it charitably, was going to be the right way to go. Is there really that much of a difference?

Baer: Yeah, however disingenuous it was, they did have an ideology . So you’re right, that was a key distinction. The other thing is that the Soviet Union in relative size — its economy and population etc. — was much larger than Russia is today. And Russia is shrinking, and its economy is less diverse than the Communist one was. I think it’s a delusion to think that they’re going to kind of rebuild an empire, even if yes, because of their willingness to do awful things, they could potentially for a time politically control through violence, their neighbors. I just don’t — in a multipolar world, I don’t see Russia being one of the poles, at least not on its current path.

Blade: How would you evaluate the U.S. diplomatic approach to this issue?

Baer: There’s been very clear over-the-top effort to include the Europeans at every step — meetings with them before each meeting and after each meeting, to force conversations into fora that are more inclusive and stuff like that. And I think that Secretary Blinken is rightly recognizing the need to kind of play a role of kind of keeping everybody on the side while we test whether diplomacy whether there’s anything to do, whether there’s any promise with diplomacy.

I think there’s kind of, sometimes kind of, two camps in U.S. foreign policy circles. One is like: We should give the Russians what they want because it just doesn’t matter that much. War is much worse than anything that we would give them. And another is that we can’t give them an inch and we have to punch them in the face whenever we can. And I think both of those are kind of knee-jerk positions that have become a bit religious for people and neither of them is paying attention to the practical challenge that’s in front of the administration, which is like this guy’s threatening to invade and we need to identify whether there’s any opportunity for a functional off ramp, and that doesn’t mean we do that in a vacuum and ignore the long-term consequences, but our problem is not a religious one, it’s a practical one. And I think they’re doing a pretty good job of threading the needle on that and being not too far forward and not too far back.

Blade: Do you see any significant daylight between the United States and Europe?

Baer: No, I mean, no more than the minimum that is possible. There’s a lot of talk about Germany these days. Look, I think some of the things they say are not particularly helpful, but I don’t actually think that in the long run, if Putin invaded, I don’t think that they would hold up sanctions or anything like that. So I think they’re on our side, even if they’re talking out of both sides, in some cases.

Blade: I am wise to the fact that this is a nuclear power. It might be a little old school, but could escalation get that far?

Baer: There can’t be war. There can’t be war between NATO and Russia. It should be avoided. Obviously, there can be, but it should be avoided.

Blade: How committed do you think President Biden is to protecting Ukraine?

Baer: Reasonably so. I think he’s enough of an old school trans-Atlantist that he understands that this isn’t just about Ukraine.

Blade: I was wondering because he had those comments from his press conference about “minor incursion” and I’m just wondering if you’re reading anything into that or not.

Baer: No, I think that was that was a — I think broadly speaking, everything he says is in line with the kind of view that you would expect. And of course, one sentence can catch [attention]. That wasn’t what he meant. What he meant was that he didn’t want to draw a “red line” that would prejudge policy in response to something short of the most extreme scenario.

I think it is a good caution to not obsess over a single sentence and to look at the broad considered policy statements.

Blade: What do you think if you were looking for developments, like what would you be looking out for is significant in terms of where we are going to be going in the near future? This is one thing to keep an eye out for but is there anything else that you are kind of looking out for in terms of the near future?

Baer: I guess I would look out for whether or not the United States joins meetings of the so-called Normandy Format, which is the France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia grouping, which has so far been unsuccessful, but I think can only be successful as the United States joins it, but the Russians, I think have misgivings with the idea of our joining it.

Blade: I’m not at all familiar with that. What makes this forum particularly so —

Baer: So it was started in the summer in like June of 2015, on the margins of some meeting between Merkel and Hollande. The French and the Germans are very committed to the idea that they might be able to mediate peace between Ukraine and Russia. It was supposed to implement the Minsk Agreement, and it just hasn’t been productive so far. I don’t think that the Russians will do anything — I don’t think the Ukrainians feel comfortable negotiating anything without the Americans at the table. And I don’t think the Russians feel like anything is guaranteed without the Americans at the table. So I just, I’m fine with France and Germany taking the lead, but I think the U.S. has to be there.

And there was a meeting of this group in Paris yesterday, and which the U.S. was supportive of, and so I’m watching to see whether or not the United States gets added in some ad hoc way, whether there are future meetings. I guess the reason I would watch it, if the U.S. were to join future meetings that would signal to me that it’s actually there’s some diplomacy happening there.

That’s meant to be focusing mainly on the existing Russian invasion, the occupation of the Donbas, so that’s not about the threat of the new invasion, but it would be interesting to me if there was forward movement on other parts of Ukraine. The announcement of the American ambassador is one. I think that last week movement of troops into Belarus was a game changer for the U.S., because there are all kinds of new implications if you’re using a third country as your launchpad for war, and so it complicates things and it also looks more serious if you’re starting to deploy to third countries and stuff like that. So I think that was that last week, you noticed a difference in the U.S. tone and tenor in response to that.

So things like that. But in general, like what I would do and I don’t think people always catch this is because there’s a boiling frog aspect to it. There are statements coming out from the White House or State Department. Almost every day on stuff related to this and like last week, there was a noticeable change in the tenor as the U.S. became less, I think more pessimistic about the prospects of diplomacy and those I don’t have anything better to look for in those statements as tea leaves, in terms of what the U.S. assessment is of the prospects of the escalation are, so it’s bad.

Blade: Right. That’s very sobering.

There’s a lot of talk, and I’ve just been seeing some like about in terms of, there’s like comparisons to Afghanistan and making sure that all Americans are able to get out of Ukraine. Is that comparing apples to oranges?

Baer: Yes.

Blade: And could you unpack that a little bit? I mean, I can kind of guess the reasons why. How is that apples to oranges?

Blade: Well, the level of development in Ukraine in terms of infrastructure and transport and stuff like that is not comparable to Afghanistan. I think it would be– if there were a Russian invasion–you would definitely want to, obviously, for safety reasons, it’s not safe to be in a war zone, so you would want people to be able to evacuate and you’d have to plan for that.

A major concern [in Afghanistan] was also that there were tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of locals who had worked for the Americans. The Americans that are in Ukraine are not a departing occupying power. There’s just not the same footprint there — the Americans are in Ukraine or there as business people or young [people working on] democracy assistance or whatever. And it’s just it’s a different context.

Blade: Why do you think the Russians put up with Putin? I mean, this is a country that was a world power and I would think has some economic potential just given its sheer size, first of all, and they do have oil to offer people. So why aren’t the Russians like angry at him for obstructing their participation in the global order as opposed to just putting up with him for years and years and years.

Baer: Successful instrumentalisation of cynicism. The lack of a belief in an alternative will keep you from fighting for it.

Blade: That’s pretty succinct.

Baer: I mean, I don’t think there’s any question that the people of Russia could be better off or different in terms of kitchen table issues, and ease of navigating the world, prospects for their future for their children’s future. The amount of money that Putin has invested into military modernization that Russia can ill afford, while he’s cut pensions and social services and health care. It’s just it’s objectively true that the average Russian person would be better served by a different leader. But he’s done a very good job of effectively selling off the country for profit and persuading people through repression and propaganda that there is no alternative.

Blade: And Putin won’t be around forever. Once he finally goes, is an alternative going to emerge, or will it be the next guy in Putin’s mold?

Baer: I think it’s far from clear that what comes after Putin isn’t worse and bloody. Regimes like this don’t reliably have stable transitions.

Blade: Wow, okay.

Baer: Yeah, we shouldn’t… we should be careful about wishing… wishing for his demise.

Blade: That’s good to know. It’s kind of a frightful note for me to end my questions. But actually before I sign off, there’s one more thing too because I do kind of want to talk about the intersection about your old job in democracy and human rights and then a Venn diagram of that with your experience in Eastern Europe in particular. Do you have a sense of what’s at stake for LGBTQ people in Ukraine or if they’re in more danger right now than they would be otherwise?

Baer: That’s a good question. I mean, my knee jerk reaction is yes. That — as mixed of a picture as Ukraine has been in the last seven years, or eight years — there have been meaningful steps forward, and certainly, in terms of visibility.

I guess, in the sense that Ukraine is better than Russia today, if you’re gay, if Russia is going to occupy or control Ukraine we can expect that it will get worse because it will become more like Russia.

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Trump ribbed Pence for thinking ‘it’s a crime to be gay,’ new book says

Former president openly wanted gay Fox News analyst for Supreme Court



Donald Trump (left) ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence (center) in a meeting with Andrew Napolitano for thinking "it's a crime to be gay." (Blade photos of Donald Trump and Mike Pence by Michael Key; screen capture of Andrew Napolitano via Fox News YouTube)

Donald Trump, in the days before he took office after the 2016 election, openly contemplated naming an openly gay Fox News contributor to the U.S. Supreme Court amid concerns from social conservatives about his potential choices and ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence for thinking “it’s a crime to be gay,” according to the new book “Insurgency” detailing the former president’s path to the White House.

The key moment between Trump, Judge Andrew Napolitano and Pence took place during the transition period after the 2016 election when Trump invited the other two for a meeting at Trump Tower.  That’s when Trump reportedly took the jab at Pence.

“During their meeting, for part of which Mike Pence was present, Trump ribbed Pence for his anti-gay rights views,” the book says. “Addressing Napolitano, Trump gestured toward the archconservative vice-president-elect and said, ‘You’d better be careful because this guy thinks it’s a crime to be gay. Right, Mike?’ When Pence didn’t answer, Trump repeated himself, ‘Right, Mike?’ Pence remained silent.”

The potential choice of Andrew Napolitano, who was fired last year from Fox News amid recently dropped allegations of sexual harassment from male co-workers, as well as other TV personalities Trump floated for the Supreme Court, as detailed in the book, were among the many reasons conservatives feared he wouldn’t be reliable upon taking the presidency. Ironically, Trump would have been responsible for making a historic choice for diversity if he chose a gay man like Napolitano for the Supreme Court, beating President Biden to the punch as the nation awaits his selection of the first-ever Black woman for the bench.

The new book — fully titled “Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted” and written by New York Times political reporter Jeremy Peters, who is also gay — identifies Trump’s potential picks for the judiciary as a source of significant concern for conservatives as the “Never Trump” movement was beginning to form and expectations were the next president would be able to name as many as four choices for the Supreme Court. Among the wide ranges of possible choices he floated during the campaign were often “not lawyers or judges he admired for their legal philosophies or interpretations of the Constitution,” but personalities he saw on TV.

Among this group of TV personalities, the books says, were people like Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, whom Trump “regularly watched and occasionally planned his flight schedule around, directing his personal pilot to adjust the route accordingly so the satellite signal wouldn’t fade.” Trump told friends Pirro “would make a fine justice,” the books says.

Trump potentially making good of his talk about naming Napolitano as one of his choices for the Supreme Court “would have been doubly unacceptable to many on the religious right,” the book says. Napolitano, a former New Jersey Superior Court judge, was friendly with Maryanne Trump Barry, Trump’s sister and a federal judge with a reputation for liberal views, such as a ruling in favor of partial-birth abortion, and is also gay, both of which are identified in the book as potential concerns by the religious right.

Napolitano and Trump were close, the book claims. Napolitano, as the book describes, had a habit of telling a story to friends about Trump confiding to him the future president’s knowledge of the law was based on Napolitano’s TV appearances. Trump told Napolitano: “Everything I know about the Constitution I learned from you on Fox & Friends,” the book says.

The book says the meeting with Trump, Pence and Napolitano when the former president took a jab at Pence in and of itself suggested Trump “was indeed serious about giving the judge some kind of position in the government.” Napolitano, known for making outlandish claims as a Fox News contributor —such as the British government wiretapped Trump Tower — never took a post in the Trump administration.

The new book isn’t the only record of Trump ribbing Pence for his anti-LGBTQ reputation. A New Yorker profile in 2017 depicted a similar infamous meeting with Trump and Pence in which the former president joked about his No. 2’s conservative views. Per the New Yorker article: “When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, ‘Don’t ask that guy— he wants to hang them all!'”The incident described in “Insurgency” was similar to the meeting detailed in the New Yorker profile.

Trump ended up making a list of names he pledged he’d limit himself to in the event he was in the position to make a selection to the Supreme Court and made good on that promise based on his selection. By the end of his presidency, Trump made three picks to the bench who were each confirmed by the U.S. Senate: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. 

But Trump limiting his options to the list of potential plans was not a fool proof plan for conservatives. To the surprise of many, Gorsuch ended up in 2020 writing the majority opinion in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, a major LGBTQ rights decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and illegal under federal civil rights law.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with Trump’s office seeking comment on the meeting with Pence and Napolitano as described in “Insurgency.” Napolitano couldn’t be reached for comment.

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Human Rights Campaign’s ex-president sues over termination, alleges racial discrimination

Alphonso David alleges he was terminated unfitly



Alphonso David, the former president of the Human Rights Campaign terminated by the board after he was ensnared in the Gov. Andrew Cuomo scandal, sued the nation’s leading LGBTQ group on Thursday, arguing he was fired as a result of racial discrimination “amid a deserved reputation for unequal treatment of its non-white employees” and was explicitly told he was paid less because he’s Black.

David, speaking with the Washington Blade on Thursday during a phone interview, said he came to the decision to file the lawsuit after practicing civil rights law for 20 years and “never thought that I would be a plaintiff.”

“But I’m in this chair, I was put in this position,” David said. “And as a civil rights lawyer, I couldn’t look the other way. It would be anathema to who I am and it would undermine my integrity and purpose for the work that I do. And so I have to go through and make a very, very difficult personal decision to file this lawsuit.”

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, accuses the Human Rights Campaign of violating new state and federal laws for terminating David, who was the organization’s first person of color and Black person to helm the LGBTQ group in its 40-year history. The lawsuit also contends the Human Rights Campaign contravened equal pay law in New York by paying David less than his predecessor, Chad Griffin.

After a public dispute with the board in September amid an independent investigation of his role in the Cuomo affair, the Human Rights Campaign boards unceremoniously fired David and shortly afterward announced a still ongoing search for a new president. David was named nearly a dozen times in the damning report by New York Attorney General Letitia James, suggesting David assisted in efforts by Cuomo’s staff to discredit a woman alleging sexual misconduct in Cuomo’s office. David has consistently denied wrongdoing.

But the lawsuit is broader than the termination and describes an environment at the Human Rights Campaign, which has faced criticism over the years for being geared toward white gay men, as a workplace where “non-white staffers were marginalized, tokenized, and denied advancement to high-level positions.” After a speech David gave on issues of race and indifference in the context of HRC’s mission, the lawsuit claims a board member complained about him referring too much to being Black, but faced no penalty from the organization.

Specifically named in the report is Chris Speron, Senior Vice President of Development, who expressed concern about “alienating” white donors and specifically “white gay men” after David issued a statement on the importance of Black Lives Matter after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. The lawsuit claims Speron pushed David to “stop mentioning in his public statements and remove from his bio the fact that he was HRC’s first Black President in its history.” Speron also was critical of hiring a Black-owned consulting firm and “criticized a Black staff member for attending a meeting with the consulting firm without a white person present,” the lawsuit claims. Speron couldn’t immediately be reached for comment to respond to the allegations.

In terms of equal pay, the lawsuit says HRC’s co-chairs informed David he was underpaid compared to his predecessor because he’s Black. But the lawsuit also acknowledges in 2021, just before news broke about the Cuomo report, the Human Rights Campaign in recognition of David’s work renewed his contract for five additional years and gave him a 30 percent raise.

David, speaking with the Blade, said he was in “shock” upon experiencing these alleged incidents of racism, maintaining he had kept quiet at the time out of concern for the greater good of the aims of the Human Rights Campaign.

Asked whether as president he considered implementing racial sensitivity trainings for his subordinates, David said “yes,” but added many trainings aren’t effective and said the power in organizations like the Human Rights Campaign is often spread out.

“There are people within the organization that have a fair amount of board support because they bring in the money because they are responsible for overseeing the money,” David added.

Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed the organization is “disappointed that Alphonso David has chosen to take retaliatory action against the Human Rights Campaign for his termination which resulted from his own actions.”

“Mr. David’s complaint is riddled with untruths,” Madison said. “We are confident through the legal process that it will be apparent that Mr. David’s termination was based on clear violations of his contract and HRC’s mission, and as president of HRC, he was treated fairly and equally.”

Madison adds the individuals accused of racism in the lawsuit “are people of color and champions of racial equity and inclusion who provided support and guidance as Mr. David led the organization,” without naming any specific individual. The boards for the Human Rights Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation who made the decision to terminate David, were comprised of seven independent directors, five of whom were Black.

The racist environment, the lawsuit says, culminated for David in September 2021 amid an independent investigation of his role in the Cuomo affair conducted by the law firm Sidley Austin LLP at the behest of the organization. According to the lawsuit, the board co-chairs contacted David late at night before Labor Day weekend to tell him to resign by 8 a.m. the next morning or be terminated for cause. When David asked whether the Sidley Austin investigation had made any findings against him, or if a report would be issued explaining what he was accused of doing wrong, the board co-chairs refused to say, the lawsuit says.

As is publicly known, David declined to resign and took to Twitter to complain about the board, which subsequently issued a statement disputing his claims. He was then fired “for cause” under his contract.

The termination, the lawsuit says, signified differential treatment of David because he is Black, taking note the Human Rights Campaign under his predecessor had “endured repeated, serious, scandals — many of which involved HRC’s mistreatment of Black and other marginalized individuals,” but Chad Griffin was never terminated “for cause.”

Both the Human Rights Campaign Foundation board and the Human Rights Campaign board voted to terminate David. A source familiar with the vote said no one voted “no” in either case. The campaign board vote was unanimous and there were two abstentions in the foundation board vote, the source said.

The source familiar with the vote said David never told the Human Rights Campaign he was helping Cuomo during his time as HRC president nor did he disclose he was talking to the New York attorney general. The first board members heard about it was when it hit the press, the source said.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit says David “performed extremely well as HRC president, by any measure,” navigating the organization through the coronavirus epidemic and boosting fundraising by 60 percent. (The Blade has not yet verified this claim.) It should be noted the Human Rights Campaign cited coronavirus as the reason it laid off 22 employees, as reported at the time by the Blade.

David, asked by the Blade how he sees the alleged racist culture at Human Rights Campaign infused in his termination, said “Black and Brown people are treated differently and have been for years in this organization,” citing a “Pipeline Report” leaked to the press in 2015 documenting an environment in which employees of color were unable to thrive.

“And so, the fact that I’m being treated differently now, in the fact that a different standard is being applied to me is just simply consistent with what they’ve always done,” David said. “You know, we go back to the Pipeline Report: Imagine if I was leading the organization at the time, and there was a report that was issued, that said that anti-Semitic remarks were being made within the organization, and that women were being discriminated against within the organization or some other marginalized group and that one of the senior vice presidents used a derogatory remark. Do you think I would still be at the organization or would they have fired me?”

David concluded: “There’s a different standard and a double standard that they’ve applied for decades, and I’ve just now been one casualty — another in a long series of casualties based on their systemic bias and discrimination.”

Among the requests in the prayer for relief in the complaint is a declaration the Human Rights Campaign’s actions violated the law; restoration of David to his position as president; an award of the compensation he would have received were he still on the job as well as punitive damages. Asked by the Blade whether any settlement talks have taken place, David said that wasn’t the case and pointed out the lawsuit was recently filed.

Legal experts who spoke to the Blade have doubted the validity of a review by Sidley Austin on the basis it was among the legal firms agreeing in 2019 to help with the Human Rights Campaign entering into litigation to advance LGBTQ rights, an agreement David spearheaded upon taking the helm of the organization.

David, in response to a question from the Blade, said the independent investigation into his role in the Cuomo affair “is a sham and I believe it was a sham,” citing the lack of transparency of findings.

“One of the first instances that caused me concern,” David said, “is I suggested to the organization that we conduct an independent review, and they came back to me and said, ‘Here’s our press release history,’ and the press release never mentioned that I actually suggested that they do this review. And when I challenged them on that, they told me that they thought it would be better for the press to review a complaint or receive a statement that showed that they were bringing this investigation as opposed to I’m recommending and push back even more. And then they said ‘Well, we will put in the statement that you are cooperating.’ So from the very beginning, they were not honest about what they were actually doing.”

Representing David in the lawsuit is the Chicago-based employment law firm Stowell & Friedman, Ltd. and and Chicago-based attorney Matt Singer. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Eric Vitaliano, a George W. Bush appointee, an informed source familiar with the case said.

The lawsuit was filed in New York as opposed to D.C. because David is a New York resident and much of the discriminatory behavior took place in New York, the source said. The pay disparity alleged in the lawsuit is expressed in percentages as oppose to hard numbers pursuant to rules for the judiciary in New York, the source added.

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