October 29, 2014 at 5:11 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay candidates make final push for votes
Lateefah Williams, gay news, Washington Blade, gay candidates

Attorney general candidate Lateefah Williams is touting her grassroots appeal. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Attorney General candidate Lateefah Williams, an out lesbian, and Ward 1 D.C. State Board of Education candidates Scott Simpson and David Do, both of whom are gay, were putting the final touches on their campaigns this week ahead of the Nov. 4 D.C. election.

Williams, Simpson and Do are among a total of eight openly gay or lesbian candidates on the city’s election ballot on Tuesday.

With gay mayoral candidate David Catania and at-large City Council candidate Courtney Snowden, a lesbian, capturing more attention in the LGBT community than the other gay candidates, activists following these races have said it’s unclear how the LGBT vote will break down in the election.

Williams, an attorney who has spent most of her career representing grassroots, community-oriented clients, is running against four other attorneys who have worked mostly with law firms and have engaged in more court-related litigation than Williams.

This year marks the first time voters will elect the city’s attorney general, who represents the city in litigation and serves as prosecutor for criminal cases involving juveniles. Up until now, the attorney general has been appointed by the D.C. mayor.

“I am undeniably a grassroots activist,” Williams said in an Oct. 24 commentary in the Washington Blade. “In fact, I’m so identified with my work on behalf of LGBT rights, labor rights, and other social justice issues, that many people have erroneously assumed that I do not have traditional legal experience.”

Williams points out that she has been licensed to practice law for 11 years and has worked for several years on litigation with two small law firms representing dozens of clients on a variety of legal matters, including family law, insurance defense and personal injury.

Each of her four opponents – Karl Racine, Edward “Smitty” Smith, Paul Zukerberg, and Lorie Masters – has expressed strong support for LGBT rights during campaign events. Racine, Smith, and Masters have worked for large, prominent law firms in the city. Zukerberg, an outspoken advocate for legalizing marijuana, heads his own small law firm that has specialized in public interest law.

Racine, the city’s first African American to be named head of a large law firm, is considered the front runner in the race and has raised the most money for his campaign – more than $666,000 as of the Oct. 10 campaign finance reporting period.

Finance records show he has loaned more than $400,000 to his campaign. Masters raised just under $300,000 as of the Oct. 10 reporting period, with Smith closely behind her with $296,000. Zukerberg has raised $110,468 during the same period, with Williams trailing the pack in money raised with $21,496.

Williams acknowledges she has an uphill battle in the election but says her strong grassroots advocacy background sets her apart from the other candidates. She says she remains hopeful that voters will choose her as the more people-oriented attorney general.

In the Ward 1 school board race, Simpson and Do are among five candidates competing for the seat.

Simpson works as press secretary for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the nation’s largest civil rights coalition. Its president and CEO, longtime civil rights leader Wade Henderson, has personally endorsed Simpson in the school board race, saying Simpson has “proven to have the substance, skills and vision to help our schools meet their challenge of providing quality education to every student.”

Simpson began his career in D.C. working with students involved with the local LGBT youth advocacy group SMYAL. He has also been endorsed by Ward 2 school board member Jack Jacobson, who became the first out gay to win election to the school board two years ago.

Do is a former D.C. government official who’s currently serving as a teaching assistant and graduate student at the University of Maryland. As the son of an immigrant family from Vietnam, Do has said, among other things, he would push for school policies supportive of the large number of immigrant children living in Ward 1.

David Do, Scott Simpson, School Board, gay news, gay candidates, Washington Blade

On left, David Do and on right, Scott Simpson are both candidates in the Ward 1 school board race. (Photos courtesy of the respective campaigns)

Another candidate running in the race is Laura Wilson Phelan, a former middle school teacher and current official with a non-profit group that “helps teachers engage families in D.C. public schools,” according to a write-up on her campaign website.

Also running are longtime Ward 1 public school and Latino community advocate Lillian Perdomo and Ward 1 community and education advocate E. Gail Anderson Holness.

Records from the office of campaign finance show Phelan leading in fundraising, with $38,338 as of the Oct. 10 reporting period. Simpson was close behind her with $34,485 raised as of Oct. 10. Do came in third in campaign fundraising, with $16,165 during the same reporting period. Perdomo and Holness were trailing the pack with $4,583 and $1,175 respectively.

Among the lesser-known gay candidates on the ballot in Tuesday’s election is gay activist Bruce Majors, who’s running for mayor as a Libertarian Party candidate. Majors has acknowledged that one of his goals as a candidate is to draw attention to Libertarian principles, which he says would be of benefit to the LGBT community and the city as a whole.

But with those principles often at odds with the agenda of the city’s LGBT rights groups, Majors received only a +2 rating from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance on LGBT issues. GLAA gave fellow lesser-known mayoral candidate Faith, a former Broadway entertainer who plays the trumpet at campaign appearances, a +3.5 rating.  GLAA rates candidates on a scale of -10 to +10.

Majors and his supporters have expressed concern that organizers of the four main mayoral debates, which included two local TV stations, have barred Majors from participating in the debates. The organizations have said they chose not to include Majors and two other lesser-known mayoral contenders in the debates based on a policy requiring candidates to reach a certain threshold in campaign fundraising that would establish them as “serious” candidates.

Campaign finance records show Majors raised $7,389 for his campaign as of Oct. 10 compared to the more than $1 million raised by mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser.

The remaining two out gay candidates on the D.C. ballot are Marc Morgan, the Republican Party nominee running for one of the two at-large D.C. Council seats; and Martin Moulton, a Libertarian Party candidate running for the shadow U.S. Representative seat.

Morgan and lesbian contender Snowden are among 15 candidates running for the two at-large seats. Campaign finance records show Snowden has raised $110,450, which includes an $11,000 personal loan to her campaign, as of the Oct. 10 reporting period. Matt Thorn, Snowden’s campaign finance director, said her total amount raised as of Oct. 30 comes to $141,543. Morgan raised $19,116 as of the Oct. 10 reporting period, according his report filed with the Office of Campaign Finance.

At least 16 out gay or lesbian candidates are running for seats on the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, according to John Klenert, a D.C. representative for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which monitors LGBT candidates running for public office throughout the country.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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