D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) won election as mayor Tuesday night by defeating fellow Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) by a margin of 54 to 35 percent, with former Council member Carol Schwartz (I) finishing a distant third with 7 percent of the vote.
Most political observers have said Catania, who’s gay, waged a hard-fought campaign that turned the city’s general election for mayor into a rare competitive race. In a city with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, a Democrat has won the mayoralty in every election since the start of the city’s first home rule government in 1974.
Catania, a former Republican who has served on the Council for 17 years, along with his highly committed supporters, argued that the city’s electoral dynamic had changed, making it possible for him to be the first non-Democrat as well as the first white and openly gay person to win election as D.C. mayor.
Catania and his supporters also argued that he was the most progressive of the three main candidates.
But Tuesday night’s results appear to confirm that despite an influx of as many as 60,000 new mostly young adult residents in the city since the 2010 election, many of whom have registered as independents, the long-standing electoral dynamic remains in place – with Democrats continuing to dominate the political landscape.
Most LGBT activists, whose support was divided between Catania and Bowser, agreed that non-LGBT issues would likely be the deciding factor in the race since each of the three main candidates were strong supporters of LGBT equality.
Bowser’s LGBT supporters were quick to point out that her campaign manager, Bo Shuff, is gay as is her brother, Marvin Bowser, who served as her campaign liaison to the LGBT community. Like Catania, Bowser had a large contingent of LGBT people serving as volunteers on her campaign.
“This campaign did not end the way we had hoped, and so I want to begin by saying to Miss Bowser – congratulations on a well-run race,” Catania said in his concession speech.
In addressing several hundred people at the Long View Gallery on 9th Street, N.W., Catania said he knew from the beginning that he was waging an uphill fight. Citing his key issues of improved public education, marriage equality, healthcare and affordable housing, among others, Catania urged his supporters to continue to push for those issues.
“But the important thing is to fight,” he said. “The important thing is to acknowledge the significance of the struggle and to show by example that we never give up,” he said.
Added Catania, “And my last request from each of you is to take that spirit of never giving up and offer your service to our new mayor so that she succeeds, because when she succeeds we all succeed.”
In her victory speech before a packed house at the Howard Theater less than a mile from where Catania spoke, Bowser praised Catania for a hard-fought campaign and called on all city residents to join her in her quest to move the city forward.
“I’m humbled and I’m grateful standing here as the next mayor of my hometown,” Bowser told the cheering crowd. “I’m standing here like so many of you on the shoulders of all of those that sacrificed so that we may be here,” she said. “I stand on their shoulders and I take the great responsibility of doing my best every day and never letting them down.”
Bowser and Catania each won nine of the 18 precincts believed to have large concentrations of LGBT residents and which the Washington Blade monitors in mayoral elections. Catania won by margins greater than 10 percent in precincts in neighborhoods that include Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, the 14th and U Streets, N.W. corridor, and one of two precincts in the Logan Circle area.
Bowser won by a narrow margin in one of the Logan Circle precincts but won by lopsided margins in precincts in Columbia Heights, Shaw, the Southwest waterfront, Anacostia, Ledroit Park and Bloomingdale.
Bowser, meanwhile, won in Wards 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8. Catania won in Wards 2,3 and 6.
In other city races, seven openly gay or lesbian candidates lost their contests for an at-large City Council seat, the city’s newly elected attorney general position, and the Ward 1 seat on the city’s Board of Education. In each of these races, the opposing candidates expressed strong support for LGBT rights, shifting the focus of the campaigns to non-LGBT issues.
Gay Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors, who was one of three lesser known candidates running for mayor, received 989 votes, which came to less than 1 percent of the total vote. He finished behind Statehood Green Party candidate Faith, who received 1,176 votes and ahead of community activist Nestor Djonka, who received 364 votes. Djonka dropped out of the race and endorsed Bowser three weeks before the election, but it was too late for the election board to remove his name from the ballot.
Lesbian activist and government affairs company executive Courtney Snowden, an independent, lost her bid for one of two at-large City Council seats up for grabs in a 15-candidate race. Snowden finished in fifth place with 6 percent of the vote, far behind D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who won re-election by coming in first place with 24 percent of the vote.
Community activist and former journalist Elissa Silverman, also an independent, finished second with 12 percent of the vote, putting her over the top to win the second of the two seats. Silverman received strong support from LGBT activists when she ran unsuccessfully for an at-large Council seat two years ago.
Snowden received endorsements from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and received a +10 rating from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the group’s highest possible rating. She and fellow candidate Robert White received the endorsement of the Washington Post.
Her loss means the D.C. Council will be without an openly gay member for the first time since 1997, when Catania first won his Council seat. Catania gave up that seat to run for mayor. Gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who won election to the Council in 1998, lost his re-election bid in the city’s Democratic primary in April. Like Catania, he leaves the Council on Jan. 1.
Similar to Silverman, who beat Snowden, community activist and public relations firm executive Brianne Nadeau, who defeated Graham in the primary, is a strong supporter of LGBT rights.
Gay Republican and Ward 1 civic activist Marc Morgan finished in 9th place in the at-large Council race with 3 percent of the vote.
In the attorney general race, lesbian activist and attorney Lateefah Williams, a Democrat, finished last in a five-candidate race, receiving 7 percent of the vote. Attorney and former law firm executive Karl Racine, who also received the endorsement of the Washington Post, won the race with 37 percent of the vote.
Attorney and former law firm partner Edward “Smitty” Smith, who won the endorsement of the Stein Club, finished second with 19 percent of the vote.
Gay public education advocate David Do finished a close second in a five-candidate race for the Ward 1 D.C. school board seat, losing to former teacher Laura Wilson Phelan by a margin of 29 percent to 25 percent for Do.
A second out gay candidate in the race, Scott Simpson, finished third with 12 percent of the vote. Simpson works as press secretary for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and received the endorsement of the group’s leader, Wade Henderson.
The remaining out gay candidate, Libertarian Party member and community activist Martin Moulton, lost his bid for the city’s shadow U.S. Representative seat. He came in third place in a three-candidate race with 6 percent of the vote. Democratic and Latino community activist Franklin Garcia won the race with 64 percent of the vote.
In other city races for City Council seats, seats on the school board in Wards 3, 5 and 6, the shadow Senate seat, and the city’s non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, long held by Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, all of the winners are strong supporters of LGBT equality.
“In terms of the LGBT community, I think the government is going to continue with the progressive politics that it’s pursued over the last decade,” said LGBT supportive Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who won re-election Tuesday night by a lopsided margin.
“The Council continues to be committed to equality for everybody, and I don’t see any change there,” Mendelson told the Blade at Bowser’s election night gathering.
Some Catania supporters, while agreeing that Bowser is a friend of the LGBT community, said Catania would have been a more outspoken and aggressive supporter of on LGBT issues. Others expressed disappointment that more LGBT people didn’t vote for Catania.
“I’m sad with the results and I feel like perhaps the community didn’t stand with him like we should have,” said Paul Guequierre, the former deputy communications director for the Human Rights Campaign.
“I think we turned our back on one of our own because he doesn’t have a ‘D’ behind his name,” he said.
Gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who supported Bowser, is among the LGBT activists that believes Bowser’s affiliation with the Democratic Party shows she’s more in tune with their own political views.
“Muriel Bowser’s big win is a statement by the people that they want to continue the progress that we have been making in our city and believe it can best be done by a progressive Democrat,” Rosenstein said. “It is a win for a candidate who has the skills to unite our city.”
Veteran gay activist Bob Summersgill, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said there were no surprises in Tuesday’s D.C. election.
“All of the LGBT candidates lost. None were expected to win,” he said. “There were too many gay-friendly candidates, and no one running anti-gay. There were also no big gay issues,” he said.
“Consequently, LGBT supporters were all over, backing different candidates for all sorts of reasons,” Summersgill said. “This is very positive and shows the maturity of our community and our politicians.”