Veteran gay rights and Democratic Party activist Earl Fowlkes won election as president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club Monday night by unanimous voice vote in an unopposed race.
Fowlkes was among five officers elected unanimously without opposition, bringing about a change in all but one of the club’s leaders – Martin Garcia, who was re-elected as vice president for governmental and political affairs.
Angela Peoples, the club’s current president, was traveling and couldn’t attend the meeting but said in a statement she chose not to run for re-election due to time constraints related to her job and other commitments. Earlier this year Peoples was named co-director of the national LGBT advocacy and direct action group GetEqual.
The Stein Club is the city’s largest LGBT political organization.
Fowlkes, a longtime club member, is president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity, an international LGBT advocacy group that, among other things, organizes D.C.’s annual Black Pride celebration and conference. He’s also a member of the Democratic National Committee and was elected in 2013 as chair of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus.
The other Stein Club officers chosen Monday night include lesbian activists Amada Fitzgibbon and Jessica Pierce, who were elected vice president of administration and treasurer respectively; and gay activist and local attorney Dwayne Bensing, who was elected secretary.
The three will replace Diana Bui, Terrance Laney and Bobbie Strang, who currently serve as vice president for administration, treasurer and secretary respectively. All three chose not to run for re-election.
The vote for the new officers followed a contentious discussion over whether the officer election should be postponed because the current officers did not disclose the names of the slate of candidates put together by a nominating committee until the time of Monday night’s meeting, which was held in the city’s Reeves Center building at 14th and U Streets, N.W.
Several longtime members, including Democratic activists Jeri Hughes, John Lazar, John Fanning, and Matt Corso called the election process “undemocratic” and lacking in transparency, saying it was improper to have to vote on people they knew nothing about. They also expressed concern that the location of the meeting where the election was to be held was not announced until just hours before the meeting was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
All four joined other club members in supporting a motion to postpone the election until the next regularly scheduled meeting in December. A second motion was introduced to postpone the election for any office for which the candidate was not in attendance of the meeting. The motion would have applied only to Fowlkes, who was unable to attend Monday’s meeting.
Garcia said the names of the candidates weren’t released in advance because the nominating committee was unable to line up a full slate of candidates until the day before the meeting. For weeks, Garcia said, the club’s officers tried without success to recruit people to run.
Members opposing the motions pointed out that the club’s bylaws require that the officer elections be held in November every year and that postponing them would violate the bylaws and make the validity of the election unclear.
When both motions were voted down, Hughes, Fanning, Lazar, and Corso walked out of the meeting in protest. Lazar told the Blade the turnout of just over 20 members for a club election on Monday represented far fewer people than those who have attended election meetings in the past, raising questions about whether the club’s recent procedures are driving people away.
Garcia disputed claims that the election process was flawed. He said the club announced the election would be held at the club’s Nov. 17 meeting at least two months in advance at previous meetings and on the club’s Facebook page as well as in email messages sent to all members.
Concerning the issue of not disclosing in advance the names of the candidates running, Garcia said the board wasn’t able to do that because the nominees couldn’t be finalized until just before the meeting.
“We wanted to make sure we had a strong, qualified slate to run this evening, and we did,” he said. “The folks have great qualifications and I think are going to be a fantastic addition to the legacy of this organization and definitely move us forward next year.”