The outer reception area of D.C. Council member Jim Graham’s office suite in the John A. Wilson Building, which serves as the District’s city hall, is packed with open boxes filled with papers and memorabilia accumulated during his 16 years in office.
As Graham, a Democrat and one of the Council’s two out gay members, prepares to leave office on Jan. 2 he reflected on his sometimes-controversial tenure as the Council’s Ward 1 representative in an interview with the Washington Blade.
“I’ve got two weeks and two days – 16 days left,” he said on Monday. “It’s 16 years, and then I kind of add to that the 15 years at Whitman-Walker. So it’s 31 years. And I think we had a good run.”
Graham was referring to the 15 years he served as executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the city’s preeminent private medical clinic serving people with HIV/AIDS now and in the early years of the AIDS epidemic.
An attorney, Graham points out that he served three years prior to becoming Whitman-Walker’s executive director in the volunteer post of president of the clinic’s board from 1981 to 1984. He won election to his first of four terms on the Council in 1998.
“I want to be very clear about this point,” he told the Blade. “What has forged my political philosophy, if you will, has been the experience with Whitman-Walker Clinic working with people who were desperately poor facing what was then considered really a death sentence in the ‘80s, but facing a life-threatening disease for sure, without a network of support, without money in the bank, without insurance policies,” Graham said.
“The experience of going through life’s issues with people infected with HIV forged what I am about,” he continued. “So when I came on the Council I saw it as a continuation in terms of my work for those who were at greatest risk and most vulnerable.”
Graham’s reputation on the Council as a champion for progressive causes, including the rights of LGBT people, tenants and the needs of the diverse immigrant populations in the ward, made Graham highly popular among his constituents.
He won re-election by wide margins and was considered to have a safe seat on the Council until a series of developments beginning in 2009 triggered a flurry of negative press reports and accusations by critics that he had become mired in allegations of corruption.
The problems began in September 2009 when Graham’s then-chief of staff, Ted Loza, was arrested by the FBI for a bribe in an alleged scheme in which he promised to push for legislation favorable to the taxi cab industry that was pending before a committee that Graham chaired.
Graham was never implicated in the scheme but became the subject of an FBI investigation that Graham called unfair and unjustified and which, as Graham says, “came to nothing – absolutely nothing.”
In a separate development, the city’s newly created Board of Ethics and Government Accountability last year determined that Graham breached city ethics rules by asking a developer to withdraw its bid for a real estate project on land associated with Metro so that another developer that Graham said was better qualified to carry out the project could win the bid.
In exchange, Graham allegedly offered to support the original developer’s bid for a city lottery contract.
At the initiative of City Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), the Council voted to reprimand Graham for his actions concerning the two developers, calling them a breach of the Council’s ethics standards.
Graham again insisted he was never charged with breaking any law, taking any money, or benefiting in any way, saying his aim was to benefit Ward 1, where the development project was to take place, by ensuring that the contract went to the most qualified developer. He has called his actions a form of political horse trading rather than anything illegal or unethical.
But he acknowledged in his reflections this week that the combined effect of the Loza arrest and ethics allegations led to his defeat at the polls in the April 2014 Democratic primary in which political newcomer Brianne Nadeau defeated Graham. She went on to win the November general election and will be sworn in as Graham’s successor on Jan. 2.
Graham said he has thought about irony in what seems like some similarities in his own campaign in 1998 in which he defeated then-incumbent Council member Frank Smith in the Democratic primary.
“There’s something to be said about that,” Graham said. “I’ve thought about that many times. And she ran a very hard campaign and I had run a very hard campaign against Smith,” he said.
“She used the ammunition that was given to her by the Washington Post and she used it to good advantage,” he said. “I have good feelings about Brianne Nadeau. I think she ran a skillful campaign, and there were parallels.”
Graham is also quick to point out how the Washington Post in his view played a key role in his defeat by, among other things, publishing 27 separate editorials critical of him over the ethics allegations.
“Twenty-seven – yes, 27 in under a year, which makes me a historical figure,” he said of being the target of a nationally known newspaper like the Post.
“But I really believe that with every door that closes another door opens,” he said. “I have been very comfortable with the ultimate result and very uncomfortable with the way in which it was done.”
Graham added, “I don’t want to be acting like a victim, even though I’ve been victimized through this. I have the option of doing something different. And I’ll be fine I hope. So that’s the end story to that.”
He declined to elaborate on his future plans.
In looking to his record on LGBT rights, Graham, among other things, points to his role as an advocate for the LGBT community both in legislation and private discussions with his fellow Council members.
The addition or protection for transgender people in the city’s Human Rights Act, the enactment into law of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs rather than leaving it as an option for a mayor to keep or disband, and funds for shelter beds for LGBT homeless youth are among some of his many pet projects on the Council, Graham said.
He said that against great odds and under strong opposition by some of his fellow Council members, he pushed through a bill that enabled some of the gay adult businesses displaced by the Washington Nationals stadium to relocate to other parts of the city.
He said he acknowledges that at least some of those who voted against him in the April primary were part of the city’s new residents who moved into Ward 1 due to the extensive revitalization and development projects, including upscale new condo buildings, that Graham says he played a key role in bringing about.
Political observers have said some of the new residents tend to be more conservative on issues of government spending and may have viewed Graham as being too liberal.
“I am a liberal,” he said. “I’m very liberal. I mean I’m very liberal in the sense that I care most about those who need government help at the greatest degree and I think there is a responsible role for government to play in all of that.”
A partial transcript of the Blade’s interview with Graham follows. (Dec. 16, 2014)
Blade: When does your term officially end?
Graham: I’ve got two weeks and two days – 16 days left. And it’s 16 years and then I kind of add to that the 15 years at Whitman-Walker. So it’s 31 years. And I think we had a good run.
Blade: When did you start at Whitman-Walker?
Graham: I became the director in 1984 – the full-time director in March 1984. But I became the president of Whitman-Walker on April Fool’s Day in 1981. But that was a volunteer position, but full-time from March of ’84 to December 2014 is more than 30 years – a long time.
Blade: Yes. Did you remain as executive director while you were a candidate for the Council seat?
Blade: Did you continue as executive director at Whitman-Walker during your campaign for City Council?
Blade: Was that in 1998?
Graham: 1998, that’s right. It seems like an eternity.
Blade: What do you see as the big changes that have happened in all those years?
Graham: Well Ward 1 has been transformed. And I think for the most part transformed for the better. It has neighborhoods that when I came into office were marked by chain linked fences, drug traffic, gang wars, which was the name of the game on U Street and certainly in Columbia Heights. That was what Columbia Heights was all about. Unless you had a reason to go there like going home you never went to Columbia Heights after dark – 14th and Irving.
And you look at it today and it’s obviously hugely different. U Street has become unbelievable. And a lot of people think U Street was the result of a lot of D.C. government actions. But it really wasn’t. It was Metro. Those were Metro parcels that were developed. And I was chairman of the Metro Real Estate Committee during that time.
So I think the revitalization of Ward 1 is certainly what I would count as one of my achievements – working with a lot of people. I don’t want to say I did it alone because obviously I didn’t. But I had critical input in all that.
And I want to be very clear about this point. What has forged my political philosophy, if you will, has been the experience with Whitman-Walker Clinic because working with people who were desperately poor facing what was then considered really a death sentence in the ‘80s, but facing a life-threatening disease for sure, without a network of support, without money in the bank, without insurance policies.
But the experience of going through life’s issues with people infected with HIV forged what I am about. So when I came on the Council I saw it as a continuation in terms of my work for those who were at greatest risk and most vulnerable. And it was a very natural alliance I had with Marion Barry in this regard. But I saw it as a continuum.
The Council gave me a different platform in order to do this. And I think ending with my chairmanship of the Human Services Committee and dealing with all of the issues of poverty in the District of Columbia was just fitting. It was a natural conclusion and continuation of what I had been doing. So I tend to view all of those kind of in the same trajectory if I can use that word. Others may see it differently but that’s the way I see it.
And of course I was privileged to have been elected and re-elected, re-elected, re-elected and then not re-elected by the people of Ward 1. And that’s a huge privilege. There are not too many people who have served 16 years as a Council member in D.C. And I’m very proud of the record that I have.
Blade: Concerning the outcome of the April Democratic primary in which your opponent Brianne Nadeau won, some have said that there was some irony in that she appeared to run the type of campaign that you ran back in 1998 when you beat incumbent Frank Smith. Is there anything to that?
Graham: There’s something to be said about that. I’ve thought about that many times. And she ran a very hard campaign and I had run a very hard campaign against Smith. She used the ammunition that was given to her by the Washington Post and she used it to good advantage. I have good feelings about Brianne Nadeau. I think she ran a skillful campaign, and there were parallels.
I ran across our direct mail pieces in 1998. They were very hard hitting.
Blade: Some may have lost track of how many Washington Post editorials came out against you.
Graham: Twenty-seven – yes, 27 in under a year, which makes me a historical figure. I don’t want to go on and on about this, but just to say that 27 editorials and I never had an opportunity to present my case [before the City Council]. I never had an opportunity to examine witnesses or present evidence – never. And so the Metro Board acted without a hearing. The Board of Ethics in Government, which had just been established and just come into existence, said they had no jurisdiction but we’ll give you our conclusions anyway – no hearing.
And then the Council – I begged Mendelson to propose a motion of censure rather than a reprimand for two reasons. Number one, most importantly if it had been a censure motion I would have been entitled to a hearing. And I had lawyers ready to act. And I could finally have had an opportunity to say look here’s my side of all this. But he said no, it would be too much of a distraction from the Council’s business and we need to get on with this and a reprimand would be enough. It’s a relatively minor matter.
Well I said it’s not going to be minor because I could spend the rest of my life trying to correct press reports that I was censured because nobody knows the difference between a censure and a reprimand. But the difference for me was there was no hearing. And so all of that happened without an opportunity for me to be heard in a formal way.
And so if anything that was alleged was true it would be a serious matter. But everything that was alleged along those lines was not true. And the one thing that was true was what everybody would say was minor at best. So the difference is if you could prove everything that was thrown out there – it was Graham wanted to substitute one developer or another developer. Graham wanted to have a campaign – all of this was balderdash. It wasn’t true. But if it were true then you would have a very serious matter.
But there was never any opportunity to refute it. So it all just got recycled over and over and over again. And of course Brianne Nadeau being the political person that she is and running in a political race she took advantage of all that. And so at every campaign stop it was Graham is corrupt. And as many times as I said how can I be corrupt without breaking any law, committing any crime or taking any money? How do you interpret that as corruption?
But, see, all of that is lost in the mist of history. Who cares? And I guess the Washington Post achieved what it wanted to achieve – to put me out of office. But I really believe that with every door that closes another door opens. I have been very comfortable with the ultimate result and very uncomfortable with the way in which it was done. But I don’t want to be acting like a victim, even though I’ve been victimized.
I’ve definitely been victimized but I don’t want to act like a victim through this. And I have the option of doing something different. And I’ll be fine I hope. So that’s the end story to that. But to say it was painful to have 27 editorials written against you and knowing they were going to appear on such and such a date and knowing what they were going say and they would be the worst possibly interpretation of anything that could ever happen – it was painful.
And very few people know that pain because how many people have had 27 editorials written against them by a major American newspaper? Even Mark Lee, with all his attacks on me — he didn’t use that number. And Jonetta Rose Barras didn’t use that number.
Blade: Some of the criticism appeared to be that you were too liberal.
Graham: I am liberal. I’m very liberal. I mean I’m very liberal in the sense that I care most about those who need government help at the greatest degree and I think there is a responsible role for government to play in all of that.
Mark Lee is just a very, very conservative business oriented columnist. And you have to understand that he is very pro bar. That’s the industry he comes from. And you always have to keep that in mind when you read what he has to say. But I’m just saying that kiddingly because even Jonetta Rose Barras didn’t write 27 columns negative about me.
But John Roe did.
Blade: Who is John Roe?
Graham: He was the voice at the Post editorial board…So then you have all of that happening. And then you have the massive effort by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to entrap me – massive effort. My phone was tapped for at least 90 days. I know that because I have the federal motions that were signed by the federal judges. My bank account was investigated. Everything about me was investigated. And they offered me a trip to Miami, which I rejected. They offered me – they gave me the painting. I’ll show you the painting – a full rights painting that they commissioned by an Ethiopian artist that was presented to me at a Christmas gala. We have the video. There are photos of this, and I was aghast when I saw this thing because who wants to be presented with a full-length portrait of themselves. But at the time I didn’t know it had been commissioned by the FBI.
And later on the artist contacted me. He’s Ethiopian and wanted my help because they stiffed him with 50 percent of the fee. They promised him $6,000. They only paid him $3,000. And he wanted to know if I can help him. He didn’t know he was dealing with an FBI undercover agent. It just goes on and on and on.
Blade: Why did the FBI want to do that?
Graham: Well they had Teddy on the line and they wanted bigger game. They wanted bigger game. And so they thought they could get me too – but I had committed no crime. I had committed no – broken no law, taken no money. But they wanted to see what they can do to get me to do it. It’s called entrapment. It’s not legal entrapment under the current definitions.
I was offered as everyone knows $2,400 in cash which I rejected. And when I look back on that period of time and all of that I was completely in the dark. I was meeting these guys who were FBI agents and they were saying we want to invest in Ward 1. I said fine, what do you want to do? These mysterious meetings [that they invited me to attend] that I never quite understood – because they don’t need me to invest in Ward 1.
Blade: Were they posing as businessmen?
Graham: They were posing as investors. And that’s why they said they wanted me to come to Miami. I said why do you want me to come to Miami? They said because the investors are located there and it would be convenient for them. I said have them come to Washington if they’re so interested. Well we’ll take you out to dinner in a yacht.
This was a major nightmare that began in August 2009 and has lasted until this year. And some day the full story will be told, but the fact of the matter is – and meanwhile during all that while I was doing my job. I’m very proud of the fact that we have – I think we have the best constituent services on the Council. We’re known for our responsiveness. I’m known for my responsiveness. I was reading every email, responding to every email. Every phone call was dealt with effectively.
And then I had the chairmanship of the Human Services Committee and I was dealing with all the issues related to poverty. And we kept working. We were never deterred from that work. But at some point I learned that they were out to get me and I had to refocus and say what the hell is going on here?
Blade: When you say it all started in August 2009, was that when Teddy Loza, your former chief of staff, allegedly took a bribe?
Graham: That’s when Teddy told me he had been arrested and he had been detained actually at the Atlanta airport. And Teddy’s situation is an entirely separate matter that was also under close scrutiny because of what they did. The way it happened was this. Abdul Kamal was somebody we worked together with in the Ethiopian community. He offered a real bribe to the chairman of the Taxi Cab Commission. He offered the chairman of the Taxi Cab Commission $50,000. The chairman of the Taxi Cab Commission turned him into the FBI. At that point they said you’re guilty of a federal felony but can you help us with some other people. And he said what do you mean? Well he offered you could get Ted Loza? And he said maybe you could even get Jim Graham because we had lived together.
So first they got Teddy. They entrapped him. He took silly and stupid things like taking a $500 gift on Father’s Day. And then they came after me with these other things, meanwhile by tapping my phone and examining every part of my life and coming up with nothing – nothing. I mean am I indicted? Have they charged me with a crime? Has anybody ever suggested that I committed a crime? No.
So that’s the way it went. But I’m very proud of the fact that I continued to do my work. I was re-elected in 2010 after Teddy had been arrested – after Loza had been arrested. And that was a terrible moment I can assure you. But we continued to work. And I got 80 something percent of the vote in 2010. But then the editorials started in 2012 and 2013.
But I’m proud of my record because the fact of the matter is with all the investigations that they conducted they came up with nothing because there was nothing there. There was nothing there. And I don’t know how much money they spent trying to do all this. But the fact that I lost the election – gosh, somebody’s got 27 editorials against him by a national newspaper. Where there’s smoke there must be fire, right? But there wasn’t any fire. There was just smoke.
Blade: Did you sense that you still had support from your base supporters?
Graham: Well there were a lot of pragmatic things. You had the early April 1 primary and nobody knew it was Election Day. You had Vince Gray, who I expected to bring out the east side of the ward in voters. He didn’t because he had polls showing he would lose 60 percent of the vote from there. So he didn’t make any effort. So when the election came I said oh my God, there is no effort to bring these guys out. And I would have done it. But for good reason his campaign strategists said we’re not going to bring them out. We’re not going to make a special effort because we’ll lose that vote big time.
So there were all those pragmatic kinds of things going on. And my opponent was very good at what she did in carrying the message that I was corrupt.
…I ended up with strong support from African Americans and Latinos and Vietnamese and Asians and so forth. And it was the newcomer who is largely white and comparatively well off – comparatively well off – who voted against me.
But I don’t have any bitterness about this. Brianna reflects that constituency. She does. She reflects that constituency that voted for her and, you know, people like to feel that they’re represented by their own. Now she has a challenge in terms of communicating well with the so-called minorities in Ward 1. And I hope she is going to work hard at that in understanding their needs. She and I have had a very cordial relationship.
Blade: Since the election?
Graham: Since the final election. We didn’t have too much communication after the primary. I did congratulate her and I told her that if she won the final election I would do everything I could to help in the transition, and I have. I’ve been having these resolutions with various Ward 1 leaders. I invited her to the Council…I invited her to my Thanksgiving lunch for 500 seniors. She came for that – very cordial. She knows that I want to help her in any way. I want her to be a success.
Blade: Let’s talk a little about your role first as an openly gay candidate and then as an out gay Council member. When you first ran against Frank Smith did that surface at all?
Graham: It did. There were some very nasty materials put together on it, which were never really widely distributed but it did – the way it surfaced was people who had – and they were largely minorities, by the way – who had been helped by Whitman-Walker Clinic because of a child having AIDS or a brother having AIDS. And they very much appreciated the assistance they had gotten. See what I’m saying? And so it was a plus. It was a huge plus being associated with Whitman-Walker.
From the beginning I’ve ran as somebody who is white, gay, recovering addict and alcoholic and now clean and sober for 37 years.
Blade: You were open about that?
Graham: I was open about all of this. The Washington Post had done this 6,000-word profile on me in the magazine section in 1992. They had laid bare every aspect of my life. So I have been very straightforward about everything and there was nothing to cover up. It was all exposed.
And I think it says a lot about Ward 1. They were able to see the merits of my candidacy. I never had any problem being re-elected up until the last election.
Blade: During your years on the Council did your status as an openly gay Council member have any impact on your interaction with your colleagues?
Graham: I don’t think so. I think it was a neutral because this is a pretty enlightened crew here. It was a neutral. I don’t have any recollection of a blip along those lines.
Blade: No problems with your colleagues over that?
Blade: Now some LGBT activists have expressed concern that there will be no out gay on the Council for the first time since 1997, when Council member David Catania won his seat in a special election.
Graham: I think that’s an important void because you’ve got these members here who are pretty enlightened and they’re anything but homophobic. They’re the exact opposite of that. But it always helps to have somebody at the table that has these issues in the forefront in their minds. And whatever the unique issue is if you have somebody at the table who is thinking about this issue he or she reminds his colleagues or her colleagues of the significance of this on every occasion. And when they’re not there – the difference between being presented with an issue and saying I’ll vote for that and having the issue raised at all. I think it’s going to be something we’ll miss. There are people who cater to the gay vote, which is good because they see it as a strong voting population, which it is. But it’s not the same as having somebody at the table.
Yet we’ve gone so far, haven’t we? I never, never imagined – never, never imagined – I imagined same-sex marriage, marriage equality. I imagined that. But I never imagined that there would come a day when a gay and lesbian person could go outside of the United States, marry somebody and bring them back under the immigration laws as a spouse. I remember talking to folks in the ‘90s who were working on this issue and I said oh, my God, this will be the last frontier. This will be the one thing that will never happen. Well it’s happened. It’s happened. And I think it’s a matter of time until the Supreme Court finally decides that it’s a violation of human rights and unlawful discrimination in so many different areas of gays being treated differently than anybody else. So it’s done. Maybe those frontiers have already been achieved. Maybe we’re by them…
Now are there gay people on the Council who are not saying they’re gay? Well that’s another matter, isn’t it? I don’t know how that will work out because there may be people in the future who are in that category and just not willing to admit it for political reasons.
The fact of the matter is there are a lot of people who won’t vote for a gay candidate. I don’t know to what extent that worked in Catania’s case in the recent election.
Blade: We’ve heard that may have hurt gay Ward 8 activist Phil Pannell in his races for a seat on the school board.
Graham: Word of mouth is very powerful in D.C. I’ve learned that. The word of mouth in political campaigns – what people say to each other and is passed on and passed on is a very important thing. So if you say the word of mouth on Catania was that he was difficult, over bearing, given to fits of anger – that was the word of mouth on Catania. I don’t think it played well.
Blade: Isn’t it hard to see how that played since we don’t have exit polls.
Graham: No, we don’t have exit polls.
Blade: The unions that supported Muriel Bowser for mayor brought up the issue of Catania’s temperament in mailings.
Graham: It was well communicated the personality issues…It’s hard to say just why people vote, but there is certainly homophobia. Homophobia is alive and well. And I’m sure it hurt Catania and I’m sure it hurt Pannell. But it never hurt me in any decisive way. Everybody knew who I was and they’ve elected me four times. That’s the same with Catania in the position he was in. Yet it’s hard to say because he never really had a majority of the vote.
Blade: Your referring to the at-large Council seat reserved for the non-majority party?
Graham: Yeah – it’s hard to describe, but he never really did have a majority vote of those who were voting?
Blade: When he ran for his Council seat?
Blade: Do you feel he was also hurt because of voting trends in the city in that we’ve never had a white candidate win election to mayor since the home rule government began in 1974?
Graham: I think that’s likely to change in the next couple of elections because the city has so fundamentally changed. If you go to 14th and U, for example, 11th Street, for example; Sherman Avenue – streets that I know well – it’s just a different world. It’s a different world. I go to Georgia Avenue and I find white couple after white couple with baby strollers, gays holding hands that are white and mixed races. It’s another world.
Blade: Could that be a sign of gentrification, which some feel has harmed certain parts of the population in the city? Is Ward 1 encountering the brunt of gentrification?
Graham: I think it has. But we’ve done pretty well with big buildings. But we have major challenges ahead in terms of landlord tenant rights and so forth. And I was one of the champions in all of that. And I’m not going to be around for that. I know the D.C. Realtors put in about $70,000 to defeat me. So I hope that Council member Nadeau is able to resist playing to those donors. But increasingly we’re using buildings now because of the pressure from the real estate market.
…The more that rent control disappears and the more that other tenant related protections disappear will be the extent that affordable buildings disappear. This $100 million a year for affordable house [DC government program] is never going to make up for all of the buildings that are being lost. We have right now approximately 200,000 to 250,000 people who are in the District of Columbia in rent controlled apartments. It is huge. But that is slipping every single day. The numbers are going down every single day. In fact the number I’ve just given you is a year old. I don’t know what it is today.
And rent control is not as strong as it should be but it’s better than not having rent control, that’s for sure…
Blade: There’s an issue of the gay clubs. Another one in the city that is in your ward – MOVA – is closing at the end of the year.
Graham: They never really got off the ground.
Blade: The owner says it’s going to be taken over by one of the owners of Barcode, a popular straight bar located downtown.
Graham: I know him – Movahedi. He’s in Barcelona.
Blade: He announced on his Facebook page that MOVA will have a closing party on Jan. 3.
Graham: Is he coming?
Blade: He didn’t say in his message.
Graham: No, I don’t think he is. I spoke to him in Barcelona a few weeks ago and he’s a good friend because he had Halo. He was the second owner of Halo. And it did very well. But you know they had stairs at Halo and they have stairs at this other club. And the stairs killed them at this other club. Was it too long a staircase? But they ended up with a very small area downstairs.
Blade: They also had a protest filed against their license renewal by the ANC and nearby residents who said the roof deck was creating too much noise.
Graham: That could be. I didn’t know about that.
Blade: You were involved with some of when he chaired the Council committee overseeing liquor licenses, right?
Graham: I was chairman of that committee for eight years.
Blade: Now history seems to be repeating itself with the new soccer stadium, where it will likely displace a club that got displaced by the Washington Nationals Baseball stadium.
Graham: And they are going to have a hard time relocating.
Blade: Jack Evans has said the Council will try to help them relocate. But Could the Council do that?
Graham: Well they will have to ease up – I was the author as you remember of that new law on nude dancing. And the problem is we are under a lot of pressure to restrict the locations where it is so many feet from this, so many feet from that. So it virtually makes it impossible for a new club to be located anywhere in the west side of the city. Now on the east side of the city there are still locations in warehouse districts and so forth. But I know that Alan Carol who is the owner of Ziegfeld’s searched high and low before he found that. So there’s an irony that once again they’re facing this. But they’re not in the footprint of the stadium. So they’re going to be there until the owner of the building figures out if he wants a different use of the building.
Blade: The owner has said he will eventually sell to a developer and will offer Ziegfeld’s/Secrets the first right of refusal to buy the building.
Graham: I don’t know. But you know he’s got years left because the soccer stadium is not going to be built for years — I mean 2017 or 2018 before it’s opened. And so he’s got all that time and then of course he’s not in the path – he’s not in the footprint of the stadium.
Blade: The mayor’s office says they will not extend any use of eminent domain outside the footprint of the stadium, but there will likely be pressure from developers.
Graham: Yeah – there will be pressure to make money and etc., etc. And so this guy undoubtedly will say I can make more money doing something different here because there will be condos and all that stuff – the usual.
Blade: Did your bill allow two nude dance licenses per ward?
Graham: I don’t remember. It’s very strict. It was stricter than I wanted it to be because I would have made it far more liberal but there were such pressures, particularly from Ward 5, but also from people generally. The NIMPYism was very strong. So we didn’t get very far in terms of relaxing restrictions. In fact it’s much tougher.
Equality Act, contorted as a danger by anti-LGBTQ forces, is all but dead
No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise
Despite having President Biden in the White House and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, efforts to update federal civil rights laws to strengthen the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people by passing the Equality Act are all but dead as opponents of the measure have contorted it beyond recognition.
Political willpower is lacking to find a compromise that would be acceptable to enough Republican senators to end a filibuster on the bill — a tall order in any event — nor is there the willpower to force a vote on the Equality Act as opponents stoke fears about transgender kids in sports and not even unanimity in the Democratic caucus in favor of the bill is present, stakeholders who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity said.
In fact, there are no imminent plans to hold a vote on the legislation even though Pride month is days away, which would be an opportune time for Congress to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBTQ community by holding a vote on the legislation.
If the Equality Act were to come up for a Senate vote in the next month, it would not have the support to pass. Continued assurances that bipartisan talks are continuing on the legislation have yielded no evidence of additional support, let alone the 10 Republicans needed to end a filibuster.
“I haven’t really heard an update either way, which is usually not good,” one Democratic insider said. “My understanding is that our side was entrenched in a no-compromise mindset and with [Sen. Joe] Manchin saying he didn’t like the bill, it doomed it this Congress. And the bullying of hundreds of trans athletes derailed our message and our arguments of why it was broadly needed.”
The only thing keeping the final nail from being hammered into the Equality Act’s coffin is the unwillingness of its supporters to admit defeat. Other stakeholders who spoke to the Blade continued to assert bipartisan talks are ongoing, strongly pushing back on any conclusion the legislation is dead.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Equality Act is “alive and well,” citing widespread public support he said includes “the majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents and a growing number of communities across the country engaging and mobilizing every day in support of the legislation.”
“They understand the urgent need to pass this bill and stand up for LGBTQ people across our country,” David added. “As we engage with elected officials, we have confidence that Congress will listen to the voices of their constituents and continue fighting for the Equality Act through the lengthy legislative process. We will also continue our unprecedented campaign to grow the already-high public support for a popular bill that will save lives and make our country fairer and more equal for all. We will not stop until the Equality Act is passed.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate, also signaled through a spokesperson work continues on the legislation, refusing to give up on expectations the legislation would soon become law.
“Sen. Merkley and his staff are in active discussions with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to get this done,” McLennan said. “We definitely see it as a key priority that we expect to become law.”
A spokesperson Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had promised to force a vote on the Equality Act in the Senate on the day the U.S. House approved it earlier this year, pointed to a March 25 “Dear Colleague” letter in which he identified the Equality Act as one of several bills he’d bring up for a vote.
Despite any assurances, the hold up on the bill is apparent. Although the U.S. House approved the legislation earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t even reported out the bill yet to the floor in the aftermath of the first-ever Senate hearing on the bill in March. A Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic aide, however, disputed that inaction as evidence the Equality Act is dead in its tracks: “Bipartisan efforts on a path forward are ongoing.”
Democrats are quick to blame Republicans for inaction on the Equality Act, but with Manchin withholding his support for the legislation they can’t even count on the entirety of their caucus to vote “yes” if it came to the floor. Progressives continue to advocate an end to the filibuster to advance legislation Biden has promised as part of his agenda, but even if they were to overcome headwinds and dismantle the institution needing 60 votes to advance legislation, the Equality Act would likely not have majority support to win approval in the Senate with a 50-50 party split.
The office of Manchin, who has previously said he couldn’t support the Equality Act over concerns about public schools having to implement the transgender protections applying to sports and bathrooms, hasn’t responded to multiple requests this year from the Blade on the legislation and didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.
Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who declined to co-sponsor the Equality Act this year after having signed onto the legislation in the previous Congress, insisted through a spokesperson talks are still happening across the aisle despite the appearances the legislation is dead.
“There continues to be bipartisan support for passing a law that protects the civil rights of Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Annie Clark, a Collins spokesperson. “The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations, and in its current form, it cannot pass. That’s why there are ongoing discussions among senators and stakeholders about a path forward.”
Let’s face it: Anti-LGBTQ forces have railroaded the debate by making the Equality Act about an end to women’s sports by allowing transgender athletes and danger to women in sex-segregated places like bathrooms and prisons. That doesn’t even get into resolving the issue on drawing the line between civil rights for LGBTQ people and religious freedom, which continues to be litigated in the courts as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected any day now to issue a ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia to determine if foster care agencies can reject same-sex couples over religious objections.
For transgender Americans, who continue to report discrimination and violence at high rates, the absence of the Equality Act may be most keenly felt.
Mara Keisling, outgoing executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, disputed any notion the Equality Act is dead and insisted the legislation is “very much alive.”
“We remain optimistic despite misinformation from the opposition,” Keisling said. “NCTE and our movement partners are still working fruitfully on the Equality Act with senators. In fact, we are gaining momentum with all the field organizing we’re doing, like phone banking constituents to call their senators. Legislating takes time. Nothing ever gets through Congress quickly. We expect to see a vote during this Congress, and we are hopeful we can win.”
But one Democratic source said calls to members of Congress against the Equality Act, apparently coordinated by groups like the Heritage Foundation, have has outnumbered calls in favor of it by a substantial margin, with a particular emphasis on Manchin.
No stories are present in the media about same-sex couples being kicked out of a restaurant for holding hands or transgender people for using the restroom consistent with their gender identity, which would be perfectly legal in 25 states thanks to the patchwork of civil rights laws throughout the United States and inadequate protections under federal law.
Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the American Unity Fund, which has bolstered the Republican-led Fairness for All Act as an alternative to the Equality Act, said he continues to believe the votes are present for a compromise form of the bill.
“I know for a fact there is a supermajority level of support in the Senate for a version of the Equality Act that is fully protective of both LGBTQ civil rights and religious freedom,” Deaton said. “There is interest on both sides of the aisle in getting something done this Congress.”
Deaton, however, didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry on what evidence exists of agreeing on this compromise.
Biden has already missed the goal he campaigned on in the 2020 election to sign the Equality Act into law within his first 100 days in office. Although Biden renewed his call to pass the legislation in his speech to Congress last month, as things stand now that appears to be a goal he won’t realize for the remainder of this Congress.
Nor has the Biden administration made the Equality Act an issue for top officials within the administration as it pushes for an infrastructure package as a top priority. One Democratic insider said Louisa Terrell, legislative affairs director for the White House, delegated work on the Equality Act to a deputy as opposed to handling it herself.
To be sure, Biden has demonstrated support for the LGBTQ community through executive action at an unprecedented rate, signing an executive order on day one ordering federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the fullest extent possible and dismantling former President Trump’s transgender military ban. Biden also made historic LGBTQ appointments with the confirmation of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health.
A White House spokesperson insisted Biden’s team across the board remains committed to the Equality Act, pointing to his remarks to Congress.
“President Biden has urged Congress to get the Equality Act to his desk so he can sign it into law and provide long overdue civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans, and he remains committed to seeing this legislation passed as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said. “The White House and its entire legislative team remains in ongoing and close coordination with organizations, leaders, members of Congress, including the Equality Caucus, and staff to ensure we are working across the aisle to push the Equality Act forward.”
But at least in the near-term, that progress will fall short of fulfilling the promise of updating federal civil rights law with the Equality Act, which will mean LGBTQ people won’t be able to rely on those protections when faced with discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
D.C. bill to ban LGBTQ panic defense delayed by Capitol security
Delivery of bill to Congress was held up due to protocols related to Jan. 6 riots
A bill approved unanimously last December by the D.C. Council to ban the so-called LGBTQ panic defense has been delayed from taking effect as a city law because the fence installed around the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented the law from being delivered to Congress.
According to Eric Salmi, communications director for D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who guided the bill through the Council’s legislative process, all bills approved by the Council and signed by the D.C. mayor must be hand-delivered to Congress for a required congressional review.
“What happened was when the Capitol fence went up after the January insurrection, it created an issue where we physically could not deliver laws to Congress per the congressional review period,” Salmi told the Washington Blade.
Among the bills that could not immediately be delivered to Congress was the Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunter Panic Defense Prohibition and Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act of 2020, which was approved by the Council on a second and final vote on Dec. 15.
Between the time the bill was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser and published in the D.C. Register under procedural requirements for all bills, it was not ready to be transmitted to Congress until Feb. 16, the Council’s legislative record for the bill shows.
Salmi said the impasse in delivering the bill to Congress due to the security fence prevented the bill from reaching Congress on that date and prevented the mandatory 60-day congressional review period for this bill from beginning at that time. He noted that most bills require a 30 legislative day review by Congress.
But the Evangelista-Hunter bill, named after a transgender woman and a gay man who died in violent attacks by perpetrators who attempted to use the trans and gay panic defense, includes a law enforcement related provision that under the city’s Home Rule Charter passed by Congress in the early 1970s requires a 60-day congressional review.
“There is a chance it goes into effect any day now, just given the timeline is close to being up,” Salmi said on Tuesday. “I don’t know the exact date it was delivered, but I do know the countdown is on,” said Salmi, who added, “I would expect any day now it should go into effect and there’s nothing stopping it other than an insurrection in January.”
If the delivery to Congress had not been delayed, the D.C. Council’s legislative office estimated the congressional review would have been completed by May 12.
A congressional source who spoke on condition of being identified only as a senior Democratic aide, said the holdup of D.C. bills because of the Capitol fence has been corrected.
“The House found an immediate workaround, when this issue first arose after the Jan. 6 insurrection,” the aide said.
“This is yet another reason why D.C. Council bills should not be subject to a congressional review period and why we need to grant D.C. statehood,” the aide said.
The aide added that while no disapproval resolution had been introduced in Congress to overturn the D.C. Evangelista-Hunter bill, House Democrats would have defeated such a resolution.
“House Democrats support D.C. home rule, statehood, and LGBTQ rights,” said the aide.
LGBTQ rights advocates have argued that a ban on using a gay or transgender panic defense in criminal trials is needed to prevent defense attorneys from inappropriately asking juries to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is to blame for a defendant’s criminal act, including murder.
Some attorneys have argued that their clients “panicked” after discovering the person against whom they committed a violent crime was gay or transgender, prompting them to act in a way they believed to be a form of self-defense.
In addition to its provision banning the LGBTQ panic defense, the Evangelista-Hunter bill includes a separate provision that strengthens the city’s existing hate crimes law by clarifying that hatred need not be the sole motivating factor for an underlying crime such as assault, murder, or threats to be prosecuted as a hate crime.
LGBTQ supportive prosecutors have said the clarification was needed because it is often difficult to prove to a jury that hatred is the only motive behind a violent crime. The prosecutors noted that juries have found defendants not guilty of committing a hate crime on grounds that they believed other motives were involved in a particular crime after defense lawyers argued that the law required “hate” to be the only motive in order to find someone guilty of a hate crime.
Salmi noted that while the hate crime clarification and panic defense prohibition provisions of the Evangelista-Hunter bill will become law as soon as the congressional review is completed, yet another provision in the bill will not become law after the congressional review because there are insufficient funds in the D.C. budget to cover the costs of implementing the provision.
The provision gives the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General authority to investigate hate related discrimination at places of public accommodation. Salmi said the provision expands protections against discrimination to include web-based retailers or online delivery services that are not physically located in D.C.
“That is subject to appropriations,” Salmi said. “And until it is funded in the upcoming budget it cannot be legally enforced.”
He said that at Council member Allen’s request, the Council added language to the bill that ensures that all other provisions of the legislation that do not require additional funding – including the ban on use of the LGBTQ panic defense and the provision clarifying that hatred doesn’t have to be the sole motive for a hate crime – will take effect as soon as the congressional approval process is completed.
D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested
Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011
A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.
D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.
Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.
According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.
Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.
An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.
“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”
The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”
Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.
Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.
In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.
“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.
Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.
The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.
In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”
At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.
The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.
The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.
In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.
The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.
It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.
Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.
The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.
The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.
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