April 22, 2015 at 3:59 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
LGBT vote could be factor in D.C. special election
Brandon Todd, LaRuby May, Ward 4, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Brandon Todd of Ward 4, and LaRuby May of Ward 8 won the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. (Photos courtesy of the candidates’ campaigns)

Many of the city’s most prominent LGBT activists have joined Mayor Muriel Bowser in supporting the presumed frontrunners in a crowded field of candidates running in the April 28 D.C. special election to fill vacant City Council seats in Ward 4 and Ward 8.

The two candidates, former City Council staffer Brandon Todd of Ward 4, and attorney and community activist LaRuby May of Ward 8, have received the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBT political organization.

Both are strong supporters of LGBT rights and both played key roles in Bowser’s mayoral election campaign last year. Todd served as Bowser’s constituent services director during Bowser’s tenure as the Ward 4 Council member prior to her successful race for mayor.

With Bowser’s citywide network of supporters and campaign contributors still in place, and with many LGBT activists believed to be part of that network, Todd and May have benefited from the mayor’s backing, according to most political observers. The two are far ahead of all of their rivals in money raised for their campaigns.

The two have also been endorsed by the Washington Post.

But despite this advantage, Todd and May are each running against 11 opponents, with many of them enjoying widespread name recognition in their respective wards. Most of the opposing candidates have also expressed support for LGBT rights.

Some LGBT activists, including longtime Ward 8 community leader Phil Pannell, have said it’s uncertain whether rank-and-file LGBT voters will follow the lead of the Stein Club and Bowser rather than vote for another candidate.

Pannell, who said he’s remaining neutral in the Ward 8 race, considers May to be the clear favorite. But he said Marion Christopher Barry, the son of the late D.C. mayor and longtime Ward 8 Council member, could emerge as a “sleeper” candidate in a 12-candidate race where he or another candidate could win with less than 20 percent of the vote.

Barry, who has expressed strong support for LGBT rights, has been endorsed by gay former D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). He’s also being backed by Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Anthony Lorenzo Green, the ward’s only openly gay elected official.

Ward 8 voting rights activist and longtime LGBT community ally Eugene Kinlow is also considered to have a shot at winning the Ward 8 Council race. In the closing weeks of the campaign Kinlow has accused May of being “beholden” to corporations and businesses that have contributed to her campaign while saying he’s beholden only to the residents of Ward 8.

May and her supporters have dismissed Kinlow’s attacks as baseless campaign rhetoric. They note that May has been endorsed by most of the city’s labor unions and would never be beholden to corporate interests over residents.

Although Todd and May received the Stein Club endorsement, the two received lower ratings on LGBT issues from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance than several of their opponents. Pannell and other activists said it was unclear whether ratings from the non-partisan GLAA would persuade LGBT voters to back candidates other than Todd and May.

In the Ward 4 race, Todd finished third in the GLAA ratings, receiving a +5.5 on a rating scale of -10, the lowest possible rating, to a +10, the highest possible score.

Attorney and community activist Dwayne Toliver received a +7, the highest GLAA rating in the Ward 4 contest. Howard University Medical School professor Edwin Powell came in second with a +6.5 GLAA rating. Democratic contender Acqunetta Anderson received a +3 rating and Democrat Renee L. Bowser, who is not related to Muriel Bowser, received a +2.5 rating.

In the Ward 8 race, Sheila Bunn, who served as deputy chief of staff to former Mayor Vincent Gray and was endorsed by Gray, received a +9 GLAA rating, the highest rating given to a candidate in that contest.

Barry and Ward 8 community activist Sandra Seegars each received a +4.5 GLAA rating. May finished in fourth place with a GLAA rating of +4.

Kinlow, a Democrat, and Keita Vanterpool, an independent, each received a +3.5 rating. Ward 8 Democratic candidate Stuart Anderson received a +3; Democrat Greta Fuller received a +2.5; and Democrat Jauhar Abraham received a +2.

In a statement accompanying the release of its ratings, GLAA said Todd and May – along with the candidates receiving higher ratings – each expressed support on a GLAA questionnaire for all of the LGBT-related issues the group considers important. GLAA said the candidates receiving higher ratings either had a stronger record of support on LGBT issues or demonstrated a greater depth of understanding of LGBT issues in their questionnaire responses.

In the Ward 4 race, seven of the 12 candidates did not return the GLAA questionnaire and received an automatic “0” rating based on GLAA’s inability to assess their positions or records on LGBT issues.

Similarly in the Ward 8 race, four of the 12 candidates running received a “0” GLAA rating for failing to return the questionnaire.

Among them were Democratic candidates Anthony Muhammad, Leonard Watson, Trayon White, and Natalie Williams. Muhammad, Watson, and White also didn’t attend a Stein Club candidates’ forum where LGBT issues were discussed prior to the group’s vote on an endorsement.

Williams showed up at the forum but was not allowed to participate because she didn’t return an advance statement expressing her views on LGBT issues that the club requires as a condition for allowing candidates to speak at the forum. Although she wasn’t allowed to speak, Williams distributed a statement to the audience expressing support for LGBT equality.

The Ward 4 candidates failing to return the questionnaire and who received a “0” rating were Democrats Leon Andrews, Ron Austin, Gwenellen Corley-Bowman, Judi Jones, Douglas Sloan, and Bobvala Tengen. Socialist Workers Party candidate Glova Scott also did not return the questionnaire, resulting in her receiving a rating of “0.”

A detailed breakdown of GLAA’s candidate ratings and the candidates’ responses to the GLAA questionnaire can be viewed at glaa.org.

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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