October 28, 2015 at 4:46 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
College Park race, Fairfax fight draw attention
Wojahn, gay news, Washington Blade, Fairfax County School Board

‘I am an advocate for the residents of College Park,’ said Patrick Wojahn. (Photo courtesy Facebook)

Gay attorney Patrick Wojahn, a City Council member in College Park, Md., who’s running for mayor of his city, is one of six openly gay candidates on the ballot on Nov. 3 for various elective offices in the D.C.-area suburbs of Maryland and Virginia.

Although there are no LGBT candidates running for any of the 12 seats on the Fairfax County School Board up for election on Tuesday, LGBT activists in Fairfax are campaigning hard for the re-election of eight LGBT-supportive incumbents.

Activists say the eight incumbents and two other board members who are not seeking re-election were instrumental in the approval over the past year of two important LGBT-supportive school policy initiatives.

Five of the eight LGBT-supportive incumbents and four other LGBT-supportive candidates on the ballot are being challenged by a slate of candidates backed by the anti-LGBT Traditional Values Coalition. The aim of the TVC, according to its leader Andrea Lafferty, is a majority takeover of the school board and a reversal of the LGBT-supportive measures approved by the current board.

“It will likely come down to who gets more of their voters out, and that is why it is vital that our community and our allies take these races seriously,” said Fairfax gay activist Joshua Israel.

In College Park, Wojahn is being challenged by fellow Council member Denise Mitchell. With both candidates popular in their respective districts, most political observers are saying it’s hard to predict who will emerge as the winner.

Supporters of the two say each would make history if they win. Wojahn would become College Park’s first openly gay mayor and Mitchell would become the city’s first African-American woman to become mayor.

Also running in College Park is gay Council member P.J. Brennan, who’s vying for re-election to a second term. Brennan, who holds a master’s degree in business administration from UMUC and works for the federal government, is being challenged by businessman and former Army satellite communications technician Daniel Blasberg Jr.

LGBT activists in Takoma Park, Md., meanwhile, have been extending their best wishes to a popular gay official who isn’t on the ballot this year. Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams, who’s completing his fourth term in office, is retiring, a development that will result in the progressive city no longer having an openly gay elected official for the first time in 22 years.

Williams holds the distinction of being the first openly gay elected official in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. He first won election in 1993 to the Takoma Park City Council four years before David Catania became D.C.’s first out gay Council member in 1997.

Another Maryland contest involving a gay elected official outside the D.C. metro area is also attracting attention. Gay two-term Mayor Jim Ireton of the Eastern Shore city of Salisbury surprised the city’s political establishment in September when he announced he would run for a seat on the City Council rather than seek re-election as mayor.

Ireton is running against local businessman Roger Mazzullo for the 4th District Council seat in a race whose outcome is uncertain.

Back across the Potomac River in Virginia, gay State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and gay State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) are considered strong favorites to win re-election on Tuesday.

Gay rights attorney and talk show host Mark Levine is running unopposed for an open State Delegate seat representing Alexandria after winning a hotly contested Democratic primary in June.

Rounding out the ‘gay’ ticket in Northern Virginia is Alexandria City Council member Paul Smedberg, an out gay Democrat who is running for a fifth three-year term. Smedberg is one of 11 candidates – five incumbents and six challengers — running for six at-large City Council seats under Alexandria’s electoral system. Most political observers expect Smedberg to be among the six top vote-getters to enable him to retain his seat.

In the Fairfax School Board election, LGBT activists and their allies are also campaigning for two pro-LGBT candidates running in districts with open seats and for an LGBT-supportive candidate running against one of the two incumbents not supportive on LGBT issues. The other non-supportive incumbent is running unopposed.

The pro-LGBT incumbents seeking re-election to the board’s three at-large seats are Ryan McElveen, Ilryong Moon and Ted Velkoff, all of whom are Democrats. The LGBT-supportive incumbents running for re-election to their district seats include Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District), Janie Strauss (Dranesville District), Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill District), Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee District), Karen Corbett Sanders (Mount Vernon District) and Sandy Evans (Mason District). Each is running as a Democrat.

Pro-LGBT candidate Dalia Palchik is challenging incumbent school board member Patty Reed, who did not back the pro-LGBT measures approved by the board in the past year. Palchik is running as a Democrat and Reed as a Republican.

The pro-LGBT measures included policies banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and a Family Life Education curriculum that includes teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity matters in a non-judgmental way.

The other incumbent who opposed the non-discrimination policy and Family Life Education curriculum is Elizabeth Schultz of the Springfield District. Schultz is running unopposed as a Republican.

Reed and Schultz are among the candidates endorsed as part of the Traditional Values Coalition slate.

Others on the TVC slate include Jeanette Hough, Manar Jean-Jacques and Robert Copeland, who are running as Republicans for the three at-large seats on the board. The TVC-backed candidates running for district seats include Peter Kurzenhauser (Dranesville District), who’s running as an independent; Mark Wilkinson (Hunter Mill District), who’s running as an independent; W. Anthony Stacy (Mount Vernon District), who’s running as a Republican; and Thomas Wilson (Sully District), who’s running as an independent.

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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