LGBT activists are predicting former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray would capture the lion’s share of the LGBT vote in the city’s June 14 Democratic primary if he decides to run for a seat on the City Council.
Speculation that Gray is strongly considering running for a Council seat intensified this week when news surfaced that his supporters commissioned a poll to see how Gray would do if he challenges incumbent Council members Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) or Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7).
Gray has said he’s looking into a possible run for either of those two seats. He won election to the Ward 7 seat before running and winning subsequent citywide races for City Council Chairman and mayor.
“I think he’ll do very well with the LGBT vote regardless of which one he runs for,” said veteran gay rights and Ward 8 community activist Phil Pannell.
Earl Fowlkes, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, said Gray remains a highly popular figure among LGBT voters because of his unprecedented support for LGBT issues, including transgender rights issues, during his tenure as a Council member and mayor.
“I think obviously he has a good chance of winning,” Fowlkes said. “He’s very popular. He is seen as pro-LGBT. And he has a very strong record to stand on both as a member of the City Council, as chairman of the City Council, and as mayor.”
Transgender activist Jeri Hughes called Gray one of the city’s most accessible mayors ever on LGBT issues, especially transgender issues.
“I can’t speak for the community but I personally would cast my vote in his favor,” Hughes said.
Like other Gray supporters, Gray’s LGBT supporters have blamed Gray’s defeat in the April 2014 Democratic mayoral primary to then-Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) on a news conference held by then-D.C. U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. Most political observers said Machen gave the strong impression at the widely reported news conference held three weeks before the primary that Gray would likely be indicted on criminal charges related to illegal fundraising activities associated with Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign.
Gray, who has repeatedly denied any knowledge or involvement in the illegal fundraising activities, was leading Bowser in the polls prior to the news conference but quickly fell behind in its aftermath.
Bowser beat Gray in the primary and defeated gay City Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) and former Council member Carol Schwartz, who switched from Republican to independent, in the general election. She took office as mayor in January 2015.
It was not until Dec. 9 of last year that Machen’s successor, U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips, announced that a lengthy investigation into Gray’s possible involvement in the illegal campaign activities had ended and Gray would not be charged. Gray’s supporters noted that the development at long last lifted a cloud hanging over Gray’s head and opened the way for Gray to return to elective office should he choose to do so.
A decision by Gray to run for the at-large seat would have the greatest impact on Orange and gay civic activist David Garber. Garber, a former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Ward 6, announced in August that he would challenge Orange for the Democratic nomination for the at-large seat in the June 2016 Democratic primary.
Among those supporting Garber is Bob Summersgill, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, who is serving as Garber’s campaign treasurer.
Most political observers have said Garber would have an uphill quest to unseat Orange but would have a long-shot chance of succeeding.
Garber’s best hope, LGBT observers say, would be if Gray decides to run for the Ward 7 seat. Although Gray lost the mayoral primary to Bowser in 2014 he beat Bowser decisively in Ward 7, which is his home base, indicating he could be expected to beat Alexander this year.
Alexander and Orange have been supportive of LGBT issues in recent years but both opposed same-sex marriage legislation in past campaigns. Alexander was one of just two Council members to vote against the city’s marriage equality law in 2009.
Fowlkes said he would remain neutral in the upcoming campaigns until the Stein Club votes on endorsements in April. He notes that both Orange and Alexander have since come out in support of marriage equality and he doesn’t think most LGBT voters would consider that a key factor in 2016.
“Our president has come along on marriage equality,” Fowlkes said. “Hillary Clinton has come along on marriage equality.”
Chuck Thies, who served as manager of Gray’s 2014 mayoral campaign, is the lead organizer of a PAC he helped organize to conduct the polling this week on the upcoming Council races. Thies said Gray played no role in organizing or financing the poll, but Thies acknowledges that it will likely help Gray decide whether or not to run for either the at-large or Ward 7 seat.
One of the poll questions released by Thies asks potential D.C. voters, “If the Democratic candidates for At-Large D.C. Council were Vincent Orange, David Garber, Robert White, and Vince Gray, who would you vote for?”
White, a local community activist, is among the candidates that have filed to run for the at-large seat along with Garber to challenge Orange.
Under the city’s election law, two at-large Council seats are up for election this year. The other seat is held by Democrat-turned-independent David Grosso, a strong LGBT rights supporter. Grosso will not appear on the Democratic primary ballot in June, but will be on the ballot in the November general election.
At that time, the winner of the Democratic primary for the at-large seat would be on the same ballot as Grosso and other independent and other party candidates such as the city’s Statehood Green Party. The D.C. election law calls for voters to vote for two at-large candidates, with the highest two vote-getters declared the winners.
Thus, theoretically, Gray, Orange or Garber could be on the November ballot with Grosso if either of them wins the June Democratic primary.
Pannell, a longtime Stein Club member, said he’s certain that Gray would win the Stein Club’s endorsement for either the at-large or Ward 7 seat if he enters the race as a Council candidate.
Thies said he expects Gray to make a decision on whether to run by the end of this month, when the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics releases nominating petitions for candidates to obtain the required number of signatures to get on the ballot.
The deadline for filing nominating petitions with the board is March 16.