The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club endorsed former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray over incumbent Ward 7 Council member Yvette Alexander Monday night, adding momentum to Gray’s campaign to return to city politics by challenging Alexander for the Council seat he once held.
The Stein Club, the city’s largest local LGBT political organization, also endorsed Ward 8 Council member LaRuby May’s re-election bid.
The endorsements followed a candidates’ forum the Stein Club organized and held at the city’s Deanwood Recreation Center in Ward 7, which about 70 people attended.
Gray, who LGBT activists have called the city’s most LGBT supportive mayor, was considered the favorite to win the club’s endorsement. The club had endorsed him in each of his past races for the Ward 7 seat, Council Chair, and mayor.
“I’m ecstatic,” Gray said after the forum. “I worked very hard over the years to be able to do the right thing, to bring justice to our LGBT community,” he said. “And tonight’s endorsement frankly was an affirmation of the work we tried to do. I appreciate it very much.”
In opening remarks and while answering questions from the audience, Alexander pointed out she has shepherded through the Council several important LGBT supportive bills in her role as chair of the Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services.
When asked to explain why she was one of just two of the Council’s 13 members to vote against the city’s marriage equality law in 2009, Alexander said she was acting in accordance with the majority of her Ward 7 constituents, whom she said “had not yet evolved” on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“I would vote for that now,” Alexander said. “I have evolved and so has Ward 7. I’m proud to say Ward 7 has evolved and I stood with Ward 7.”
Gray pointed out how he chose to lead the Council’s effort to pass the marriage equality law in his role as Council chair, even though he was denounced by conservative ministers and others who opposed allowing gays to marry back in 2009.
In pointing to his LGBT supportive actions as mayor, Gray noted he put in place through executive action a directive requiring health insurance companies to provide coverage for sex reassignment treatment for transgender residents, making D.C. one of the first jurisdictions in the country to adopt such a policy.
Club members speaking on Gray’s behalf included former D.C. Council staffer Ron Collins; Amy Loudermilk, who served as deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs under Gray; transgender activist Bobbi Strang; and former Whitman-Walker Deputy Executive Director Patricia Hawkins.
Among the club members who spoke in support of Alexander were her gay former staff assistant Ronald King, lesbian activist and current Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden, and gay charitable group Brother Help Thyself President and mayoral aide Jim Slattery.
Mayor Muriel Bowser is supporting Alexander and May.
King called Alexander a strong LGBT community ally and supporter. He said LGBT activists shouldn’t fault her for not initially supporting same-sex marriage any more than they fault President Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who King noted also opposed same-sex marriage before evolving to become supporters.
Gray won the endorsement by a margin of 70 percent, with 40 club members casting ballots at the endorsement session. Alexander received 22 percent. Ward 7 candidate Grant Thompson, who did not attend the forum, received 5 percent. Ten percent cast their vote for no endorsement.
A fourth candidate competing for the Ward 7 seat in the upcoming June 14 Democratic primary, Delmar Chesley, also did not attend the meeting and received no votes.
In the Ward 8 race, in which five candidates are competing in the Democratic primary, May captured the Stein Club endorsement with 72 percent of the vote. She has expressed strong support for LGBT rights.
Challenger Aaron Holmes, who attended the endorsement forum and also expressed strong support for LGBT rights, received 10 percent.
Also receiving 10 percent was challenger Trayon White, who came within two points of overtaking May in the special Council election for the Ward 8 seat in 2015. The special election was held to fill the seat that became vacant due to the death of former D.C. Mayor and Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry.
White, who supporters said was out of town, and Ward 8 candidates Bonita Goode and Maurice Dickens, did not attend the Stein forum. Goode and Dickens did not receive any votes from Stein members.
White is considered to have a shot at beating May based on his strong showing in the special election. In the 2015 race, White did not return a questionnaire from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, a nonpartisan group that rates candidates on LGBT issues. White also did not respond to questions from the Washington Blade in the 2015 race seeking his positions on LGBT issues.
But this year, according to GLAA President Rick Rosendall, White has returned the GLAA questionnaire. GLAA was scheduled to release its ratings based on the candidates’ questionnaire responses and records on May 11.
“The outcome was not unexpected,” Stein Club President Earl Fowlkes said in discussing Monday night’s club endorsements. “But I think all the candidates did a great job and we’re fortunate to have District government elections where we have strong, supportive candidates.”
Fowlkes said he wasn’t certain whether the candidates that did not show up for the forum had a scheduling conflict or chose not to attend.
“We can’t force people to participate,” he said. “And it goes to show you that some people consider it important and some people don’t. And those who consider our endorsement important showed up.”
At a candidates’ forum on April 26, the Stein Club endorsed Hillary Clinton for president along with D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Shadow Rep. Franklin Garcia, and Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4).
The club didn’t make an endorsement in the race for the at-large Council seat held by incumbent Vincent Orange (D) because none of the three candidates competing in the race received a required 60 percent of the vote needed for the endorsement. Orange is being challenged in the Democratic primary by gay former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner David Garber and attorney and civic activist Robert White. All three have expressed strong support for LGBT rights.
Similar to Alexander, Orange was questioned at the forum for his strong opposition in 2006 to same-sex marriage. Like Alexander, Orange said he has evolved on the issue and not only supports marriage equality but has performed same-sex marriages in recent years.