Although gay former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner David Garber has impressed political observers with the campaign funds he has raised as a political newcomer, many of the city’s prominent LGBT activists are backing rival candidate Robert White in the hotly contested race for the at-large D.C. Council seat in the city’s June 14 Democratic primary.
Garber and White are challenging incumbent Vincent Orange, who is seeking re-election to the Council two years after he received just 2 percent of the citywide vote in his unsuccessful race for mayor.
Despite that poor showing, Orange is considered the frontrunner in the race based on his previous election to two terms on the Council from Ward 5 and his two victories for the at-large seat, one in a special election in 2011 to fill a vacancy and the other in the regular election in 2012. The Washington Post has endorsed Orange’s current re-election bid, calling him a moderating force on the Council and a “stalwart of school reform and a voice for small business.”
All three candidates have expressed strong support for LGBT rights. Orange, who denounced same-sex marriage as immoral in 2006 during another unsuccessful run for mayor, insists he has changed his position and has become a strong advocate for marriage equality. Garber and White have criticized him for his 2006 position during candidate forums.
According to reports filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, Orange raised a total of $221,465 for his re-election campaign as of March 10, the most recent campaign reporting period. Garber came in second place in total money raised, with $120,483 as of the same March 10 reporting date.
White, an attorney and former community outreach director for D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, raised a total of $91,025 as of that date, according to the finance report he filed.
The next candidate finance reports for the June 14 primary are due on June 10.
Two years after two gay longtime members left the Council — David Catania (I-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) — Garber’s candidacy doesn’t appear to be resonating in LGBT activist circles, according to activists following the election.
Rick Rosendall, president of the nonpartisan Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, which rates candidates on their records and positions on LGBT issues, said the city has evolved to the point where nearly all of the 13 Council members are strong LGBT community allies.
Rosendall and other activists have noted that virtually all candidates for public office in the city in recent years that have any chance of winning have been supporters of LGBT equality.
“Our community’s political influence effectively gives us a seat at the table regardless of the orientation or identity of those on the Council dais and that has been true here for a long time,” Rosendall said.
“David Garber turned in a strong GLAA questionnaire, but has a limited record on our issues,” said Rosendall. “Robert White is a proven ally, and that is reflected in his strong LGBT support. That is a sign of our political maturity.”
To some degree, the at-large Council race has been overshadowed by D.C.’s Democratic presidential primary contest on June 14 in which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is being challenged by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the nation’s last presidential primary.
Also drawing considerable attention is former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s decision to make a political comeback by running against incumbent Ward 7 Council member Yvette Alexander for the seat he once held before becoming mayor.
The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBT political group, has endorsed Clinton and Gray. It has also endorsed the re-election races of Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who’s running unopposed in the primary; Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), and LaRuby May (D-Ward 8), all of whom have strong records of support on LGBT issues.
D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and D.C. Shadow Rep. Franklin Garcia, who are also running unopposed in the primary, won the Stein Club’s endorsement during a candidate forum earlier this year. LGBT activists consider Norton a champion for LGBT rights in the U.S. Congress. Garcia, who is running for a second term as shadow House member, has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT-related issues.
Jack Jacobson, the city’s only current openly gay elected official, is running for re-election for the Ward 2 seat on the D.C. Board of Education. Because school board positions have been designated as nonpartisan, Jacobson won’t be on the ballot until the city’s November general election. So far, no one has surfaced to run against him.
The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national organization that raises money to support openly LGBT people running for public office, has endorsed Jacobson’s re-election bid.
But in a development that has raised eyebrows among some LGBT activists, the Victory Fund has not endorsed Garber for the at-large Council seat. The group never comments on candidates it does not endorse, nor does it give a reason for not endorsing a candidate. However, Victory Fund officials have said in the past that a key criterion for its endorsement is a demonstration of “viability” by a candidate.
Garber and his supporters have argued that his demonstrated fundraising ability, his long record of civic involvement in the city in three wards, and his role as an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in the rapidly developing neighborhood surrounding Nationals Park indicate he is a viable candidate.
Garber notes on his campaign website that his background in real estate and development and his work as a substitute teacher in the D.C. public schools have also prepared him to become an advocate on the Council for education and improved schools. His website also includes detailed policy statements on a wide range of issues, including the use of new media and technology to advance city programs.
At a Stein Club candidate endorsement forum in April, Garber received just two votes from club members. Orange received 44 votes, with White coming in second place with 37 votes. Under a club rule requiring a 60 percent vote of support for an endorsement, the club was unable to make an endorsement in the at-large race.
Stein Club President Earl Fowlkes said Stein members and most likely LGBT voters in general appear to be dividing their support between White and Orange, despite Orange’s previous record of opposing marriage equality.
White, however, has released a list of endorsements by many of the city’s most prominent LGBT activists. Among them are former Stein Club President Lateefah Williams, gay Latino activist Jose Gutierrez, longtime transgender activist Jeri Hughes, and LGBT seniors advocate Imani Woody.
At an LGBT meet-and-greet reception organized by White’s campaign in April, nearly 100 mostly LGBT people packed a second floor meeting room at the Prospect restaurant on U Street, N.W. to listen to White speak about his views on LGBT issues.
White, who also has a long record of civic activism across the city, has been endorsed by Racine and Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3).
Other LGBT activists, including gay ANC commissioners Alex Padro and Lee Brian Reba and gay activists Alex Morash and Michael Williams have endorsed Orange.
The Garber campaign has not released a list of LGBT endorsees. The one known prominent LGBT person supporting his campaign is Bob Summersgill, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, who serves as Garber’s campaign treasurer.
In its candidate ratings this year, GLAA gave White a +8.5 rating compared to a +6.5 rating for Garber and a +4 rating for Orange. GLAA rates on a scale of +10, the highest possible rating, to a -10, the lowest rating indicating a candidate is hostile to LGBT rights.
In a statement accompanying its ratings, GLAA said Garber agreed with GLAA on all issues and “showed good substance” in his responses to a GLAA questionnaire on LGBT and some non-LGBT related issues.
White, who worked for Norton’s congressional office before joining the staff of Attorney General Racine, offered “impressive substance” in his questionnaire responses and has a demonstrated record of support on LGBT issues in his work with Norton and Racine, GLAA said in its statement.
GLAA said Orange showed improvement in his questionnaire responses and his Council record on LGBT issues, prompting the group to raise his rating from +0.5 at the time he ran for the at-large seat in 2012 to his current rating of +4. He offered “no substance” on his questionnaire responses but has been an ally on the Council in recent years on LGBT issues, GLAA said.
GLAA gave Gray a perfect +10 rating in the Ward 7 Council race, citing what the group said is Gray’s reputation as the city’s most LGBT-supportive mayor based on his extensive record of LGBT-related initiatives and polices.
The group gave Alexander a +5.5 rating, saying she offered “limited substance” in her questionnaire responses but provided significant support for LGBT-related legislation during the past several years.
LGBT-supportive Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large), who holds the second of two at-large Council seats, will be on the ballot in the November election. Also running in the November election are Republican at-large candidate Carolina Celnik and Statehood Green Party at-large candidate G. Lee Aikin. Both are running unopposed in their respective party primaries on June 14.
Under the city’s election law, voters may vote for two at-large candidates in the general election, with the highest two vote-getters declared the winners.
GLAA’s ratings of all Council candidates running this year and their full responses to the GLAA questionnaire can be viewed at www.glaa.org.
Following is a list of Council candidates running in the June 14 primary and their GLAA ratings:
Robert White (D) – 8.5
G. Lee Aikin (Statehood-Green) – 7.5
David Garber (D) – 6.5
Vincent Orange/Incumbent (D) – 4
Carolina Celnik (R) – 1.5
Jack Evans (D) – 10
Leon T. Andrews Jr. (D) – 6
Brandon Todd/Incumbent (D) – 5
Calvin H. Gurley (D) – 3.5
Ron Austin (D) – 0
Vincent Gray (D) – 10
Yvette Alexander/Incumbent (D) – 5.5
Delmar Chesley (D) – 0
Grant Thompson (D) – 0
LaRuby May/Incumbent (D) – 7.5
Trayon White (D) – 4
Aaron Holmes (D) – 2
Maurice T. Dickens (D) – 0.5
Bonita Goode (D) – 0