According to D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), a bill introduced last year calling for the ceremonial naming of a street on Capitol Hill for the late Richard Rausch, a prominent gay Democratic Party activist and advocate for LGBT rights, has been placed on “indefinite hold.”
Mendelson, who chairs the Council’s Committee of the Whole, where the bill was sent, noted that the Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commission with jurisdiction over the 200 block of 2nd Street, S.E., where the ceremonial name would be installed, strongly opposes the bill.
D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) has said he has a policy of deferring to ANCs in his ward on issues of street naming and has called on Mendelson not to move the bill out of committee for a full Council vote. Mendelson told the Blade last week that he, too, has a longstanding policy of deferring to Council members whose ward a street naming bill impacts and thus he will honor Allen’s request that the bill be placed on hold.
Both Allen and Mendelson said they have asked members of ANC 6B to consider changing their position on the bill, but so far the ANC members have declined to reverse their position on the matter.
In a letter to Mendelson in December, the ANC said its members voted 10-0 to oppose the Rausch street naming based mostly on procedural grounds. The letter says neither the Council nor the city agency in charge of street namings notified the ANC or residents of the street about the pending bill until six months after it was introduced and after a public hearing was held on the bill in September.
City officials said the lack of notification was due to a typographical error in the initial version of the bill that identified the street as the 200 block of 2nd Street, S.W. rather than S.E. This resulted in residents and the ANC in the wrong location being notified about the bill.
But supporters of the Rausch ceremonial street naming, including Earl Fowlkes, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBT political group, have said although ANC 6B wasn’t initially notified about the bill, its members were eventually notified and had sufficient time to weigh in on the proposal.
Fowlkes said he is concerned that the ANC may have other motives for its opposition. He pointed to a comment by an ANC member at the meeting in which the vote opposing the bill was taken that Rausch may have been a client of a gay male escort service back in the 1980s. A brief discussion among ANC members about the escort service matter could be heard on an audio recording that the ANC makes of all of its meetings and which was obtained by the Washington Blade.
At least two commissioners also were heard on the recording saying they didn’t think Rausch was a significant enough figure to merit a street naming after him.
Fowlkes takes strong exception to that assertion, saying Rausch, who died in 2007 of natural causes at 71, worked on behalf of civil rights, including LGBT rights and women’s rights, for a period of more than 40 years.
“Richard was an extraordinary man and also did a lot for the Democratic Party,” said Fowlkes, who also serves as executive director of the Center for Black Equity, a national LGBT organization. “He blazed a trail and many of us are following behind those trails. So I stand in gratitude for people like that who stood up for our rights.”
Mendelson and Allen said they are ready to bring up the bill for a vote in the full Council, where it is expected to pass, if the ANC changes its mind or if some type of compromise can be reached to make the bill acceptable to the ANC. All ANC members throughout the city are up for re-election in November.