Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and five members of the D.C. City Council – all strong supporters of the LGBT community – sailed to victory in the city’s Democratic primary on Tuesday.
Bowser and dozens of her supporters from throughout the city, including many of her LGBT supporters, joined her at the gay nightclub Town Danceboutique, where she held her election night victory party.
LGBT rights advocates pointed out that this year’s primary continued the city’s longstanding status as a place where all serious candidates for public office are supportive of LGBT equality, both incumbents and challengers. Thus similar to past years, many LGBT voters looked toward non-LGBT issues to help them decide which candidates to support.
In a development that surprised some political observers, Initiative 77, a ballot measure calling for gradually raising the minimum wage for tipped workers to $15 an hour by 2025, won approval by voters in the primary by a margin of 55.1 percent to 44.9 percent.
Although LGBT activists were divided over the initiative, many of the city’s LGBT tipped workers joined their straight counterparts in expressing strong opposition to the measure, saying it would lower rather than raise their overall income and could jeopardize their jobs by creating a severe financial burden on restaurants and other businesses that employ tipped workers.
With Bowser and 10 of the D.C. Council’s 13 members opposed to the initiative, supporters expressed concern on Tuesday night that the Council might exercise its authority to block the measure from taking effect. They scheduled a rally outside the Wilson City Hall building for Wednesday morning to demand that the Council allow the initiative to become law.
Bowser told reporters at her election night gathering that she was assessing what, if any, action she would take following Initiative 77’s approval by voters.
“I want to really sit down and evaluate its impact with restaurant workers and people affected and see if they will be able to afford a quality of life in the city,” the Washington Post quoted her as saying.
With dance music blaring, Bowser spent nearly an hour dancing with supporters and well-wishers on the Town dance floor. Joining her at the gathering were Council members Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), who is not up for re-election this year; and Council member Kenyon McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who defeated four lesser-known challengers by capturing 69 percent of the Ward 5 vote.
Gay candidate loses bid in Ward 1
Meanwhile, in another widely observed race, gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and law librarian Kent Boese (D), whose supporters were hoping he might pull off an upset victory, lost his race for the Ward 1 D.C. Council seat to incumbent Democrat Brianne Nadeau.
In a four-candidate race, Nadeau captured 47.9 percent of the vote compared to Boese, who came in second place with 25.3 percent. Community activist Sheika Reid received 13.39 percent and former D.C. Superior Court Judge Lori Parker received 13.05 percent.
Each of the candidates expressed strong support for LGBT rights and Nadeau pointed to her support on the Council for a number of LGBT supportive initiatives. Boese received endorsements of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBT political group, and the LGBT Victory Fund, a national organization that supports LGBT candidates.
Nadeau won the endorsement of the Trans United Fund, a political action committee that says it advocates for the interests of the transgender community and progressive causes. Although Boese expressed support for all of the trans specific issues included on the group’s candidate questionnaire, he came out against Initiative 77. Trans United Fund endorsed the initiative during the campaign.
Throughout his campaign, Boese argued that he had a better command of both LGBT and non-LGBT issues than each of his four opponents. Nadeau disputed claims by Boese and the other two challengers that she fell short on constituent services for Ward 1 residents.
In a concession speech at his election night gathering at El Tio Restaurant in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, Boese said he reached out to Nadeau to congratulate her on her victory, thanked his supporters, and promised to remain politically active in Ward 1 and the city.
“Whether it’s on the ANC or any other forum that may be in my future, I am not going away,” he said. “I am going to provide the oversight that has been lacking over the past four years. And I’m going to do my part to make sure that the people of Ward 1 have the representation they deserve.”
The other Council members who won re-nomination in Tuesday’s primary were Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council members Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6).
Other winners in the primary included two gay Libertarian candidates and three gay Democrats who won election to seats on the D.C. Democratic State Committee.
Gay Libertarian activist Martin Moulton won his party’s nomination for mayor in an uncontested race. He will be among the third party and independent candidates running against Bowser in the November general election.
Fellow gay Libertarian Bruce Majors also won an uncontested race in the primary for the Libertarian Party nomination for the D.C. Congressional Delegate seat held by Norton.
None of the candidates expected to run for mayor in the general election have widespread name recognition, and in a city where the overwhelming majority of voters are registered Democrats, Bowser is considered the strong favorite to win election to a second term as mayor in November.
In the Democratic State Committee races in Tuesday’s primary, longtime gay Democratic activist Philip Pannell won election to an at-large seat on the committee. Gay Democratic activist John Fanning won election to a Ward 2 seat on the committee and fellow gay Democratic activist David Meadows won election to a Ward 6 seat on the committee.
Lesbian Democratic activist Audrey Alvarado lost her bid for a Ward 3 seat on the committee as did gay Democrat Franco Ciammachilli, who lost his bid for a Ward 6 seat on the Democratic State Committee.
Among the Council races in the primary, some political observers thought Council Chair Mendelson and At-Large Council member Bonds were facing competitive challengers from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. Longtime D.C. community activist and budget expert Ed Lazere waged an aggressive campaign against Mendelson. Like Mendelson, Lazere expressed strong support for LGBT rights.
Although Mendelson won the endorsement of the Stein Club, the Trans United Fund endorsed Lazere.
But the vote count on Tuesday night showed Mendelson retained support from most voters. He received 62.4 percent of the vote, with Lazere receiving 37.1 percent.
In the At-Large race, Bonds, also a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, faced aggressive opposition from Democratic challengers Jeremiah Lowery and Marcus Goodwin, both of whom expressed support for LGBT issues. The Stein Club endorsed Bonds while the Trans United Fund endorsed Lowery.
Bonds won the race by capturing 52 percent of the vote. Lowery received 23.8 percent and Goodwin received 23.4 percent.
Gay bars joined campaign against Initiative 77
Owners and employees of three of the city’s gay bars played a lead role in the campaign against Initiative 77. Among them was gay bartender Dito Sevilla, who works at Floriana Restaurant on 17th Street near Dupont Circle. Like other tipped workers opposing the initiative, Sevilla said he and all of the servers or bartenders he knows make far more in tips than the city’s current minimum wage of $12.50 per hour.
If the D.C. Council allows it to take effect and if Congress follows its usual practice of not exercising its authority to overturn a D.C. law, Initiative 77 would repeal a provision in the city’s minimum wage law that allows restaurants, bars and other businesses that employ tipped workers to pay those workers less than the prevailing minimum wage for non-tipped workers.
The “base” minimum wage for tipped workers is currently $3.33 an hour. However, a provision in the current law requires employers of tipped workers to pay them the difference if their tips combined with the lower minimum wage fall short of the full $12.50 minimum wage.
Supporters of the initiative have argued that many employers do not pay tipped workers the difference if their tips fall short. They say tipped workers are reluctant to file a complaint with the city out of fear of retaliation by employers.
Supporters also have argued that seven states, including California, have already eliminated the tipped wage system and none of the “horror stories” predicted by opponents have happened. Some supporters, however, acknowledge that overall earnings among some tipped workers have dropped in the states that have passed their own version of Initiative 77.
Among the LGBT supporters of Initiative 77 were gay labor advocate and former Stein Club President Kurt Vorndran and Pride at Work Executive Director Jerame Davis. Pride at Work is an LGBT unit within the AFL-CIO.
Davis, like virtually all supporters of the initiative, has said ending the lower “tipped wage” has not ended tipping in the states that adopted the new system and tipping would continue in D.C. if Initiative 77 is put in place.
But opponents, including gay D.C. nightlife advocate Mark Lee, say D.C.’s situation is unique because of its status as a city rather than a state and its highly competitive restaurant and hospitality industry that operates on a tight profit margin. Lee and other opponents, including the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, argue that a $15 per hour wage would dramatically increase operating costs for restaurants and bars, forcing them to raise prices and in some cases adding a service charge to the bills of customers.
Doing that, they say, could prompt customers to cut back on tips to offset their higher costs of food and beverages.