Gay activist John Fanning, who has worked on the staff of five D.C. mayors and currently serves as chair of the Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, filed papers on Monday to become a candidate for the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat in the June 2020 Democratic primary.
Fanning, 56, and at least two others who have filed to become candidates for the Ward 2 seat, are challenging Democrat Jack Evans, who first won election to the seat in a 1991 special election.
“I have had conversations with people from around the ward regarding a renewed focus on moving the ward forward,” Fanning told the Washington Blade on Monday. “And I felt that from the responses that I had with a lot of the residents that they were looking for new leadership in the ward. And that’s what motivated me to run,” he said.
Fanning was scheduled to formally announce his candidacy at a news conference on Wednesday.
Evans is the Council’s longest-serving member and has been one of its strongest supporters of LGBT rights since first taking office after defeating the late gay activist Jim Zais who ran against Evans in the 1991 special election.
He has been highly popular among his Ward 2 constituents and was considered unbeatable until news surfaced last year that he was under investigation by a federal grand jury for allegations that he used his Council office and his status as chair of the Metro Board to advance his private business as an attorney for companies that do business with the city.
The Council responded to the allegations by voting to reprimand Evans for a breach in the Council’s ethics rules and to remove some of his responsibilities as chair of the Council’s influential Committee on Revenue and Finance. Evans has denied engaging in any illegal actions and has said he expects to run for election next year.
However, at least two people have successfully filed papers with the D.C. Board of Elections to recall him from office in a special vote that could come as soon as this fall if recall supporters collect a required 5,200 or slightly more petition signatures to place the recall election on the ballot. If Evans were to lose in the recall vote the Board of Elections would then schedule a special election to fill the Council seat that could come a short time before the regularly scheduled June primary.
Fanning said he would be a candidate in the special election if such an election were held. If he were to win that election he would have to run again in the regularly scheduled June 2020 primary because the winner of the special election would serve in office only until the current term for the Ward 2 seat ends in January 2021.
The other two who have filed papers to run in the June 2020 Democratic primary are Ward 2 political activist and former congressional staff member Jordan Grossman, 33; and Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Patrick Kennedy, 27. Grossman and Kennedy have expressed strong support for LGBT rights and have been promoting their candidacies at recent meetings of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which represents LGBT Democrats.
Also promoting his plans to become an official candidate for the Ward 2 seat at recent Stein Club meetings is community activist Daniel Hernandez. Ward 2 community activist and ANC member Kishman Potta has also said he plans to run for the Ward 2 Council seat. As of early this week, neither Hernandez nor Potta had filed papers with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance to run for the seat.
Fanning’s supporters say his record as an official in several D.C. government agencies and his service as an ANC member make him the most experienced and most qualified among the candidates that have surfaced so far to challenge Evans in the primary.
For the past four years Fanning has served as a Business Compliance Specialist at the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development under Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Prior to that, he served as the Ward 2 representative on the staff of the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services under Bowser, who retained him from his appointment to that office by former Mayor Vincent Gray. Bowser defeated Gray in the 2014 election.
Although it has had different names, Fanning has also served as the Ward 2 representative in the mayor’s office of community affairs or services under former mayors Marion Barry and Anthony Williams. He worked as the Ward 2 liaison for the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation under former Mayor Adrian Fenty.
“My big thing right now is to show the community that that I have the experience and I am an organizer and I bring people together,” Fanning said. “And I have the clearer pathway to the John Wilson Building,” he said, referring to the D.C. city hall building where the Council and mayor have their offices.
“And I think people will unite and take a chance and give me a chance and they’ll go with me,” he said.
If elected, Fanning would become the third openly gay person to serve on the D.C. Council. The late Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and former Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) were the first two openly gay members of the Council.
Fanning this week said an example of the disadvantage of the LGBT community not having a “seat at the table” on the Council occurred last week when the Council declined to approve $3 million in additional funds that LGBT activists requested for the city’s fiscal year 2020 budget for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.
“I know there are allies of ours,” he said. “But there’s nothing like having one of your own down there advocating for your health care, your housing, employment opportunities,” Fanning told the Blade. “And my point is we could have secured that funding.”
D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) told the Blade last week he never received a joint letter by 15 LGBT and LGBT supportive organizations whose representatives said they sent Mendelson and other Council members a letter requesting the funding.
Bobbi Elaine Strang, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, which worked on the effort to increase LGBT related funding in the city’s budget, said she is certain the letter was delivered to Mendelson’s office.