May 29, 2020 at 5:53 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Coronavirus upends campaign season as D.C. primary nears
DC election, gay news, Washington Blade
John Fanning and Patrick Kennedy have each been endorsed by prominent members of the LGBTQ community for the Ward 2 Council seat. (Photos courtesy of the campaigns)

Nearly all of the 25 candidates running in D.C.’s June 2 Democratic primary for five D.C. Council seats and three congressional seats have expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights, prompting activists to predict that LGBTQ voters will likely choose a candidate to vote for based on non-LGBTQ issues.

Early voting for the primary began on May 22 and was scheduled to continue each day except Memorial Day on May 25 at 20 voting centers located throughout the city from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The 20 voting centers were scheduled to be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 2. The location of the voting centers can be found at dcboe.org.

Board of Elections officials have said the deadline for applying online or by phone for an absentee mail-in ballot was May 26.

Most political observers say the hotly contested Ward 2 D.C. Council race is the wildcard in a city primary election in which the incumbents usually win. With no incumbent in the Ward 2 race and in the midst of the coronavirus shutdowns making it impossible for candidates to hold in-person events or campaign outdoors, no one is predicting who the winner will be in that contest.

Similar to nearly all D.C. elections, the winners in the Democratic primary are usually the winners in the November general election in a city with the overwhelming majority of voters being registered Democrats.

Some — but by no means all — LGBTQ activists have joined gay Ward 2 D.C. Council candidate John Fanning in urging their fellow LGBTQ compatriots to vote for Fanning as a means of returning an out LGBTQ person to the ranks of the 13-member City Council.

The Council has not had an LGBTQ member since January 2015 after the late gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) lost his re-election race in 2014 and gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) gave up his seat in an unsuccessful run for mayor in 2014.

Fanning’s supporters argue that Fanning, 57, a longtime Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and a Ward 2 community services representative for several D.C. mayors is highly qualified to serve on the Council.

Other LGBTQ activists, however, are supporting rival Ward 2 candidate Patrick Kennedy, 28, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Foggy Bottom who has been endorsed by at least three other gay ANC members, a gay member of the D.C. State Board of Education, and by Casa Ruby founder and executive director Ruby Corado. Catania is also backing Kennedy.

Several of them have said Kennedy’s understanding and support for LGBTQ issues is exceptionally strong and while they too favor electing an LGBTQ person to the Council, at this particular time they say Kennedy is the best person for the job. Kennedy has also been endorsed by D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large).

Fanning supporters note that Fanning has been endorsed by former D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, a longtime LGBTQ rights supporter, and by a number of prominent LGBT activists, including former Whitman-Walker Clinic Executive Director Cornelius Baker, former Whitman-Walker Board Chair Riley Temple, and longtime gay activists Paul Kuntzler, Jose Gutierrez, and Ernest Hopkins.

Fanning and Kennedy are among eight candidates competing in the Democratic primary for the Ward 2 Council seat that former D.C. Council member Jack Evans has held for 28 years. Evans resigned from the seat in January after all 12 of his Council colleagues said they planned to vote to expel Evans over allegations of ethics violations.

Evans has apologized for what he has called mistakes in judgment but insists he did not violate any laws. Citing his reputation as an expert in city financial and budget related matters, Evans has called on his former Ward 2 constituents – including LGBTQ constituents – to send him back to the Council to utilize his skills to help the city respond to the coronavirus crisis. LGBTQ activists, many of whom are not supporting Evans now, acknowledge that he has been among the Council’s strongest supporters on LGBTQ rights since he first won election to the Council.

The remaining candidates running in the Democratic primary for the Ward 2 seat have also expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights. They include Burleith ANC member Kishan Putta, 46; former Obama administration official Jordan Grossman, 34; Marine Corps veteran and Microsoft employee Daniel Hernandez, 32; former Assistant D.C. Attorney General Brooke Pinto, 27; and Kaiser Permanente business development executive Yilin Zhang, 32.

Pinto has been endorsed by the Washington Post and by current D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine. Grossman received endorsements from the Metro Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, the Washington Teachers Union, and D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large). Putta has been endorsed by former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

Evans has been endorsed by D.C. nightlife advocate and Washington Blade columnist Mark Lee. Also backing Evans are longtime LGBTQ rights advocates John Ralls and Michael Ramirez. Ralls is a former chief of staff at Evans’s Council office.

All of the candidates except Evans and Hernandez are also running in a June 16 special election to fill the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat that became vacant when Evans resigned in January. The winner of the special election will hold the seat until Evans’s term would have ended on Jan. 1, 2021.

Also running in the special election is Republican Ward 2 Council candidate Katherine Venice, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary also scheduled for June 2. Venice has alienated many of the city’s GOP activists by denouncing President Donald Trump and pledging to work hard for his defeat in the November presidential election.

Venice received a +8 rating on LGBTQ issues from the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, which praised her responses to its candidate questionnaire as being highly supportive and insightful on LGBTQ matters. She told the Washington Blade she would not accept an endorsement from the D.C. Log Cabin Republicans, the local LGBTQ GOP group, because Log Cabin has endorsed Trump’s re-election.

Three longtime LGBTQ rights supporters — D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large), and D.C. Shadow U.S. Sen. Paul Strauss (D) — are running unopposed in the Democratic primary. Also running unopposed is political newcomer Oye Owolewa (D), who’s running for the shadow U.S. House seat. All four have been endorsed by the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local GLBTQ political group.

The Stein Club did not make an endorsement in the Ward 2 Council race as well as in the Council races in Wards 4 and 8. None of the multiple candidates running for the three seats, including incumbents Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) and Tryon White (D-Ward 8), received a required 60 percent of the vote by Stein Club members needed for an endorsement.

In the Ward 4 race, Todd, a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights who has been endorsed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, is being challenged in the primary by community activists Janeese Lewis George and Marlena Edwards. George, who identifies herself as a democratic socialist, is appealing to the ward’s liberal-progressive voters who George says agree with her assertion that Todd is a captive of business interests at the expense of working class residents.

Todd supporters say George’s far-left positions put her at odds with the majority of Ward 4 residents who recognize Todd’s role as a political moderate who is credited with providing excellent constituent services and with helping to boost the economic development in Ward 4.

George received a + 6.5 rating on LGBTQ issues by the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance compared to Todd, who received a +6 rating. Edwards received a +4.5 GLAA rating. GLAA rates candidates on a scale of +10, the highest possible rating, to -10, the lowest possible score indicating an anti-LGBTQ record or current positions.

Similar to other otherwise LGBT supportive candidates, GLAA said Todd and Edwards lost points for opposing decriminalization of sex work, a position that GLAA and other local LGBTQ organizations support.

Gay candidate wins key endorsements in Ward 7

In the Ward 7 D.C. Council race, incumbent Council member and former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, a longtime LGBTQ rights supporter who received the Stein Club’s endorsement, is being challenged by five fellow Democrats. Among them is gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and community activist Anthony Lorenzo Green.

The others running against Gray in the primary include attorney and community activist Veda Rasheed; Army veteran and Fannie Mae manager Kelvin Brown; Ward 7 businesswoman Rebecca Morris; and community activist James Leroy Jennings.

GLAA assigned Gray a rating of +8, saying Gray has an excellent record on LGBTQ issues but lost points for his opposition to decriminalization of sex work. Green, who also has a record of support on LGBTQ issues, received a +4 rating after failing to return the GLAA questionnaire, according to a GLAA statement accompanying its ratings. GLAA says it has a policy of assigning a rating of “0” to candidates who don’t return the questionnaire if their record and positions on LGBTQ issues are unknown.

For that reason, GLAA assigned a “0” rating to Ward 7 candidates Rasheed, Morris, Jennings, and Brown after each of them failed to return the questionnaire and their record on LGBTQ issues was unknown to GLAA.

Green, Brown, and Rasheed joined Gray in participating in a May 11 online candidate forum organized by the Stein Club, and each of them expressed support for LGBTQ issues at the forum. Morris and Jennings did not participate in the forum.

Most political observers believe Gray is the strong favorite to win re-election in the June 2 primary. But some of the same observers say Green has made a strong showing in both his campaign fundraising and by a few significant endorsements he has received, including from the D.C. local chapter of the AFL-CIO, the Washington Teachers Union and the progressive group D.C. for Democracy.

In addition to the Stein Club endorsement, Gray has been endorsed by the Washington Post, the Sierra Club, and the local group Greater Greater Washington.

In the Ward 8 D.C. Council race, incumbent Council member Trayon White (D), who has a record of support for LGBTQ rights, is considered the favorite to win re-election. He is being challenged in the Democratic primary by three opponents, each of whom has expressed support for LGBTQ rights.

The challengers include Ward 8 attorney and community activist Yaida Ford, who received a +7 rating from GLAA compared to a +4.5 rating that GLAA gave to White. Also receiving a +4.5 GLAA rating is Ward 8 candidate Mike Austin. The remaining candidate, Stuart Anderson, received a +3 GLAA rating. Although each of the Ward 8 candidates, including White, expressed support for LGBTQ issues at the Stein Club’s May 11 virtual candidate forum, GLAA says in its ratings statement that all of the candidates except Ford did not provide sufficient substance to their answers to the 10 questions on the GLAA candidate questionnaire.

GLAA said Anderson lost points for expressing opposition on the questionnaire to a pending D.C. Council bill calling for outlawing the so-called LGBTQ panic defense in criminal trials. Attorneys have used the panic defense to excuse anti-LGBT violence on grounds that a perpetrator lost control of his or her emotions after learning the person they attacked was gay or transgender.

“Democratic candidate Yaida Ford agrees with GLAA on all issues and shows good substance in her questionnaire responses,” GLAA says in a statement accompanying its ratings. “She was legislative counsel for the Committee on Human Services under [former DC Council member] Jim Graham, and was his liaison to the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club,” GLAA says in its statement, which adds that Ford represents LGBTQ people in her law practice.

White, meanwhile, has been endorsed by the Washington Teachers Union, the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the Sierra Club, and Jews for Justice.

Several independent candidates are running for some of the D.C. Council seats at play in the June 2 primary, but they will not be on the ballot until the November election. The Blade will be reporting on their campaigns in the coming weeks.

‘Presidential Preference’ receives little attention

With the distraction of the coronavirus epidemic and the presumptive nomination of former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate for president, D.C.’s Presidential Preference Primary, also set for June 2, has received little attention in the media.

But when D.C. voters go to the polls or receive their mail-in ballots they will discover that Biden and three other Democratic presidential candidates who dropped out of the race and announced their support for Biden earlier this year are on the D.C. ballot. The others on the ballot are U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).

The D.C. Board of Elections has said the decision by the three to drop out of the presidential race came too late to change the ballots, which were already prepared.

The name Donald J. Trump will be on the D.C. ballot for Republican voters in the June 2 Presidential Preference Primary.

Other Republican candidates along with D.C.’s Statehood Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates will be on the June 2 primary ballot. Following is a list of those candidates along with the GLAA rating they received:

At-Large D.C. Council:

Marya Pickering (R), GLAA rating, -3

Ann C. Wilcox (Statehood Green), GLAA rating +0.5

Joe Bishop-Henchman (Libertarian), GLAA rating 0.

Ward 2 D.C. Council:

Katherine Venice (R), GLAA rating, +8

Ward 4 D.C. Council:

Perry Redd (Statehood Green), GLAA rating 0

Ward 8 D.C. Council:

Nate Derenge (R), GLAA rating -2

Delegate to U.S. House:

Natale Lino Stracuzzi (Statehood Green), no GLAA rating

Ford Fischer (Libertarian)

U.S. Shadow Senator:

Eleanor Ory (Statehood Green), no GLAA rating;

U.S. Shadow Representative:

Joyce (Chestnut) Robinson-Paul (Statehood-Green), no GLAA rating

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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